Sweden’s Walking Diplomatic Disaster by Ingrid Carlqvist

  • “It is a shame for Sweden to have a Foreign Minister who creates a diplomatic crisis as soon as she opens her mouth, and who so one-sidedly allies herself with anti-democratic forces against Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East.” — Political analyst Mathias Sundin, in Aftonbladet.

  • “Wallström portrays [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas as a pacifist who has denounced terrorism…. He has not condemned a single one of the murders of 20 Israelis during the last few months. On the contrary … Abbas said in September, regarding the violence against Israelis, that ‘We bless every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem’, and we know that every Palestinian assassin apprehended by Israel is rewarded by the Palestinian Authority. So how can Wallström claim that he denounces terrorism, when he is actually rewarding it with money from the Swedish taxpayers? … Is Wallström aware of the praising of terrorism? Is Wallström aware of the rewards paid to terrorists? Yes or no?” — Kent Ekeroth, Sweden Democrats Party.

It seems that pretty much everything is going wrong for Sweden’s Foreign Minister these days.

Margot Wallström, of the Social Democratic Party, ascended with much fanfare to the post of Foreign Minister in the fall of 2014. She had introduced a completely new concept: a feminist foreign policy. In the Statement of Foreign Policy of 2015, she asserted that “A feminist foreign policy is now being formulated, the purpose of which is to combat discrimination against women, improve conditions for women and contribute to peace and development.”

One year later, we now know the outcome: “Feminist foreign policy” is not so much about protecting women’s interests, as it is about fawning over the Arab states and the Palestinians — and constantly attacking Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East.

Zvi Mazel, Israel’s ambassador to Sweden from 2002-2004, wrote for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs on December 14, that,

“The Swedish Social Democratic Party is not known for its sympathy toward Israel. Its current duo of leaders, however, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, have gone overboard and are waging a systematic campaign against Israel… Although the recognition of a Palestinian state was a continuation of the Swedish left’s hostile policy toward Israel, it was also aimed at the country’s large Muslim minority — comprising about 700,000 people — with the aim of attracting Muslim voters to the party in the next elections. During my diplomatic tenure in Sweden in the early 2000s, all my efforts to conduct a dialogue with that party fell on deaf ears. … the two countries’ relations have turned into a cycle of altercations.”

Is Ambassador Mazel right? Let us take a look at what the Swedish government, and its current Foreign Minister, have said and done.

On October 30, 2014, there was the unilateral recognition of Palestine as a sovereign state. The same day the government made its decision, the Swedish daily, Dagens Nyheter, published an opinion piece by Wallström:

“Today’s recognition is a contribution to a better future for a region that has too long been characterized by frozen negotiations, destruction and frustration. Through our recognition, firstly, we want to support the moderate forces among the Palestinians: Those that are set to govern the complex formation of a Palestinian state, and those who are about to return to the negotiating table.

“Secondly, we want to facilitate an agreement by making the two parties in these negotiations more equal. The goal is for Israel and Palestine to exist within mutually recognized borders, based on the borders of 1967 and with Jerusalem as the capital of two states, only allowing land swaps if both parties negotiate it.

“Thirdly, we hope to contribute to giving more hope and belief in the future to the young Palestinians and Israelis who otherwise risk radicalization in the belief that there are no alternatives to violence and the status quo.”

The reactions came immediately. As soon as Prime Minister Löfven made his Statement of Government Policy, and made public his new government’s intention of recognizing Palestine, the Israeli Foreign Ministry called in the Swedish ambassador to Israel to protest the decision, and Israel’s then Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, was openly critical. The same night, word came that Israel called home its current ambassador, Isaac Bachman. Lieberman even said that he was considering removing the Stockholm embassy permanently, thereby downgrading Israel’s diplomatic connections with Sweden. This move, however, did not happen.

Israel demonstrated its opinion of Wallström clearly in January 2015, when she was supposed to travel to Israel for a seminar in remembrance of Raoul Wallenberg, and also to meet with FM Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli leaders, however, did not want to see Wallström, and denied her diplomatic credentials.

“A powerful statement by the Israelis,” said Per Jönsson, Middle East expert at Sweden’s Foreign Policy Institute (Utrikespolitiska institutet). “She is not treated as a Foreign Minister from a sovereign government. It is much more than just a symbolic gesture; this is Israel taking action,” Jönsson told the daily Svenska Dagbladet. According to the paper, the Israeli government had conveyed the message that the only way to defrost relations between Sweden and Israel was for Sweden to apologize for recognizing Palestine — or if a new government came to power.

Apparently, the Swedish Foreign Ministry thought the whole affair so embarrassing that it decided to pretend Wallström had to cancel her trip due to time constraints.

The recognition of Palestine also garnered massive criticism inside Sweden. The Committee on European Union Affairs criticized the government for not allowing Parliament to vote on the issue, and the opposition parties called the recognition “hasty, imbalanced and clumsily handled to boot.” Liberal foreign policy spokesperson Birgitta Ohlsson said that the decision was “immature,” as it legitimizes Hamas’ terror. Middle East expert Per Jönsson pointed to the fact that it is not customary to recognize a state that does not fully control its territory.

Of course, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was very happy. He got a call from Prime Minister Stefan Löfven announcing the decision. Abbas told daily tabloid Aftonbladet: “Sweden is a pioneer country, I hope other countries in Europe will follow suit.”

On February 15, 2015, when Abbas visited Sweden, criticism erupted again. Karin Ernström, Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, said she believed Sweden should have awaited a joint EU decision before unilaterally deciding to recognize Palestine. She also noted, in an interview during Abbas’s visit, that she “assumes that Sweden takes this opportunity to put pressure on the Palestinian leadership.” No such pressure has been visible so far.

Many people in Sweden now feel that if Sweden can recognize Palestine, why not do the same with Western Sahara, a disputed territory unilaterally annexed by Morocco 40 years ago? Does such a decision not jibe with the “feminist foreign policy?” Or could it be that Morocco is a Muslim country, and that the feminist Wallström does not want to offend countries such as that? Certainly not after a debacle in 2015, when Wallström labeled Saudi Arabia a dictatorship with medieval laws and oppressing women. This statement before Parliament came as a reaction to the sentencing of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes, on charges of “insulting Islam.”

Many Swedes at the time were pleasantly surprised by Wallström’s statement, and thought that maybe this “feminist foreign policy” thing was not so bad after all. In the Muslim world, however, her statement was met with considerable anger. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, OIC, wrote on its web page: “In her remarks, Ms. Wallström degraded Saudi Arabia and its social norms, judicial system and political institutions.”

What Wallström apparently failed to grasp when she attacked the Saudi justice system, is that it is based on Sharia law, the Islamic judicial system. And one does not criticize this with impunity, as a Foreign Minister should know. So, instead of sticking to her original arguments, which were, of course, factually correct, wild panic erupted at the government offices. Wallström’s Press Secretary, Erik Boman, hurried to claim that his boss had not meant her statement to be construed as any kind of criticism of Islam. “We have the utmost respect for Islam,” Boman said. “Sweden values its good relations with the Muslim world.”

Wallström herself held an ingratiating speech in Parliament. She praised Saudi Arabia, mentioned that the king is the guardian of the two most important mosques in Islam, and stressed that many Swedes go on pilgrimage there every year. The end of her speech once again made people gasp: “To address some of the claims circulating, I would just like to say: We have the utmost respect for Islam as a world religion and for its contributions to our common civilization. … Sweden values our good relations to the Muslim world. Many Swedes are Muslims, and they of course give valuable contributions to our society.”

Björn Norström, a US-based writer, revealed on the alternative media site, Avpixlat that he had written to the Foreign Ministry asking for “concrete examples of how Islam has contributed to civilization when it comes to human rights, science, industry, democracy and polity since medieval times.” He did not receive any examples, mostly just loose claims and a reference to the oft-refuted “1001 Inventions, the Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization.”

The Muslim world was nevertheless still angry with Wallström, despite of her kind words about Islam. Saudi Arabia called home its ambassador from Stockholm and decided to suspend new work visas for Swedish citizens. The Saudis also stopped Wallström from giving a speech at an Arab League meeting in Cairo March 9.

The firestorm did not abate until Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf offered to help mediate on her behalf with Saudi king. On March 28, Wallström held a press conference, and was beaming with joy when she told reporters that Sweden’s relations with Saudi Arabia were now fine: “I am very pleased to announce that we can normalize our relations immediately, and that we are able to welcome the Saudi ambassador back to Sweden. It is deeply satisfying that we have been able to clear the misunderstanding that we insulted the world religion Islam.”

We will never know how exactly relations were “normalized.” What we do know is that the envoy for the Swedish government, Social Democrat Björn von Sydow, was granted an audience with the House of Saud, under the leadership of King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud. Von Sydow delivered two letters, one from the Swedish King and one from Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Both letters remain classified.

Soon after the recent Paris terror attacks, on November 13, 2015, Wallström felt once again a need to express her disdain for Israel. In an interview with Swedish Public Television, SVT, she was asked: “How worried are you about the radicalization of young people in Sweden who choose to fight for ISIS?” Wallström replied:

“Yes, of course we have a reason to be worried not only here in Sweden but around the world, because there are so many who are being radicalized. Here again, you come back to situations like that in the Middle East, where not least the Palestinians see that there isn’t any future for us [the Palestinians], we either have to accept a desperate situation or resort to violence.”

This strange connecting of the Paris attacks to Israel caused a new diplomatic crisis between Israel and Sweden. Once again, the Swedish ambassador to Israel was called to a meeting at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and cautioned that the Swedish Foreign Minister’s statement seemed “appallingly impudent.”

The week before, the daily tabloid Expressen had revealed that Swedish diplomats were no longer welcomed in Israel the way Sweden would like. For example, they are refused travel permits to the Gaza strip — papers other countries apparently have no problem obtaining.

A few days after Wallström’s scandalous interview, the linguist Susanne Sznajderman-Rytz posted on her Facebook page:

“‘The Jews are campaigning against me.’ That was the reply I got from Margot Wallström, when I ran into her by coincidence the day after the Paris attacks, and told her that many of my Jewish friends were really offended by what she told [SVT anchorman] Claes Elfsberg earlier that morning.”

Again, Wallström was forced to explain herself. Her Press Secretary claimed outright that Sznajderman-Rytz had made the whole thing up. But Sznajderman-Rytz stuck to her story. She told the alternative media website Nyheter Idag,

“Let me tell you what I do in my everyday working life. She did not know this, but I educate people in communication and writing. Professionally, I work with understanding what people are saying, how they act and everything that happened in that moment is quoted correctly.”

In early December, two members of Parliament, Mathias Sundin of the Liberals and Kent Ekeroth of the Sweden Democrats, had demanded that Wallström explain why she had not condemned the rampant Palestinian knife attacks against civilian Israelis with so much as a syllable. The ensuing debate ended with Wallström saying that she trusts Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas implicitly, because he told her he wants peace, and she believes him. She also leveled new accusations against Israel, which, according to Wallström, is engaged in “extrajudicial executions.”

Mathias Sundin wrote in an opinion piece in Aftonbladet:

“When I pointed out that the Israeli police handle the knife attacks according to the same principle that the Swedish police used during the Trollhättan school attack, by aiming for the body to stop the assailant quickly, the Foreign Minister shook her head several times. It was in reply to this statement that Wallström said that the response must not be extrajudicial executions.

“Even though it is obvious what she actually means, she and the government refuse to apologize. Their defense tactic — the one about it being a misunderstanding — does not include an apology even for being unclear, but rather, a new attack against Israel. Unfortunately, this is completely in line with the government’s one-sided policy. … It is a shame for Sweden to have a Foreign Minister who creates a diplomatic crisis as soon as she opens her mouth, and who so one-sidedly allies herself with anti-democratic forces against Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East.”

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallström (right) called the Israel Police’s actions in stopping deadly stabbing attacks “extrajudicial executions,” even after it was pointed out to her that “Israeli police handle the knife attacks according to the same principle that the Swedish police used…”

Kent Ekeroth wondered how Wallström views President Abbas and his Fatah party. The Foreign Minister replied:

“The government supports moderate forces in Palestine, the government supports the Palestinian Authority and others who recognize Israel’s right to exist and seek a diplomatic solution to the conflict, enabling Israel and Palestine to live side by side with peace and security. I find that President Abbas has made it his life’s goal to replace the way of violence with a diplomatic struggle to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine. I also note that President Abbas, apart from his denunciation of terrorism, has also spoken against cries for violent resistance against the Israeli occupying force.”

