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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Anti-Israelism and Anti-Semitism in Sweden

Filed under: Anti-Semitism, Europe and Israel
Publication: Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism


“Sweden claims to be a superdemocracy, an example of enlightenment and openness. People with such pretensions should be a little more knowledgeable about Israel, another democracy after all. And yet the average Swedish citizen does not know more than what the country’s shallow media tells him. This is often anti-Israeli, and the public is influenced by it.”

Zvi Mazel was the Israeli ambassador to Sweden from December 2002 to April 2004.

“Before, I had been for five years ambassador to Egypt, where massive hatred of Israel was promoted on a daily basis. We were regularly accused of all that was wrong everywhere in the world. I did not expect to find a somewhat similar atmosphere in a democratic country such as Sweden.”

During his stay in Stockholm, Mazel developed a critical view of Sweden. Among large parts of the society’s elite he encountered a discriminatory attitude and hostility to Israel as well as pseudomorality and arrogance. Sweden’s apparent tolerance for rabid anti-Semitism has reinforced his opinion of the country’s ruling classes.

Often Hostile Media

“The Swedish media have hardly any investigative function. In that regard their performance compared to the Israeli media is very poor. Issues, including domestic ones, rapidly arise and disappear. The Swedish media’s frequent hostility to Israel can partly be explained by the disproportionately large number of journalists who belong or are supporters of the Green and Left parties or the ruling Social Democrats. Jan Guillou, a man who praised Saddam Hussein in his articles and who holds extreme anti-Israeli views, was elected chairman of the Journalists Association-a body that seldom openly criticizes the government.

“A notable exception occurred when Sweden’s king, Carl XVI Gustaf, visited Brunei. The king, under Swedish law a figurehead, told his entourage that he considered the Sultan of Brunei an open-minded person who looked after his people. These words led to strong media reactions. How did Sweden’s king dare to say this about a ‘terrible dictator’?

“The debate on this trivial matter raged for days. The media would never dare to behave similarly against the powerful ruling Social Democrats. They did not have the courage to do so when politicians of the left-wing parties stepped over the line, including financial abuses.”

Media Policies

“There is much that is aberrant in the Swedish media world. One day all foreign ambassadors were invited to a meeting by government communication representatives. Some eighty to ninety ambassadors showed up. The head of the state television news department told us, with great arrogance, that they did not interview diplomats. This was not of interest, she said, because diplomats could only express their government’s official policy.

“She added that diplomatic representations should not contact the state media for coverage of specific events or countries’ independence days. African ambassadors were furious. They have little occasion besides their independence days to draw any attention to their country.  

“She furthermore said there were only three international issues of interest for the television: the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Iraq situation in connection to the United States, and relations with neighboring Scandinavian countries. For a democratic country this is an unheard-of attitude and also a sign of how narrow-minded it is.

“She emphasized that the Swedish media are free to publish what they want: ‘If they have written against your country, you have no right of reply.’ As for the ombudsman, he receives hundreds of complaints per year about the media. He told us that he only takes action on about fifteen cases, ordering that a response should be published. He observed that this was a lengthy procedure.” Mazel remarks that in many other democratic countries there is a right of reply. 

The Swedish Dailies

Mazel observes: “Among the Swedish dailies, the biggest, Aftonbladet, is the most anti-Israeli. Its editor in chief, Helle Klein, is a descendant of a well-known rabbi but she can find nothing good in Israel and her paper attacks us regularly. During the worst Arab terrorist acts of the intifada, the paper still said Israel was an oppressive colonialist state that behaved entirely unjustly.

“Dagens Nyheter, the more intellectual daily, is also consistently anti-Israeli. It published the worst anti-Semitic article I ever read in a Swedish paper. It was titled ‘It Is Permitted to Hate Jews.’ The author, Jan Samuelson, who presented himself as an Islam expert, wrote that as long as Israel occupies territories, the Muslim hatred against all Jews is justified. This view entails that any Muslim is entitled to hate a newborn Jewish child anywhere in the world. He did not refer to the genocidal hatred of Jews that existed among Muslims long before the Six Day War.

“Svenska Dagbladet, the other quality newspaper, is also critical of Israel but not as much as the other two. A fourth daily, Expressen, rather a  tabloid paper, is usually more balanced. Yet during my stay in Sweden they let an imam of the Stockholm Great Mosque publish a weekly column on Friday. Its text was very different from the violent sermons of the imams in the same mosque.”

