Is Scandinavia a center for anti-Israel activities? The answer, from David Stavrou at i24 News is: – not necessarily:
While other countries are giving up on the Middle East, Scandinavia still has it high on its agenda. Why?
Many Israelis are increasingly worried about Europe’s attitude towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The latest troubling indication was a document obtained by the Israeli daily Haaretz outlining sanctions and other diplomatic steps reportedly being considered by the EU against Israel.
The Scandinavian countries have been particularly active: a few weeks ago Sweden recognized Palestine, just after Denmark’s Foreign Minister said his country may reconsider its trade agreements with Israel. During the summer’s Israel-Hamas war, there were massive demonstrations in Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo against Israel’s use of force in Gaza. Some of these were accompanied by violence against pro-Israel and Jewish targets.
These events give the impression that Scandinavia has become a center for the anti-Israel forces in Europe. Some Israelis even believe that anti-Semitic sentiments are overshadowing Scandinavia’s traditional friendship and support towards their country. But is this really the case?
While other countries are giving up on the region, Sweden, Norway and Denmark still have it high on their agendas. They discuss it at every forum; they send millions of dollars for humanitarian aid, reconstruction and state building and their media keeps it in the headlines at all times.
Why do they not give up?
First there’s the electorate. For most voters in Scandinavia, foreign policy is much less important than domestic social and economic issues. But when foreign policy is discussed, Scandinavians want to see it as a tool for spreading ideas, ideals and aid around the world rather than pursuing narrow national interests.
It is however true that many Scandinavians see the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts through a moral rather than political lens. Scandinavian politicians know this and sometimes use foreign policy as their moral alibi – they support the oppressed and victims of violence; they direct resources to the well-being of women and children and open their gates to refugees.
Still, understanding Scandinavian motives doesn’t necessarily address Israeli concerns – is Scandinavia in effect anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian, and if it is, should Israelis be worried by its influence on other EU countries?
The problem with these questions is that they’re the wrong ones to ask. An updated, realistic view of the conflict shows that in terms of potential political solutions, it isn’t between Jews and Arabs any more.
The current stage of the conflict is between the supporters of a one-state solution and a two-state one; both sides have Jewish and Arab supporters, both sides have left and right wings, both sides have religious and secular camps.
The two-state solution is also a vague concept. The Oslo Accord model was far from perfect but that doesn’t matter much anymore since these days a two-state solution of any kind is a dying concept on both sides of the Green Line.
This is where the Europeans come in. The real reason Scandinavian policies worry many Israelis these days is not that they’re anti-Israel; it’s that they are in favour of a two-state solution.
Meeting in Stockholm at the end of October, the leaders of the Nordic countries made it very clear. Although they had tactical differences (mainly about the question of the right timing for recognizing Palestine), there was a wide consensus. Like Cato the Elder, the Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers of all the Nordic countries repeated the same mantra – a two-state solution is the only solution, and Israel must stop building in the occupied territories.
It’s worthwhile, therefore, to consider the idea that Scandinavian countries are not driven by pro-Palestinian sentiments (even though they support the Palestinian right to self-determination) or by anti-Semitism (though Scandinavians are certainly not immune to it). Rather, they see the conflict through ethical eyes of northern European democrats, who also tend to have a practical and positive approach to politics. They see the two-state solution as the only political tool which can serve Western democratic values and they’re now pressing harder since the sides are moving further away from it and retreating to pre-modern tribal clashes based on religion and ethnic identity.
This is also true in a wider European context.
The author may be right in principle, but the fact that the Scandinavians refuse to see the reality on the ground, that the two-state solution has become defunct through no fault of Israel’s, or at least not solely through Israel’s fault, demonstrates its anti-Israel blindness. The fact that they consider building houses in territory which is almost certain to remain Israeli as equivalent to human rights abuses reveals their biases.
Interestingly, the Swedes themselves are hardly immune to anti-immigrant bias, which in the eyes of the hallowed human rights agencies is about as bad a war crime as one can find. An anti-immigration party has just brought the Swedish government down after barely 3 months in power, making the Israeli government seem a paragon of stability in comparison. Stratfor explains how the unthinkable became the possible in Europe:
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven announced the snap elections after his center-left government lost a budget vote less than three months after coming to power. Lofven’s announcement was precipitated by a decision by the far-right Sweden Democrats party to support the opposition during a budget vote. Sweden’s early elections, the first for the country in almost 60 years, will be held March 22, with the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats likely playing a central role. In Sweden’s parliamentary elections in September, no coalition managed to form a majority government, but the elections were marked by the strong performance of the far-right party, which received 12.9 percent of the vote, up from 5.7 percent in 2010, when it entered parliament for the first time.
