Swedish deputy PM equates Israeli and Palestinian incitement

Isabella Lövin also says UNRWA ‘quickly and reliably deals with alleged cases of violent extremism and anti-Semitism’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation Isabella Lövin speaking in parliament at a debate about Stockholm’s assistance to Ramallah, March 4, 2016 (Screen grab YouTube)
Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation Isabella Lövin speaking in parliament at a debate about Stockholm’s assistance to Ramallah, March 4, 2016 (Screen grab YouTube)

Sweden’s deputy prime minister this week equated Israeli and Palestinian incitement, implying that schoolbooks from both sides demonize the other in equal measure.

Isabella Lövin, who is also Sweden’s minister for international development cooperation, also defended the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, known as UNRWA, from accusations it promulgates anti-Semitism and incitement to violence in the schools its operates.

“The government is aware that there is an extensive debate on the extent in which incitement occurs in schoolbooks on Israeli and Palestinian sides, and that the issue is contested,” said Lövin in a parliamentary debate over Swedish aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Israel has recently stepped up its efforts to portray the Palestinians, including the relatively moderate Fatah party of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, as fanning hatred and calling for violence against Israelis.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday posted a video on Twitter showcasing several examples of Palestinian incitement against Jews and Israelis.

Replying to a query by an MP from the pro-Israel Christian Democrats opposition party, Mikael Oscarsson, the Swedish deputy prime minister rejected the notion that schoolbooks in UNRWA schools fail to educate young Palestinians toward peace and existence. She denied Oscarsson’s assertion that schools funded by the organization teach their pupils that Israel has no right to exist and that they must wage eternal war against the Jewish state.

“The government does not consider that the interpellant’s statements about the education that the Palestinian schoolchildren receive are correct, either in UNRWA’s schools or in other Palestinian schools using the same curriculum,” she said.

Sweden is one of the top donors to UNRWA. In 2015, it gave $45 million to the organization.

“The government’s assessment is that UNWRA has functioning routines to quickly and reliably deal with alleged cases of violent extremism, anti-Semitism or similar — both in schoolbooks and in other contexts, such as social media,” Lövin said. “The government therefore has full confidence that UNWRA and its staff can perform its important mandate, and sees no reason to question UNWRA’s impartiality.”

UNRWA has long been accused of hosting extreme anti-Israel elements, a claim the organization rejects. Earlier this month, however, it fired a Gaza staffer in Gaza who was suspected of having been elected to Hamas’s leadership in the Strip.

Lövin’s has raised eyebrows in Israel in the past over her positions on Palestinian aid.

Last year, she said the PA should be granted financial support irrespective of its educational policies, anti-Israel or anti-Semitic incitement.

Responding to a parliamentary query, she said that “support to the education sector or education ministry is not included in the strategy for Palestine decided by the government.”

Israel condemned the Swedish minister’s statements. “Those deliberately ignoring the influence of Palestinian incitement on the current wave of terror are turning a blind eye to the main cause of the knifing attacks threatening innocent Israelis,” the Foreign Ministry told The Times of Israel in a statement at the time, during a wave of Palestinian attacks. “This is irresponsible for any official providing advice to his government on the Middle East.”

Lövin, a member of the Green Party, first stated that position in May 2015, when she argued that promoting education is not part of Sweden’s development strategy regarding Palestine. Financial aid provides Stockholm with a “possibility to reach out,” she declared in a parliamentary session at the same. “A constant threat to pull back aid is not a way forward.”

The government, she said, already has a set of strategies and goals, and does not plan to impose additional conditions for the provision of foreign aid.

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