Preaching Hate in the Mosque

“From friends I used to receive Hamas anti-Semitic material, which is regularly distributed in Stockholm’s Great Mosque. Sheikh Yusuf al-Qardawi, an Egyptian Muslim hate-preacher based in Qatar and  considered the main theologian of the Muslim Brotherhood, spoke there in 2004. His speech was tantamount to calling for the murder of Israelis. I had complained to the Swedish government even before he came, asking why they let such a well-known hatemonger speak there. I did not even get a reply.

“On this matter the Swedish media initially remained silent. After extracts of Qardawi’s talks were published, I wrote to many people in Sweden and distributed his texts. It took some time until one of the leading members of the Liberal Party’s young guard wrote an article against the hate preacher. That finally led to some discussion in the Swedish press.”

The Social Democrats

Mazel mentions that the Social Democratic Party has been ruling the country since 1932 except for two short interludes. “Since Olof Palme became the Social Democratic leader in 1969 the party has been following an anti-Israeli line, which continues till today.” At present the Social Democrats,  who lead a minority government, have 144 seats out of 349 in the Riksdag (parliament) and are in an open coalition with the two extreme-Left political parties-the ex-communist Left Party and the Greens, both having a strong anti-Israeli bias. The diplomatic personnel they send to the Swedish representation at the United Nations continue to take anti-Israeli stances and play an important role in encouraging anti-Israeli voting.

“However, one must say that Prime Minister Goran Persson gained much positive publicity when he organized a major international conference on Holocaust education-the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust in January 2000.

“In anticipation of this conference, which was very successful, he had set up a research institute called Living History whose task was and still is to investigate the various aspects of the Holocaust, and which published a book on the Shoah. This excellent work has been translated into many languages and became a textbook for high schools. One of the results of the conference was the formation of a task force of teachers from various countries that would be sent to Yad Vashem for training in Holocaust education.

“In the following years Persson strayed from the centrality of the Holocaust in various other directions. We had major discussions with Swedish diplomats to keep the 2004 conference on Preventing Genocide from becoming highly politicized, focused on contemporary issues, and anti-Israeli.

“Persson’s speech at that conference was rather ambivalent. He avoided mentioning the word Islam and did not say a thing about the murderous inclinations and violence of its radical currents. Holocaust Memorial Day, 27 January, fell in the middle of the conference. Persson came to the Great Synagogue in Stockholm and spoke there as he does every year.

“I had been told that in previous years he had made very good speeches. But the one in 2004 was much less so. He hardly mentioned the Holocaust and the Jews. All was very neutral. From the newspapers I learned that on the morning of that same Holocaust Memorial Day, he had gone to visit the Great Mosque. He wanted the media to report the next day on how balanced he was.”

The Rise of Swedish Neo-Nazis

“I wondered why Persson had initiated the research into the Holocaust. His main reason seems to have been his worry about the rise of neo-Nazi groups. During World War II there were strong Nazi sympathies in Sweden. Hundreds of Swedes volunteered for the Nazi army in Germany.

“After the war these sympathies did not vanish but were less out in the open. Since the 1960s, Swedish pro-Nazi movements have been on the rise and increasingly problematic. Persson was looking for a way to counter their activities. Someone suggested to him to focus on the Holocaust and arrange a major international conference. He also was advised that this would give him international stature.

“Despite all Persson’s efforts the neo-Nazis continue with their gatherings and activities. Rumors are that their number is increasing.   There are laws against Nazi incitement and if done openly one can be brought to court. Yet from time to time neo-Nazis demonstrate in the streets of Stockholm and Malmö. On Holocaust Memorial Day in 2003, neo-Nazis demonstrated close to the Stockholm synagogue where the remembrance ceremony was held. The police did not prevent that, of course.

“To the best of my knowledge Persson has never made any strong anti-Israeli statements. Sometimes the media asked him whether he was pro-Israeli; he never answered clearly. The late foreign minister Anna Lindh usually made the most vicious attacks on Israel. Her hatred of Israel can only be described as almost pathological. Under her leadership Sweden published the greatest number of one-sided condemnations of Israel of any EU country. Whenever the IDF reacted to a suicide bombing she issued a ‘balanced statement’ that condemned both sides. Lindh was stabbed to death in 2003 by a mentally disturbed Swede of Serbian origin.

“The head of the young Social Democrats is of Iranian descent. After he was elected he told the media that the first thing he would do was to urge Persson to take a more anti-Israeli position. There are about half a million Muslims in Sweden, representing 5 percent of the population. They come from a great variety of countries. Sweden remains the most anti-Israeli country in the European Union and also the most pro-Muslim one.

