Olof Palme changed foreign politics and pushed Sweden toward Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. At the same time the hate toward Israel was born in the country that had previously had strong friendship ties to the Jewish state.
In the 1950s we loved Sweden and looked up to you. Now we live with a kind of love-hate relationship with you, says Israels former ambassador to Sweden, Zvi Mazel, to Dispatch International.
JERUSALEM. It is a spry 75-year old who meets us in the foyer of Hotel Crowne Plaza in central Jerusalem, a stones throw from the parliament, Knesset. Zvi Mazel has little regard for Swedish media, but has understood that Dispatch International is not like the mainstream press.
It is wonderful to see that there still are some journalists in Sweden who are interested in the truth about Israel and dont just hate us, says Zvi Mazel with a smile.
Zvi Mazel grew up with the image of Sweden as a friendly and forward-moving country. The relations between Sweden and Israel were very good and many young Swedes traveled to Israel to work at kibbutz. These days the Swedish news reporting is characterized by strongly biased reports where the Palestinians are painted as victims of brutal Israeli policies and not a word is written about the Palestinians entrenched hatred of Israel and Israel defending itself. The peace negotiations appear beyond comprehension because Swedish journalists never write about the Palestinians demand for the destruction of Israel.
Zvi Mazel maintains that it was Olof Palme who changed the Swedes view of Israel. Under his leadership the Swedes love of the Jewish state vanished. But what actually happened?
First the fact that Sweden initially refused to accept Jewish refugees at the onset of WWII has soiled the image of Sweden. On the other hand, you later accepted the Danish Jews and saved them. So we have mixed feelings about you.
Then one must go back to the Second World War to understand it when a lot of Swedish sympathy went to Germany, says Zvi Mazel. He adds that according to a number of historians, by allowing the Germans to purchase Swedish iron ore, which was vital to their war industry, the war was prolonged by one year.
After the war, Sweden was ashamed of its actions during the Second World War and wholeheartedly stood behind the formation of Israel as a state. Strong friendship ties developed between the countries. But when Olof Palme came to power in 1969, things began to change.
Palme even said that Sweden wasnt a part of the Western world. Officially the country was neutral, but he actually pushed Sweden toward the east. And that was historic the Swedish vikings traveled east, while the Danish and Norwegian vikings traveled west.
Olof Palmes paternal grandmother was from Finland and his mother was from Latvia, so the eastern ties also existed privately.
Zvi Mazel came to Stockholm in 2002, straight from the post as ambassador in Cairo, Egypt. Right then the Palestinian intifada was at its strongest and the attacks against Israel were very aggressive. Little did he anticipate that he would emerge from the fire into the frying pan when he became ambassador to Sweden.
I was happy to leave the horrible situation in Egypt and thought I would come to an enlightened and friendly Sweden. I was so disappointed. The hostility from government agencies and media came as a shock to me. All media outlets from right to left described the intifada, with suicide bombers killing innocent people, as something necessary. Israel was condemned when we defended ourselves.
In Sweden he encountered no understanding of Israels exposed situation. Zvi Mazel admits that Israel has done a wretched job when it comes to spreading its own image of what happens.
I see two explanations for it. First, we Israelis assumed that all people knew and understood that the Jewish people returned to its Land. That is why it came as a shock to us when the world imposed an arms embargo on us in 1948 when the Arab states attacked the newly founded state of Israel. The Arab nations had lots of weapons. We had almost none and received no help in defending ourselves! That we would have to explain why we needed weapons had not even occurred to us. And I remind you that that was three years after the Shoah [the Holocaust] and what our people had to suffer in Europe.
The second explanation to our silence is that Jews throughout all times have accustomed themselves to keep a low profile because of the persecutions. We have been hated and excluded from most societies and we are still trying to struggle our way forward without making too much noise.
65 years and five wars later, Israel is without a doubt the most successful nation in the Middle East and the only democracy. The Arab nations are, despite the oil, among the most underdeveloped in the world. While there are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, the Jews number only 13 million. Despite Israel and high birthrates, the Jewish population has a long way left to reach the 19 million they were before the Holocaust. .
Besides Olof Palme, Anna Lindh contributed to Swedens negative view of Israel, says Zvi Mazel. After a Palestinian suicide bombing that killed 20 Israelis, Anna Lindh used to condemn both sides in the conflict. When Israel tracked down and killed the terrorists that were responsible for the bombing, she only condemned Israel.
We are not even allowed to defend ourselves! Everything is our fault; it is always easy to blame Israel.
But the worst haters of Israel Mazel found in the Left and Green parties (Vänsterpartiet and Miljöpartiet).
They are worse than the Arabs! During my time in Stockholm I tried several times to orchestrate meetings with these parties, but they refused to talk to me.
Last but not least, Zvi Mazel mentions the Church of Sweden as also responsible for Swedens hate of Israel. One day in 2003 when he opened the newspaper and saw the Arch Bishop at the time, K G Hammar, calling for a boycott of Israel, he was very upset.
The newspapers called me and asked if I thought K G Hammar was antisemitic. Probably, I answered. Naturally there were headlines. I of course dont know if K G Hammar is antisemitic, but how come that such a prominent religious personality gets involved in politics and expresses hatred to the people of Israel? Unfortunately studies show that many Swedes are anti-Semites. And then Im not only referring to the Muslim immigrants, but also regular ethnic Swedes.
Zvi Mazel is referring to the study Antisemitic images and attitudes in Sweden, which was conducted in 2005. Of the 5,000 Swedes questioned, over one third said that they harbor a partially ambivalent attitude toward Jews and 5 percent admitted to being strongly antisemitic. However, the study does not report how many of the antisemitic responders were ethnic Swedes and how many had, for example, a Muslim background.
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