… More important, Sweden has the largest number of asylum applications per capita in the European Union. Last year, violent riots shook Stockholm’s immigrant-heavy suburbs, revealing Sweden’s struggle to integrate its immigrants into mainstream society. Opinion polls show that Swedes still largely support the idea of living in a country that is open to asylum-seekers, but they are also worried about the economic and cultural impact of increased immigration. If the Sweden Democrats hold their place as the country’s third-largest party, they will probably become key in the formation of a new government. This would put a far-right party in a position of power in one of Europe’s main economies.
Deutsche Welle expands on the anti-immigrant sentiment in Swedish politics:
Acting Sweden Democrat leader Mattias Karlsson said his party was seeking to force a reversal of Sweden’s generous immigration laws. He said his party would “topple any government that tries to allow increased immigration and gives the Greens a decisive role over Swedish immigration policies.”
He also threatened: “If the Alliance doesn’t change its policies (on immigration), we would try to bring down a government of those parties too.”
His party wants to cut immigration by 50 to 90 percent – something the other parties aren’t really concerned with.
To be honest I can’t blame the anti-immigrant parties, whether in Sweden or elsewhere in Europe or the UK for their position. Years of unlimited entry of immigrants who refuse to integrate into their host societies are now bearing their bitter fruit. It will be interesting to see if the far-right gets into power, and if so, will that affect their position towards Israel.
On a related subject, here is a fascinating interview with a genuine Palestinian human-rights activist, Bassam Eid, which was conducted by Ishai Friedman for an Israeli magazine, and the interview was published on his blog (Hebrew). The translation was provided by Elder of Ziyon. Here is what Bassam Eid had to say about Sweden’s support of human rights for only some humans:
And the [Palestinian] Authority’s statement about boycotting the settlements?
“It shows you the disconnect between the public and its leaders. That there is no boycott. There is one “hero,” Mustafa Barghouti, who is a very corrupt. He stole money from Saudi Arabia meant to buy them ambulances. He states that he invented the boycott of Israel, and he tours across Europe and talks about a boycott of Israel. Every other day he is in Sweden and they listen to him but let him go and declare a boycott in Ramallah and the refugee camps. ”
You were a researcher for B’Tselem, you’ve won a prize when there. How do you rate B’Tselem today?
“When I worked in B’Tselem, it was a greatly appreciated organization in Israel. I do not think the intensity of the anger that Israel today has against B’Tselem was in the past. Things have changed, also B’Tselem has changed. For the Israelis ‘B’Tselem’ is not considered a human rights organization. In my opinion, a human rights organization has to fight against all human rights violations no matter what happens. At the time I conducted a comprehensive investigation on the Palestinian suicide bombers and I contacted B’Tselem and asked them if they wanted to issue a joint report. B’Tselem did not like the idea and I was angry. Today all organizations Israelis and Palestinians, all of them deal with Israel. No one opens his mouth about the Palestinian Authority, the torture, administrative detentions. ”
You also left the organization and started one that was critical against the PA.
“Indeed, we had a financial problem. I think our organization’s policy is not consistent with the foreign policy of Europe. Sweden, for example, never gave me a penny, [because] That I am critical of the PA and they like the PA and are against Israel.”
They want you to leave the PA alone and focus on Israel?
“If I want to establish an anti-Israel NGO, I promise you tomorrow I would get a half a million dollars from Sweden. Check. But the money does not interest me. I just do not understand the difference between European human rights organization that protects “Ahmed Israeli” but doesn’t want to protects the human rights of “Ahmed Palestinian Authority.”
Would you prefer to live under Israeli rule as an Israeli?
“I want a democratic Palestinian state. If I can’t, I have no problem to live in peace under Israeli occupation. I have been to most Arab countries saw what that prisons really are, what is torture really is, there’s no way I want to be part of it and I’ll tell you a secret: 80% of Palestinians in East Jerusalem certainly think so.”
Read the whole devastating interview where he slams both the Europeans (singling out Sweden) and the Israeli Betselem human rights organization for their hypocrisy.
The Scandinavians need to stop feeling so superior and self-righteous about their human rights record and look to their own rising anti-immigrant feeling which might yet completely transform their society.