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October 8, 2014 0

Sweden’s Recognition of ‘Palestine’ Premature and Ill-Advised

   By Abra­ham H. Fox­man
   National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

   This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared in The Huff­in­g­ton Post

Many observers were sur­prised by the sud­den announce­ment by the newly elected prime min­is­ter of Swe­den that his coun­try would become the first in the Euro­pean Union to for­mally rec­og­nize the “State of Palestine.”

The announce­ment by Prime Min­is­ter Ste­fan Lofven, which stip­u­lated that his new gov­ern­ment would even­tu­ally rec­og­nize a Pales­tin­ian state within the 1967 bor­ders, was inap­pro­pri­ate on a num­ber of lev­els. First, it is con­trary to long­stand­ing E.U. for­eign pol­icy. Sec­ond, it appears to reward the intran­si­gence of Pales­tin­ian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Abbas, which was on full dis­play in his recent speech at the United Nations. Mr. Abbas’ over­heated rhetoric only con­tributes to dis­cour­ag­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of resum­ing nego­ti­a­tions between Israel and the Palestinians.

But Sweden’s deci­sion was much less sur­pris­ing if one con­sid­ers the state of dete­ri­o­rat­ing rela­tions between Swe­den and Israel, which in recent years have trig­gered tremors along a grow­ing fault line in Swedish soci­ety between more mod­er­ate forces and the rad­i­cal left.

It should be said upfront here that the bilat­eral rela­tion­ship between Israel and Swe­den remains vitally impor­tant, and that even with this poten­tial change in pol­icy there are still oppor­tu­ni­ties to move for­ward diplomatically.

Com­pli­cated fac­tors are at play in Swedish pol­i­tics and soci­ety, and these are clearly influ­enc­ing its for­eign pol­icy. Zvi Mazel, who served as Israeli ambas­sador to Stock­holm between 2002 and 2004, out­lined some of those fac­tors in recent inter­views in the Israeli press.

Lofven, he noted, only won the elec­tion with 43 per­cent of the vote, and needs to form a minor­ity gov­ern­ment that has the sup­port of the for­merly com­mu­nist left-wing party, which has stri­dent anti-Israel pro­cliv­i­ties and whose sup­port­ers are pri­mar­ily Arab and Mus­lim Swedish cit­i­zens. Mus­lims now com­prise about 8 per­cent of Sweden’s pop­u­la­tion after the coun­try absorbed more than 80,000 immi­grants from Syria and Iraq this year alone.

As a result, says Mazel, Lofven is seek­ing sup­port and pub­lic sym­pa­thy by play­ing “the Israel card.”

Two of Lofven’s cab­i­net appoint­ments are trou­bling as well. They are indi­vid­u­als well known for their enthu­si­as­tic sup­port for the Pales­tin­ian cause and who were deported from Israel because of their activities.

Accord­ing to a report in the Israeli daily Ma’ariv, the new city plan­ning and envi­ron­ment min­is­ter, Mehmet Kaplan, a native of Turkey and a for­mer spokesman for the Mus­lim Coun­cil of Swe­den, was involved in the Mavi Mar­mara inci­dent in which pas­sen­gers on the Gaza-bound ship vio­lently attacked Israeli naval per­son­nel in 2010. And the new edu­ca­tion min­is­ter, Gus­tav Fridolin, was arrested and deported from Israel in 2003 for encour­ag­ing demon­stra­tions against the secu­rity fence between the West Bank and Israel.

More­over, highly pub­li­cized spats between Israel and Swe­den in recent years have widened the rift between these two coun­tries that oth­er­wise share many of the same demo­c­ra­tic val­ues and a strong bilat­eral relationship.

Most mem­o­rably, in August 2009 the Swedish news­pa­per Afton­bladet pub­lished a false and mali­cious report that Israeli sol­diers were har­vest­ing organs from Pales­tini­ans. The report mush­roomed into a full-blown global con­spir­acy the­ory and led to a diplo­matic row when Swe­den rejected Israel’s request to con­demn the false report, cit­ing “press freedom.”

Ear­lier that year a mob descended on a sta­dium where an Israeli team was play­ing against Swe­den, with pro­tes­tors car­ry­ing signs con­demn­ing Israel and threat­en­ing to attack Israeli athletes.