“Despite Persson’s personal attitude he has to carry part of the blame for his party’s discriminatory stance toward Israel. For decades the Social Democrats helped create the country’s anti-Israeli atmosphere. He also has to take responsibility for the behavior of the Swedish International Development Corporation Agency (SIDA), which blames Israel for all the many wrongs in Palestinian society.”1

The Mohammed Cartoons

Mazel says: “One proof of the Social Democrats’ pro-Muslim attitude came in February 2006 during the international debate on the Mohammed cartoons. No Swedish paper published these, yet the website of a small extreme-Right party, SD-Kuriren, did. The Foreign Ministry gave instructions to the Internet provider to close the site. The government had never before closed any media since the law on press freedom of 1789.

“For a few days the Swedish media wondered how this had been possible. Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds said her ministry had intervened without her knowledge. She had to resign when the media discovered proof of her involvement. 

“As the caricatures were already on the Internet, even though hardly anyone had seen them, Sweden sent two Muslim envoys to Muslim countries in order to apologize. Sweden led Europe in this new state of servitude.

“One might say that Social Democratic Sweden is the first European dhimmi state. In Islam those who belong to other monotheistic religions, such as Christians and Jews, are protected by Islam. Yet it is stressed that they are dhimmis, inferior people. As second-class citizens they are often treated poorly, as is true today in many Muslim countries. In some periods they had to pay special taxes, what we would today call protection money. In old times they could not walk on the sidewalk nor ride a donkey, let alone a horse.”

Cowardly Media

“To be fair it must be pointed out that the Swedish media are not alone in being cowards. If the European media had more courage, they would constantly expose Muslim violence all over the world. The perpetrators draw motivation directly from Muslim culture. The ongoing mass murders in Iraq demonstrate how widespread violence can be in contemporary Muslim societies. If the European press were really as enlightened as it pretends to be, its editorials would continuously castigate this culture of violence.

“At the beginning of 2006, the Swedish pro-Palestinian organizations held their annual meeting and discussed how to develop their strategy toward Israel. Freivalds spoke at this hate gathering, and was criticized by the press for one day.

“When Freivalds became foreign minister she surprisingly said: ‘I am a friend of Israel, though I am also a friend of Palestinians.’ For being a friend of Israel she was strongly attacked by many Social Democrats. It took her only a few weeks to adopt the party line and imitate Lindh’s statements.

“Israel has very few friends in the Social Democratic Party. The meetings I had with the head of the parliament’s foreign affairs committee and with the international secretary of the Social Democrats always entailed accusations from their side.  

“Among Foreign Ministry officials one finds outspoken Israel-haters. Some accused us of colonialism and oppression in my conversations with them. They said that they support Israel’s existence but oppose our behavior. It was clear that they were pro-Muslim. Several said that the average Swede is an anti-Muslim racist and that it was their task to take the Muslims’ side. After Hamas won the Palestinian Authority elections at the beginning of 2006, Sweden gave visas to their representatives. Government officials did not meet with them, but some parliamentarians did.”

Other Parties

“Among the opposition parties the Conservatives, Liberals, and Christian Democrats support Israel. Together they have 136 seats. The Center Party is more reserved. Sometimes these parties even collaborated to come out in favor of us. Being the opposition, though, their influence is limited. 

“In the Left Party with thirty seats and the Green Party with seventeen there is a universal anti-Israeli attitude. When there is a debate on the Middle East they express an abysmal hatred, which one also finds in their papers. One Green parliamentarian came to Israel together with people from the International Solidarity Movement. He threw stones at the security fence together with Palestinians and was finally evicted from Israel. Initially the Swedish media criticized Israel but later they were more understanding.

“Despite all this I tried to meet the leaders of these parties. My secretary’s calls were never returned. There are also a number of extreme-Left extraparliamentary groups. Although not so strong numerically, the extreme Left is very active. 

“Many NGOs collaborate with the extreme Left and march with the pro-Palestinians. They would regularly organize demonstrations in front of the Israeli embassy. They would even throw excrement at the building. In Sweden that is apparently permissible. The police let them advance almost to the wall of the embassy.

“This is the common police attitude. In March 2004, I attended a gala evening of the Keren Hayesod that opened the fundraising season. It was held in Nalen Hall, one of the nicer ones in town. Suddenly the security officer of the Israeli embassy entered. Hundreds of protesters, Muslims and extreme leftists, were demonstrating outside and trying to break into the hall and the police did not seem able to block them.

