Swedish ministers have history of pro-Palestinian activism

Stockholm’s new housing minister was aboard the 2010 Gaza flotilla; education minister was held in Israel for protesting security barrier

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Swedish MP Mehmet Kaplan (photo credit: Youtube screenshot)
Swedish MP Mehmet Kaplan (photo credit: Youtube screenshot)

The new Swedish prime minister’s surprise announcement on Friday of his intention to recognize a Palestinian state, which has drawn harsh criticism from Israel, comes after some of its highest-ranking politicians have engaged in pro-Palestinian activism in past years.

Housing Minister Mehmet Kaplan, of Sweden’s Green Party, was arrested in 2010 by Israeli forces after participating in the Mavi Marmara flotilla, which was headed to the Gaza Strip. The Turkish-born MP was later deported from Israel over his involvement.

In that incident, Israeli commandos stormed the ship and were attacked by those on board, with several soldiers seriously injured. Nine Turks were killed in the ensuing melee and a tenth died in hospital this year after four years in a coma.

During this summer’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, Kaplan called for the “liberation of Jerusalem” at a pro-Palestinian rally.

He also downplayed the evils of the Islamic State in a July address, saying that Swedes joining their ranks in Iraq and Syria were similar to those who went to Finland during World War II to combat the Soviet Union. His comparison was lambasted by many Swedes, who consider the soldiers who volunteered to fight the Soviets on behalf of Finland freedom fighters.

In addition, Sweden’s Education Minister Gustav Fridolin was detained by Israeli forces in 2004 for protesting the security barrier near Ramallah. Fridolin left the country shortly after he was released.

During his inaugural speech Friday, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said that “the conflict between Israel and Palestine can only be solved with a two-state solution, negotiated in accordance with international law.

“The two-state solution requires mutual recognition and a will to coexist peacefully. Sweden will therefore recognize the state of Palestine.”

A Foreign Ministry official reprimanded the Swedish ambassador to Israel on Monday for Lofven’s pledge to recognize a future Palestinian state. The Foreign Ministry representative argued that the move encourages the Palestinians to pursue unilateral steps toward statehood, rather than seeking to restart direct talks with Israel.

Prior to the meeting, envoy Carl Magnus Nesser said that he planned to clarify Sweden’s position on recognizing a Palestinian state and its desire to maintain strong ties with Israel.

“Israel and Sweden have a strong relationship, and the new government has made it clear that it wants this to continue,” Nesser told Army Radio on Monday morning.

He added, however, that in deciding to recognize a Palestinian state, Sweden was making a statement to support the resumption of peace negotiations.

“The situation is clear, peace talks have been suspended for a while, and I think the conflict in Gaza made it clear that the status quo needs to be changed,” Nesser said. “The purpose of such a statement of this forthcoming recognition is, of course, to support negotiations leading to a two-state solution.”

Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed