Archive for September, 2004

The art of terror, Swedish style

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2004
January this year saw a controversial work of art exhibited in Stockholm. “Snow White” depicted a smiling female Palestinian terrorist sailing in a pool of blood-red water. Israel’s Ambassador to Sweden Zvi Mazel added a touch of unexpected action to the exhibit by disconnecting the lights and throwing a tripod into the pool.

Mr. Mazel’s actions sparked strong protests from both the Swedish cultural elite and the country’s media, whose herd instinct on anything relating to the Middle East is legendary. The media have maintained a largely negative stance on the ambassador’s actions – echoing their attitude to the country he represents – while Swedish public opinion, assaulted by repeated footage of the carnage in Israel caused by Palestinian suicide bombings, tend to side with the beleaguered ambassador.

Media catching up to reality
Now it seems the Swedish media are beginning to catch up with public opinion. On 21 September, Thomas Lunderquist, commenting on cultural issues in Sweden’s foremost daily Svenska Dagbladet, wrote that art “must remain free in a decent society … For that reason, ambassador Zvi Mazel’s action was wrong. But let’s keep a healthy sense of perspective in all this. What is most worthy of our indignation? To set off a bomb in an Israeli-Arab restaurant and kill 21 civilians and injure another 50 or so people, or to disconnect the power socket from a lamp and then chuck the lamp into a pool of water? … (This reaction) was an expression of desperation in the face of Sweden’s inability or unwillingness to understand Israel and its citizens’ struggle for a fundamental human right – survival.”

By remarkable coincidence, Lunderquist’s article came shortly after Reuters’ global managing editor David A. Schlesinger confirmed that he instructs his reporters not to use terms like “terrorism” in reports from the Arab world because “my goal is to protect our reporters”. Reporting the news apparently isn’t a foremost concern at Reuters. One might well ask what else Reuters are denying the public.

Censorship thrives
Many of the international stories that monopoly Swedish news agency TT allows through to its readers come from Reuters. Consequently, the views of Swedish journalists are prejudiced already at source, even before the public get their TT-sanitised version of events. With this aggressive culture brewing within the media, it is scarcely surprising that Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter described Ambassador Mazel’s actions as that of “a vengeful Old-Testament God” – an anti-Semitic statement equally worthy of hard-line Muslim clerics and other implacable Jew-baiters and Israel-haters.

The political Left in Sweden – securely embedded within the media – vilify Israel while glorifying Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP and other “heroic freedom fighters”. Here, Palestinian Jihadists who kill Israeli civilians are “militants” expressing their sense of desperation.

Financing terror in Sweden
Other Jihadists, however, created a watershed in Swedish perceptions. The Beslan atrocity in early September predictably had some Swedish papers rushing to defend the perpetrators, explaining that the militants were simply venting their desperation. But this time the reasoning did not go down well with the Swedish public, the images of the young victims proving too powerful for the media to overcome. The Beslan outrage was followed by a Swedish Communist Party Youth Wing conference in Gothenburg in support of Hamas and the PFLP – both branded as terror organisations by the EU, of which Sweden is a member. The intended keynote speaker was PFLP terrorist and airline hijacker Leila Khaled. Swedish Greens Party MP Gustav Fridolin – expelled earlier this year from Israel – was also due to address the conference. Public outrage persuaded both to cancel.

Sweden is a society that accommodates terrorists, nurtures terrorism apologists and gives a free rein to news agencies that routinely censor the news. It’s a society that reacts with horror to the slaughter of children in Beslan, but has been conditioned by its media to ignore a proportionately higher death toll when the victims are Jewish kids in Israel. It’s a frightening society where people look the other way while 6 Muslim youngsters throw a Jewish boy off a bus because he “has no right to breathe the same air as real people”, and where passersby ignore a Jewish school student as a gang of 9 Muslim youths advance on him in broad daylight with the ominous words “Don’t you know it’s dangerous to be a Jew in Sweden? We’ll show you just how dangerous it is.”

And yet it would appear that the highly unorthodox words and actions of Ambassador Mazel back in January are actually bearing fruit. Sweden now has an increasing number of journalists who dare do something that is un-Swedish in its very nature: they beg to differ, they highlight the truth. The truth about Muslim anti-Semitism, media blindness to an issue the public encounters every day, and media animosity to the existence of Israel.

Debate as an art form
Nine months after the event, Sweden is debating terror as an art form. Today there is open debate on the Swedish Church’s Boycott-Israel campaign, for which church donations are being used. There is debate about the millions donated by the EU and Swedish aid agency SIDA to various Palestinian causes – including anti-Semitic propaganda and sponsorship of the outlawed PFLP’s conference in Sweden. And the spotlight is finally being trained on the media’s knee-jerk refusal to criticise a corrupt Palestinian leadership that financially straitened Swedish taxpayers are being forced to bankroll through SIDA.

Debate too is an art form, an art form whose words are every bit as powerful as weapons are. Swedish society is gradually adjusting to an art form where public discourse may finally get the recognition it deserves, thanks to some forthright words – and actions – by an Israeli diplomat.

The Swedish recipe: all children are equal, unless they are Israelis

Friday, September 3rd, 2004

Swedish Foreign Minister Ms Laila Freivalds will shortly be visiting Ramallah to enlist Yasser Arafat’s help in ending the anguish of a Swedish mother whose five children were kidnapped by her estranged Palestinian husband and are being held hostage in Gaza under armed guard.

Ms Freivalds is to be commended for playing such a personal role in the wellbeing of young children. She deserves every best wish in her endeavour. She will hopefully be able to bring about a happy resolution to the agony of a mother who has had her children taken away – albeit temporarily – and that she will be thus able to alleviate the fear and anxiety of the children themselves, the youngest a mere 6 years old.

What seems strange in this context, however, is that the Swedish Foreign Minister has apparently never been equally moved to make a similarly personal appeal to Yasser Arafat to end the indiscriminate killing of Israeli children on streets, in buses, at parties, at religious celebrations. This despite the murder of a Swedish citizen and the attempted murder of several others at a Pesach celebration in Netanya, and the murder of a 20 year-old Swedish citizen at an Egged bus stop in Israel. All carried out by Palestinian terrorists closely or loosely affiliated with Yasser Arafat. These victims – many of them children under school age – are not being temporarily held against their will by estranged family members – they have been murdered, their families will never see them again.

It would be absurd to suggest that Ms Freivalds is anti-Semitic or that she reflects an anti-Semitic Swedish government. However, it cannot take much imagination to realise that this is precisely the kind of subtle signal that is – quite correctly – interpreted by Islamist fanatics in Sweden and elsewhere that they are immune regardless of their actions and that Europe applies one yardstick to Jews and Israelis and quite another to Muslims and Palestinians.

Swedish Foreign Minister Freivalds deserves all the support she can muster in the delicate task facing her. It would be so much more of a credit to her government if she were to apply the same dedication to Israelis suffering in the same way – children and parents alike.

Quiet diplomatic support and off-the-record words of encouragement to Swedish and Israeli Jews not only do not go far enough – it is the very absence of outright public support that by definition encourages a growing anti-Semitic undercurrent among extreme Islamists in Sweden and abroad.