There have also been trou­bling anti-Semitic attacks reported in the coun­try this year, tak­ing place before and after Israel’s oper­a­tion in Gaza. In March, a high school in Stock­holm which holds classes for Jew­ish stu­dents was spray painted with anti-Semitic graf­fiti, includ­ing a swastika, the phrases “Jew­ish swine” and dis­gust­ing Jews.” In July, the city of Malmo’s main syn­a­gogue was attacked when van­dals hurled bot­tles at the build­ing, break­ing three win­dows. And in August, a rabbi in Malmo was attacked by a group of men who threw a glass bot­tle at his car while shout­ing anti-Semitic epithets.

At the same time, the coun­try has high lev­els of edu­ca­tion and a very low accep­tance for tra­di­tional anti-Semitic beliefs.

The recent ADL Global 100 Sur­vey found that only 4 per­cent of the adult pop­u­la­tion in Swe­den is infected with anti-Semitic atti­tudes, the low­est find­ing for Europe. This amounts to just 300,000 peo­ple out of a total pop­u­la­tion of 7.4 mil­lion peo­ple. Com­pared with other coun­tries in Europe (France was 37 per­cent, Nor­way and Fin­land, 15 per­cent) this was a remark­ably low score.

And here is where the issues of Israeli poli­cies and the anti-Jewish rhetoric and vio­lence in Swe­den can get enmeshed. Politi­cians and jour­nal­ists who espouse vir­u­lently anti-Israel mes­sages, con­tribute to an atmos­phere which pro­vides a patina of accept­abil­ity and cover for anti-Jewish hate to emerge. While 96 per­cent of Swedish adults do not har­bor strong anti-Semitic atti­tudes, the small per­cent­age who do are likely among the ones act­ing on those beliefs and doing it under the guise of express­ing oppo­si­tion to Israel’s poli­cies toward the Palestinians.

It is up to Sweden’s polit­i­cal, reli­gious and civic lead­ers to make clear to the peo­ple of Swe­den that anti-Semitic rhetoric and vio­lence against the Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion are never accept­able expres­sions of crit­i­cism of Israel’s poli­cies. Prime Min­is­ter Lovfen should be the one to set an exam­ple in this regard, not allow­ing pol­i­tics to trump the government’s respon­si­bil­ity to ensure the well-being and secu­rity of Sweden’s small but vibrant Jew­ish community.

Sweden’s pre­ma­ture recog­ni­tion of the State of Pales­tine will have reper­cus­sions far beyond Scan­di­navia. Swe­den is con­sid­ered a flag-bearer of human rights, and many coun­tries across Europe respond to its cues. The risk is that other coun­tries in the E.U. may soon want to fol­low suit.

The U.S., the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity, and the global Jew­ish com­mu­nity need to con­vince Swe­den that this is the wrong posi­tion at the wrong time.

If Swe­den is truly con­cerned about improv­ing the sit­u­a­tion for the Pales­tin­ian peo­ple, they should be work­ing hard to sup­port inter­na­tional efforts to pre­vent Hamas from replen­ish­ing its sup­ply of mis­siles and rock­ets and to pro­mote the restora­tion of hous­ing and infra­struc­ture for the peo­ple of Gaza.

The time for rec­og­niz­ing a Pales­tin­ian state will come when the Pales­tin­ian lead­er­ship shows it is fully com­mit­ted to liv­ing in peace and secu­rity in a state side by side with Israel and the par­ties reach an agree­ment through direct bilat­eral nego­ti­a­tions resolv­ing all the issues between them.

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July 23, 2014 0

New EU “Conclusions” on Israel and Gaza

The Euro­pean Union’s For­eign Affairs Coun­cil, com­prised of the 28 EU for­eign min­is­ters, reg­u­larly issues “con­clu­sions” on a vari­ety of inter­na­tional issues.  Yesterday’s “Coun­cil con­clu­sions on the Mid­dle East Peace Process” show greater EU under­stand­ing for Israeli posi­tions and an end to the EU’s patience with Hamas in Gaza.

