As relations between Sweden and Israel grow increasingly tense, a small group of Swedish MPs vowed Tuesday to publicly challenge their foreign minister’s controversial call last week for an investigation into what she termed Israel’s “extrajudicial executions” of Palestinians.
While attendance was low when the lawmakers met in Stockholm on Tuesday evening — only eight MPs attended the ad hoc gathering organized by Swedish MP Mikael Oscarsson and Israel advocacy groups — it is remarkable in a country in which political rhetoric is by and large hostile to Israel. In a telling nod to the security threats and political isolation Swedish politicians face when publicly supporting Israel, the organizers assured those who did not feel comfortable being photographed at the event that they could abstain from group pictures.
At the meeting, organized in part the World Zionist Organization in conjunction with the Israel Allies Foundation and the Swedish Zionist Federation, the Christian Democrats party’s Oscarsson said he would lead a group of lawmakers in calling on Wallström for a mandatory parliamentary debate in response to her statement.
Last week Wallström pushed for an investigation into Israelis’ killing of knife-wielding Palestinian assailants who have attacked or attempted to attack Israeli citizens on a near-daily basis since early fall.
In response, Jerusalem demanded a dressing down of Sweden’s ambassador to Israel, and called Wallström’s comments “irresponsible and delusional,” claiming that the Swedish FM was encouraging further terrorist attacks against Israelis.
During the Tuesday Stockholm meeting, the MPs were briefed by Itamar Marcus, founder of the Palestinian Media Watch, a watchdog group that monitors the Palestinian Authority for anti-Israel bias. Marcus presented examples of official PA media messages that glorify the killing of Jews, such as officials’ publicly calling for the killing of Jews, and the naming of schools and recreational facilities after terrorists.
Oscarsson, one of the few outspoken supporters of the Jewish state in the Swedish parliament, said the materials presented by Marcus further emboldened him to challenge Wallström’s comments and the government’s stance on Israel.
“This evidence is shocking. We are going to call Foreign Minister Wallström to a public debate in the plenum to answer questions about what we have seen,” he said.
Oscarsson told The Times of Israel that Wallström’s call for an investigation only into Israel’s actions, and not those of the Palestinian Authority, sheds doubt on the legitimacy of her request.
“If she had demanded a parallel investigation [of the Palestinian Authority], then of course we can investigate what Israel has done. But what really needs to be done is an investigation of the Palestinian Authority, where Swedish aid is going to, specifically in relation to the Authority’s advocating violence in school books and naming sports events after suicide bombers,” he said.
Oscarsson added that while Wallström has received support for her comments, there are also many people who oppose her views.
“What Margot Wallström said is absolutely not what the entire Swedish people think. There is a significant group of people who want this information about the Palestinian Authority’s incitements to violence to be investigated,” he said.
Moderate Party MP Hanif Bali, who also attended the meeting, saw hypocrisy in Wallström’s probe of Israel’s killing of terrorists. In October, Swedish police shot and killed a 21-year-old assailant who stabbed students at a school in southwest Sweden, killing two.
“During that attack, the police went in directly and eliminated the threat in order to protect people. But when a country that Margot Wallström doesn’t like does this, she calls it ‘extrajudicial executions,’ and this is a double standard,” Bali said.
Iranian-born Bali, who has received anti-Semitic hate mail and a death threat for his outspoken support of Israel, said Wallström is only a small part of a general trend in the Swedish political discourse surrounding Israel. Stockholm gives aid to the Palestinian Authority without investigating how the money is being put to use, he charged, while at the same time leading a one-sided critique of the Jewish state.
‘This is not only about what Margot Wallström has said. It is about a long-term problem we have in Sweden, which is that we have given aid to the Palestinian Authority, which has gone towards spreading hate messages’
“This is not only about what Margot Wallström has said. It is about a long-term problem we have in Sweden, which is that we have given aid to the Palestinian Authority, which has gone towards spreading hate messages. That is a problem that is larger than Margot Wallström,” he said.
The WZO, whose vice chairman David Breakstone spearheaded the initiative, works to combat international anti-Israel bias. In light of the recent comments by Wallström, the organization has recently shifted its focus to Sweden.
“There’s no doubt that throughout Europe we have a general struggle in making the case for Israel. We see an anti-Israel bias coming over and over again in Europe, but when someone says that there are ‘extrajudicial executions,’ that is something that is even beyond what I think the mainstream in Sweden would think of the situation,” said Dov Lipman, the Israel-based director of public diplomacy for the WZO and former Yesh Atid MK.
“I’m not suggesting that there will be an overwhelming change throughout the [Swedish] parliament. But if even the pro-Israel MPs are more emboldened, perhaps they can convince some of their colleagues. We will present this information over and over again until there’s an understanding of what’s going on on the ground here,” said Lipman.