Sunday, September 6, 2009

Former Swedish PM Cancels Trip to Israel

Tensions between Israel and Sweden continue to rise as Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has cancelled a trip to Israel that was scheduled to take place on September 11th.

Last month, a Swedish newspaper printed a story that accused Israeli soldiers of harvesting the organs of Palestinians. Israelis were further angered when the Swedish government refused to condemn the article citing free speech. Yet the Swedish government sent a letter of protest to Denmark at the height of the Muhammad cartoon controversy in 2006.

A spokesperson claims Bildt's cancellation is due to "timing" and has nothing to do with the diplomatic row. Which means that it has everything to do it.

Yet it is worth noting that there is no love lost between Bildt and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Bildt raised the ire of Israel in April 2008 when he compared Netanyahu, then leader of the opposition, to Hamas. In an interview conducted on Swedish radio, Bildt said, "It is possible to make peace without Hamas the same way it is possible to make peace without Netanyahu on the Israeli side."

One would think that Netanyahu and Bildt would have common cause on the surface. After all, Bildt was the long time leader of Sweden's Moderate Party which is the conservative party in that country. It is also worth noting that Bildt was Sweden's Prime Minister between 1991 and 1994. But, of course, European conservatism or Christian democracy is a very different creature from conservatism in the United States or Canada.

Indeed, the gulf between conservatives and socialists in Sweden on the question of Israel and the Palestinians is virtually non-existent. Anna Lindh, who was Sweden's Foreign Minister when the Social Democrats were in power, was also considered vehemently anti-Israel. Lindt continued to claim the IDF had massacred Palestinians civilians in the Jenin refugee camp even after the UN concluded there was no massacre in August 2002. Tragically, Lindh was assassinated in Stockholm in September 2003.

Zvi Mazel, who was Israel's Ambassador to Sweden from 2002 to 2004, offers some interesting insights into Swedish attitudes towards Israel and Jews in general.

So relations between Israel and Sweden have been strained for some time but perhaps have reached a breaking point.

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