The most sig­nif­i­cant change from the pre­vi­ous Con­clu­sions of Decem­ber 2013 is the demand that “all ter­ror­ist groups in Gaza must dis­arm” and the call for “the Pales­tin­ian gov­ern­ment to take charge of the Gaza Strip.”  The EU wants Pres­i­dent Abbas’s so-called “unity” gov­ern­ment to replace Hamas and main­tain a monop­oly on the use of force.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, the EU con­demned Hamas for call­ing “on the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion of Gaza to pro­vide them­selves as human shields.”  Israel has been high­light­ing this war crime by Hamas and now the EU has endorsed Israel’s position. EU Flag

The EU noted that Israeli mil­i­tary oper­a­tions “must be pro­por­tion­ate and in line with inter­na­tional human­i­tar­ian law.”  How­ever, the con­clu­sions do not assert that Israel has acted dis­pro­por­tion­ately or con­trary to inter­na­tional human­i­tar­ian law.

For the first time, the EU included a para­graph about “events in the wider Mid­dle East [which] pose seri­ous threats to the EU” and war­rant a re-statement of the EU’s “fun­da­men­tal com­mit­ment to the secu­rity of Israel.”  For too long and in too many Euro­pean cap­i­tals, diplo­mats pro­moted the fal­lacy of Israeli-Palestinian peace as the key to peace through­out the Mid­dle East.  Per­haps the inclu­sion of regional threats in “con­clu­sions on the Mid­dle East Peace Process” demon­strates a new EU con­sen­sus that the Iran­ian nuclear pro­gram, the civil war in Syria, and the grow­ing threat of the Islamic State (ISIS) hin­der Israeli-Palestinian peace and not the mis­guided reverse.

The EU’s “peace para­me­ters” changed with respect to refugees.  The word “real­is­tic” was added and now states that the EU expects “A just, fair, agreed and real­is­tic solu­tion to the refugee ques­tion.”  The change seems to be a nod towards Israel and an expres­sion of frus­tra­tion with the Pales­tin­ian Authority’s nego­ti­at­ing posi­tion on refugees.

Do the new EU con­clu­sions rep­re­sent a sea change? No. But the tide may be turning.

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July 2, 2014 0

European Directives Take Position on Settlements to New Extreme

 

by Abra­ham H. Fox­man
National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

 

 

In the past few weeks, the gov­ern­ments of Spain, Italy, Ger­many, France and the United King­dom issued direc­tives warn­ing cit­i­zens of risks involved for com­pa­nies engag­ing in eco­nomic activ­ity in Israeli West Bank set­tle­ments, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, includ­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of vio­lat­ing inter­na­tional law and human rights.

These moves have been linked to the pos­si­bil­ity of sim­i­lar action being taken by the entire Euro­pean Union.  At a moment when Hamas has abused its unity arrange­ment with Fatah to resume fir­ing rock­ets on Israeli civil­ians, and news has just been released that Hamas has viciously mur­dered the three Israeli teenagers it kid­napped eigh­teen days ago, the EU remains focused on Israeli settlements.

The EU’s bureau­cra­ti­za­tion of this pol­icy points to set­tle­ments as the key issue in the Israeli Pales­tin­ian con­flict, and the obsta­cle to a peace agreement.

In real­ity, the issue of set­tle­ments is but one of the numer­ous, con­tentious, emo­tional, issues which must be resolved through direct nego­ti­a­tions, along with the Pales­tin­ian demand for a “right of return”of refugees, the sta­tus of Jerusalem and final bor­ders and secu­rity arrangements.

The new Euro­pean direc­tives stand in stark con­trast to the real­i­ties on the ground in Israel and the region.

As has become typ­i­cal of such state­ments, the warn­ing focused solely on Israel, and made no men­tion of the Pales­tin­ian Authority-Hamas unity gov­ern­ment which con­tributed to the col­lapse of recent peace talks. Fur­ther­more, the warning’s sug­ges­tion that con­duct­ing busi­ness with pri­vate West Bank-based Israeli com­pa­nies could vio­late human rights takes the Euro­pean posi­tion on set­tle­ments to a new extreme.

Israel has a track record of dis­man­tling set­tle­ments in the name of peace, includ­ing those in the Sinai as part of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, and has repeat­edly offered to dis­man­tle many West Bank set­tle­ments as part of a two state solu­tion with the Palestinians.

If Euro­pean gov­ern­ments wish to be seen as a con­struc­tive party in help­ing resolve the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict, they must cease their unfair prac­tice of solely focus­ing on Israel’s set­tle­ment activ­ity, and hold the Pales­tin­ian Author­ity respon­si­ble for their own obstruc­tion­ist actions, includ­ing directly affil­i­at­ing with ter­ror­ist groups like Hamas.

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