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Monday, August 31, 2009

An Israeli in Stockholm comments on the Aftonbladet blood libel

David Stavrou, an Israeli living in Stockholm, criticizes both sides in the Aftonbladet blood libel controversy. His criticism of the Swedes is spot-on. His criticism of Israel seems to be limited to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's comparison of Sweden's behavior now with its behavior in the Holocaust, and while he has a point I'm not sure it's a correct one.

Here's part of what he has to say about Sweden.
Theirs isn't traditional anti-Semitism based on religion (the Jews killed Jesus). It isn't even modern anti-Semitism (the Jews are rich and control the world). This is post modern anti-Semitism. It's all about ratings and it's business orientated. It sells newspapers. Nobody cares about the truth because it's subjective anyway, nobody has time for research and you can definitely count on it that no one will take responsibility. The writer gets his 15 minutes of fame; the paper makes millions. And damn the consequences.

But it's not just about money; it's also about politics too. The never ending and, quite frankly, tedious text Swedish officials use about freedom of speech is not relevant in this case. First of all, despite the claims of various official spokespeople, it is not absolute and untouchable, even in Sweden: witness the Danish Muhammad cartoons, and various regulations, self-censorship and safeguards that protect Swedes from offensive commercials and sensitive publications.

Sweden is very firm when it defends the rights of large minorities or powerful establishments (like Aftonbladet) but much less decisive when it comes to weaker groups or even the general public. This is why authorities in Malmö preferred to defend the right of an angry mob to boycott a tennis match between Israel and Sweden than to defend the right of the general public to watch the match.

Is Sweden's Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, really so naïve that he thinks that freedom of speech in Sweden applies equally to everyone and works equally for every one? I don't think so. When he says that free press and free speech are the best defence against "breaches of judgment, bad taste and transgressions of core societal values", he knows very well that these freedoms can very easily be used to wage attacks on minorities by an aggressive majority. Israel isn't a minority in Sweden but an attack against it is very popular in many circles. This is where Bildt's claims have a cynical twist. Defending freedom of speech in this case earns him the support of many. Especially valuable is the support of many on the other side of the Swedish political spectrum. What politician would object to that?

To be fair, Bildt and Sweden's political establishment didn't have to limit freedom of speech; they weren't requested to close down Aftonbladet or to censor it. Instead of flying empty slogans which hide political interest, all they needed to do was to say they don't believe the allegations and they see them as provocative and irresponsible. That's not taking sides, it's just being fair-minded. Instead of that, Bildt chose to distance himself from Sweden's ambassador to Israel who did exactly that. He did the math: no one gains political points in Sweden from pleasing Israel. Quite the opposite.
And here's part of what he had to say about Israel:
But the cynicism is not limited to the Swedish side. Israel too is responsible for the deterioration of the situation. Every state has the right to defend itself against slander and lies, even if they're published in a paper thousands of miles away. But there must be some kind of discretion in choosing methods of defence and counter attack. I would like to know, for example, who chose to use the holocaust card as the first reaction. Surely, of all the arsenal of Israeli arguments, another one could have been used against a Swedish tabloid, Auschwitz could have been saved for say, states that say they want to annihilate Israel and are in the process of building the weapons to do it. If, according to Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the Afonbladet article is like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Bildt's refusal do condemn it is equivalent to Sweden's WW2 neutrality, then what is left for going after terrorist attacks against Jewish and Israeli targets and against genocidal, fascist regimes?
This is why he's wrong about Israel. First, this is not the first such incident in Sweden. Stavrou mentions the Davis Cup match in Malmo, and one could add to it the 'art' exhibit lauding the suicide bomber five years ago and many other incidents. Perhaps Lieberman was wrong to raise the Holocaust. But perhaps he wasn't because the behavior Sweden exhibits now is reminiscent of German behavior in the 1930's. Speaking of which, if something like this had happened in Germany, would Stavrou also have argued that it was wrong to bring up the Holocaust?

Second, Sweden has shown time and again that it is an anti-Semitic country. A 2006 survey showed that 41% of Swedes were very or somewhat negatively inclined toward Jews (and were willing to admit to it). 41%! That's a huge number! While Lieberman may come on strong, we are long past the point where something needs to be said about Sweden's attitude towards Jews!

While this may be uncomfortable for Stavrou living in Israel, the fact that a country that holds the Presidency of the European Union has such a history of anti-Semitism (yes, going back to World War II) is a serious issue, and one that Israel needs to make sure is raised again and again with its friends in Europe so that they will be on alert to serve as a counterbalance for Sweden's hostile positions.

And I still hope Bildt will be told not to come.


At 10:20 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Israel has no business allowing Bildt to come. Its up to Sweden to make amends to Israel not the other way around. And they have yet to make them.


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