Officials from Stockholm are currently unwelcome in Israel, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely declared Wednesday, a day after Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, called for an investigation to determine whether Israel has been conducting extrajudicial executions of Palestinians during the current wave of violence.
“Israel is closing its gates to official visits from Sweden,” Hotovely said during a briefing for future Israeli diplomats currently taking the cadets’ course.
“For over two years, relations with Sweden have been at some level of disconnect,” she said. “That is, we have refused visits by the Swedish foreign minister in Israel. At the clearest level, the State of Israel is sending a very stark message to Sweden that says that [when] you encourage terror [in Israel], you encourage Islamic State to act in all parts of Europe: in Brussels, in Paris.
“We’re currently at the front line of the battle against terror,” Hotovely added. “[Wallstrom] is de facto supporting it, encouraging it, and the State of Israel is sending a blunt message.”
Her chief of staff, Noam Sela, later told The Times of Israel that there had been various requests by Swedish officials for visits, but that Jerusalem had decided not to “advance” them. “Our relations are currently not at their very best, to say the least. We’re not interested in hosting them here.”
Later, Sela clarified that only the foreign minister and her deputy would be prevented from Israel.
A senior Israeli official said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unaware of any changes in Jerusalem’s foreign policy to bar Swedish officials from entering the country, according to Haaretz.
Indeed, at the very time Hotovely appeared to bar all Swedish officials from entering the country, the third deputy speaker of the Swedish parliament, Esabelle Dingizian, was in Israel on an official visit. A delegation of the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences is also currently visiting in Israel and has met with senior Israeli officials.
Jerusalem’s policy to discourage visits from top Swedish government officials has actually been in place since before Hotovely took office. In January 2015, when Avigdor Liberman was still foreign minister, Wallstrom had planned to come to Israel but was told that neither the president, nor the prime minister or the foreign minister would be available to receive her.
In addition, she was made to understood that she had to arrange her own security detail, as Israel refused to provide her with security. Wallstrom later canceled the planned visit, citing “scheduling differences.”
The most recent spat between Jerusalem and Sweden was triggered by Wallstrom’s call for an investigation into alleged extrajudicial Israeli executions of Palestinian attackers. During a parliamentary debate in the Riksdag on Tuesday, Wallstrom said it was “vital” to investigate into Israel’s policies vis-a-vis Palestinian attackers in order to “bring about possible accountability.”
While Israeli politicians and officials reacted angrily to Wallstrom’s remarks, Sweden’s ambassador in Tel Aviv, Carl Magnus Nesser, was not summoned to the Foreign Ministry for a dressing-down, and Jerusalem at this point does not appear to be planning any further steps.
“In her irresponsible and delusional statements, the Swedish foreign minister provides tailwind to terror, and thus encourages violence,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday.
Similar comments poured in from across the political spectrum.
“A person who looks at the war on terror worldwide and comes to the conclusion that Israel is the only country whose tactics must be investigated is anti-Semitic,” Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz charged.
The senior Likud minister went on to accuse Sweden of having a double standard, and noted the EU member nation made no such complaint against the French and US authorities in their bringing down of the terrorists who carried out recent terror attacks in San Bernardino and Paris.
Steinitz also claimed that Sweden had the highest numbers of volunteer recruits leaving for Syria to join the Islamic State terror group.
“The government of Sweden has become completely anti-Israel, and unfortunately, also a supporter of terrorism,” he said during an interview with Israel Radio.
While he ruled out severing diplomatic ties with Sweden, Steinitz said Israel needed to take “additional measures” to emphasize the gravity of Wallstrom’s remarks.
At least 25 Israelis have been killed, mostly in stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks, since a wave of Palestinian terrorism began in the fall. Over 130 Palestinians have been killed, most while carrying out or attempting attacks — Israel has identified 91 of the Palestinians killed as attackers — and others in violent clashes with security forces.
Israeli officials have maintained that security services are justified in killing suspected attackers, and that making a greater effort to neutralize them without killing them would generate unnecessary risk.
Wallstrom’s comments were also denounced Tuesday by former foreign ministers Avigdor Liberman and Tzipi Livni, as well as by opposition leader Isaac Herzog.
“The only thing the foreign minister of Sweden hasn’t done is physically join the Palestinian terrorists and stab Jews,” Liberman said in a statement. “Given her conduct so far, we need to hope it won’t happen.”
Livni, meanwhile, urged Sweden to avoid “meddling” in internal Israeli affairs.
“We won’t accept any comparison between our security forces fighting against terror and terrorists,” she said in a speech at Tel Aviv University. “Israel has a moral army and strong judicial system, and therefore there’s no chance we will accept Sweden or any other country meddling in our internal affairs.”
Herzog said it was “interesting Sweden didn’t respond in the same way when the Paris police killed the terrorists, as they should have,” referring to the wave of deadly Islamic State terror attacks in France on November 13.
“And how will Sweden respond when terrorists carry out attacks on its land? Will they then also demand to pat them on the heads because they had a rough childhood?” he said.
Wallstrom leveled a similar accusation in an address to the Swedish parliament on December 7. She said Israel’s response to the wave of Palestinian stabbings and car-ramming attacks was “disproportionate,” and suggested the deaths of many attackers during their attacks were tantamount to “extrajudicial executions.”
The Foreign Ministry in Stockholm issued a clarification in the wake of Wallstrom’s December remarks, assuring Israeli officials that she had been misinterpreted. At the time, Netanyahu telephoned his counterpart, Stefan Löfven, to complain about Wallstrom’s comments.
Sweden has been among the countries most critical of Israel’s handling of the conflict with the Palestinians. Following the November 13 attacks in Paris, in which terrorists killed 130 people, Wallstrom asserted that the attacks were rooted in the frustration of Muslims in the Middle East, including that of Palestinians.
Sweden recognized the state of Palestine on October 30, 2014, a move that was widely criticized by Israel.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.