“I told him that I could not leave the audience alone, most of which were non-Jewish friends of Israel. It also seemed to me that the police would not let matters get totally out of hand. Later the public was made to leave through a side door. The following year the owners of the hall refused to rent it again to Keren Hayesod. The violence had intimidated them.” 

The Lutheran Church

“For about a decade the Lutheran church has no longer been the state church. Its head, Archbishop Hammar, is a well-known Israel-hater. I had barely arrived as ambassador when I learned from the papers that he had gathered seventy Swedish intellectuals to sign a petition to boycott Israeli goods, particularly those that come from the territories. They also wanted to suspend the EU’s association agreement with Israel. Even Anna Lindh was not ready to go that far and did not want to boycott Israel.

“Among the signatories was the Swedish ambassador to Germany. A diplomat is an official of his country, whose policy he has to represent.  The Jewish community protested against the boycott effort and a media debate resulted. Lindh later said she had told the ambassador her opinion. When asked what she had said she refused to tell. The ambassador stayed in his post.

“The Lutheran church also has a theological institute in Jerusalem that is led by a pro-Palestinian director. When a delegation of all parliamentary parties came to Israel earlier in 2006, I was invited to address them. It turned out the director had arranged matters so that, besides me, they would only meet with Palestinians and extreme-Left Israeli organizations. They visited Ramallah but not Tel Aviv.       

“A recent study by a researcher at Lund University notes that from 1937, well before World War II, Swedish Lutheran pastors would not perform marriages between Germans of Aryan blood and anyone with a Jewish grandparent. This racist position was adopted on the advice of the Swedish Foreign Ministry.”2

Wrecking a Work of Art

Often people do many things in their life but become famous only for one minor act. On 16 January 2004, Mazel became internationally known by disconnecting the electricity of what was supposedly a work of art. Exhibited in a Stockholm museum, it glorified Palestinian suicide bombings. The artist was an Israeli living in Sweden who belonged to an extreme-Left party.

Mazel comments: “This exhibit was the culmination of dozens of anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish events in Sweden. When you do not protest, the situation gets worse and worse. It had to be stopped even if in an unconventional way for a diplomat. Afterward I got a phone call from Prime Minister Sharon that expressed the support of the Israeli cabinet.

“The reactions in the Swedish press did not surprise me: the great majority of the editorials condemned my act. Some support came from letters to the editor. What is important to note is the readers’ reactions: in the informal Internet polls by the three leading papers they were more or less balanced for and against my act. In two of the dailies I even had a slight majority.

“Before my intervention at the museum it was almost taboo in the Swedish press to speak about anti-Semitism even though it is widespread. In the last two years it has become a subject for the newspapers. There is, though, great fear of mentioning that it has a substantial Muslim component.”

 Calling to Kill Jews is Permitted

“In the 1980s a Swedish Muslim, Ahmed Rami, opened Radio Islam where he virulently attacked Jews, Israel, and its supporters. It took years of complaints until the authorities closed his station. Thereafter he opened a website where he does the same.  

“The situation with respect to anti-Semitism in Sweden got even worse at the beginning of 2006. Goran Lambertz, the chancellor of justice-the government’s counselor on legal matters-discontinued an investigation of the Grand Mosque of Sweden. Cassettes sold there had a highly anti-Semitic content, calling for jihad and the killing of Jews. The chancellor said these were part of the everyday occurrences in the conflict in the Middle East.

“If one chooses the right context one can now call for the mass murder of Jews without any consequences. That is Swedish democracy, which also considers itself entitled to teach Israel morality.

“A major survey in 2005 revealed the widespread anti-Semitism in Sweden. Out of a sample of three thousand Swedes aged sixteen to seventy-five, 41 percent declared themselves anti-Semites, 5 percent strongly so. Twenty-five percent did not consider a Jewish prime minister in Sweden acceptable, 26 percent believed Israel dealt with the Palestinians similarly to how the Nazis dealt with the Jews, and 26 percent thought the Israelis operated according to the biblical concept of an eye for eye.”   


 1 NGO Monitor, “Analysis of NGO Funding: The Swedish International Development Corporation Agency (SIDA),” 16 February 2006.

 2 “Sweden Applied Nazi Race Laws in Wartime, Study Shows,” Haaretz, 6 April 2006.