Ekeroth retorted:

“Wallström portrays Abbas as a pacifist who has denounced terrorism. He might condemn terrorism when it is French citizens who are killed, but when it is Israelis being killed there are no problems. He has not condemned a single one of the murders of 20 Israelis during the last few months. On the contrary, many of the Palestinian Authority and Fatah leaders have glorified the killers. A member of the Fatah Central Council told Palestinian TV in October that he congratulates all those who have carried out the attacks. He is proud of them, and thought that knife attacks should be taught in Palestinian schools. Your own ‘golden boy’ Mahmoud Abbas said in September, regarding the violence against Israelis, that ‘We bless every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem’, and we know that every Palestinian assassin apprehended by Israel is rewarded by the Palestinian Authority. So how can Wallström claim that he denounces terrorism, when he is actually rewarding it with money from the Swedish taxpayers?

“Wallström is either ignorant about Abbas’ celebrations of and rewards to murderers, or she is lying. Neither alternative is very flattering. I would therefore like to ask two questions: Is Wallström aware of the praising of terrorism? Is Wallström aware of the rewards paid to terrorists? Yes or no?”

Wallström replied that she certainly condemns “all acts of violence, regardless if they are carried out by Palestinians or Israelis, and I have emphasized the importance of bringing those responsible to justice and not engaging in extrajudicial executions.”

Wallström further thought that one should not attempt to interpret or translate what Abbas says, because there are so many different ways to do this. “I do not think we should do that, the important thing is that we condemn violence and I myself have heard Abbas do this, so I know he renounces violence.”

Ekeroth shot back: “One does not reward terrorists with recognition, and one does not pay them using Swedish taxpayers’ money.” He then proceeded to show a number of printouts of Fatah’s official Facebook page, where murdered Israelis are displayed and the killings celebrated. “You need to understand that Abbas speaks two languages — one to gullible [Western] politicians, where he says he wants peace, and another to Palestinians, where he promotes, glorifies and rewards terror. Wallström needs to stop listening to what Abbas tells her and instead start listening to what he tells his own people.”

On January 11, 2016, did it again. She said in parliament that she wants “a thorough and credible investigation into whether Israel has used extrajudicial killings during the last months of violence, knife attacks and clashes between Israelis and Palestinians.”

The statement provoked strong a reaction in Israel. Its foreign ministry, in an unusually strongly-worded statement, condemned Wallström, saying her “irresponsible and delirious statements are giving support to terrorism and encouraging violence.” Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis went farther and suggested that, instead, there should be an investigation on “how a woman who so bluntly hates Israel was elected, and still holds the role of foreign minister of Sweden.”

* * *

Many Swedes had a great sense of secondary shame, when the government, with Wallström in the forefront, presented its military “aid package” to France. Sweden is bound by the Treaty of Lisbon to help other EU nations struck by a terrorist attack. A request for help had come from France a few days after the terror attacks of November 13. Most experts agreed that the most natural thing for Sweden to do, would be to send JAS39 Gripen jets, an advanced Swedish fighter and reconnaissance plane that could be truly useful in, for example, Syria. But this did not happen.

All the government could apparently muster were a few extra flight hours in Africa, a couple of staff officers and a Hercules transport plane. Wallström explained the lack of Gripen planes: “The most important reason is that this is a gray area in international law. That may change, if a clear UN mandate comes. But so far, this is unclear as far as international law goes.”

Sweden’s opposition parties were merciless in their criticism. Christian Democratic Party defense spokesperson Mikael Oscarsson called the offer “futile.” The Conservative Party’s Hans Wallmark called it “insufficient” and warned that if Sweden were attacked in the future, it should not expect a great deal of help. The Liberal Party’s Allan Widman said that he believed this was “a great disappointment to the French.” There were even rumors of disagreements within the government, between Wallström and Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist, who supposedly wanted to send JAS39 Gripen jets, but was overruled by Wallström.

“Today we are ashamed,” wrote columnist Alexandra Ivanov in the daily Svenska Dagbladet. “What has happened is that Sweden has chosen not to take responsibility. One day, we will become aware of what happens to those who just take and take, but never give back.”

On Christmas Day, December 25, Aftonbladet published a list of how the Swedish people grade the government’s ministers. Unsurprisingly, the minister losing most favor with the people was: Margot Wallström.

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