In pro-Palestine Sweden, far-right Jewish lawmaker embraces Israel

Kent Ekeroth’s mother immigrated from Poland. As an MP for the nationalist Sweden Democrats, he now agitates against Arab immigrants

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Swedish MP Kent Ekeroth (photo credit: CC BY-SA Kent Ekeroth/Wikipedia)
Swedish MP Kent Ekeroth (photo credit: CC BY-SA Kent Ekeroth/Wikipedia)

Kent Ekeroth sits in the parliament in Stockholm for the far-right Sweden Democrats, the country’s second-largest opposition party. He’s a proud Swedish nationalist who agitates against leftists, liberals and Muslim immigrants.

Ekeroth is also Jewish, a frequent visitor to and staunch supporter of the State of Israel, and as such, was opposed to his government’s announcement earlier this month of plans to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state.

“We opposed this vote for several reasons. For one, it’s not the right way forward for Sweden to unilaterally recognize the Palestinians’ state without Israel’s involvement, without negotiations,” he said. “The other part is: a state is formed when a state can control its own territory. The Palestinian Authority cannot.” Worse yet, the PA formed a unity government with Hamas, he continued. “For us to recognize that — unacceptable.”

To make their opposition to the government’s declared intention to recognize Palestine official, the Sweden Democrats, together with other opposition parties, last week voted against it in the Riksdag’s Committee on European Union Affairs. The newly formed center-left coalition of Prime Minister Stefan Löfven should have first discussed the issue in the Foreign Relations Committee, the lawmakers decided — a vote that, if disregarded, could get the government into hot water with the parliament’s Constitutional Committee.

But the damage is done and Stockholm is unlikely to reverse its decision, said Ekeroth, 33. “I don’t think they will back down. That would be too much of an upset if they did,” he told The Times of Israel last week in Jerusalem, where he visited as part of a delegation of pro-Israel parliamentarians from across the globe.

The new government’s declaration that “Sweden will recognize the State of Palestine” — which was followed by a similar vote in the British House of Commons and the announcement that the Spanish parliament might be next — “will probably have a domino effect in Europe,” Ekeroth said. “The left-wing establishment in many European countries will of course use this and the English vote as a reason to do the same thing in their countries. Considering that the left-wing media in Europe is very strong in almost all countries, especially the Western European countries, I wouldn’t be surprised if there would be mounting pressure to do so.”

A native of Malmö, Ekeroth was born to a Swedish father and a Jewish mother originally from Kazakhstan who immigrated to Sweden in the 1960s. He is “partly Jewish, but obviously also Swedish. So it’s a bit of both,” he said. Later during the interview, he clarified: “I’m first of all Swedish. I was born there, it’s my first language, it’s the culture I grew up in; I’m sure I’m Swedish in many ways, culturally. That’s natural. But then I have a Jewish background, so I understand that part, too.”

Ekeroth is entirely secular and described his observance of Jewish traditions as “shallow.” He first got into politics after a debate at the local synagogue (although he is not a member of any Jewish community). A centrist party tried to recruit him but since he has always been opposed to immigration he joined the far-right Sweden Democrats, with whom he entered the Riksdag in 2010. According to his worldview, unlimited immigration to his native land is the root of all evil befalling it — including the government’s decision to recognize Palestine.

For one, the Green party, the Social Democrats junior partner in the ruling coalition, is “fiercely anti-Israel,” he said. Sweden’s new Turkish-born housing minister Mehmet Kaplan participated in the Mavi Marmara flotilla that sought to break the Gaza blockade in 2010, he added in support of his argument.

Illustrative photo of a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Stockholm, Sweden, on January 20, 2009. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Stockholm, Sweden, on January 20, 2009. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Very few Nazis live in Sweden, and whatever anti-Semitism exists there is “an imported problem,” Ekeroth said. “We have imported anti-Semitism because of unrestricted immigration. And that’s a growing problem. Jews are leaving Malmö, they’re leaving Sweden.”

It may seem odd for a Jew to subscribe to the kind of nationalism that borders on xenophobia. But Jews showing sympathy for far-right politicians is no anomaly in Europe, where parties such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France or Geert Wilder’s Freedom Party in Holland draw support from people opposed to increased immigration from Arab countries.

Last year, a local politician from the Sweden Democrats caused an uproar when he said his party “hates Muslims” because of Jews, citing Ekeroth’s Jewish background as evidence.

Ekeroth acknowledged that his party’s relationship with the local Jewish community is tense. “But they’re all liberals — the Jews in Sweden, in Europe in general — liberal in the sense that they want mass immigration.” Jews, he surmised, see themselves as a minority and thus feel obligated to defend other minorities; Swedes, he stressed, “regard ourselves” as part of a Judeo-Christian world and heritage. “That’s where Jews should put themselves. Not with Arab Muslim immigration. Because it’s worlds apart.”

Immigrants aren’t the only ones to blame for anti-Israel sentiment in Sweden, according to Ekeroth. The left-wing media is equally guilty, he opined. A survey once showed that 80 percent of the country’s journalists hold left-wing views, he said, “and this affects what they write, and this affects public opinion. So people in Sweden don’t have the full picture of what’s going on. They don’t know about the history in Israel or the Jewish connection to Israel.”

Ekeroth himself has been to Israel more than a dozen times. As the Sweden Democrats’ international secretary he comes here for work, but he also likes to vacation in Tel Aviv. In 2006, he interned in the Swedish embassy there.

Does he consider himself a Zionist? “I’m a Swedish nationalist and I support the State of Israel and Israel’s right to defend itself and their right to their homeland. I don’t know what that makes me. I’m a Swedish nationalist first and foremost. But obviously I know that this is the Jewish homeland more than anyone else.”

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