1. Sociological background
Before WW2, Sweden was one of the poorest, most backward countries in W. Europe. The moneyed elite told the population what to think and do.
After WW2, things changed dramatically in terms of national welfare, but the moneyed elite were replaced by a series of dogmatic left-leaning Social Democratic governments. The concept of looking after an entire nation “from the cradle to the grave” was minted specifically for Sweden.
Result: with the autocratic moneyed elite now replaced by autocratic father-figures in the PM’s office, the populace was conditioned never to worry, never to think. The man in the street was looked after in every respect – kindergarten, health-care, education, job, social welfare, housing, pension, political views. This worked fine as long as the nation’s politics favoured Israel, which it did.
2. Political evolution
Olof Palme changed the attitude to Israel. Reason: Swedish criticism of the USA because of Vietnam. In the mindset of Swedes used to following a strong leader and conditioned for generations never to question leadership figures, the equation was simple: we hate the USA – the USA supports Israel = we hate Israel. At the time that Sweden was supporting Vietnam, it was also supporting regimes in Cuba, the Soviet Union and elsewhere – all anathema to the USA. Anyone linked to the USA – like Israel – was conversely also anathema to Sweden.
At the end of the 1970s, Israel was riding on a crest of popularity in Sweden. The Lebanon war didn’t change anything in the minds of the Swedes in itself, but it opened the door to highly vocal input from a minority who over the previous 10-15 years had been quietly taking over one key area in Sweden – the media.
4. National penchant for sad tales – love of the underdog
At the time of the Lebanon war, Sweden was also opening its doors to asylum-seekers from many countries. Most had nothing to do with the Middle East, but the Swedish psyche was now being constantly assaulted with images of political travesties in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Tibet, Assam, China, the Soviet Union and its satellite states. The Swedish mindset was by now a fertile ground for anyone with a sad tale. The slickly related Palestinian narrative fitted right in. By now, Swedes were no longer reasoning – anyone who was perceived as an underdog received automatic and enthusiastic support. The Palestinian cause was embraced by a population conditioned by the media and the governing elite to do what it had always done – see things in black & white.
5. Pro-Israeli self-delusion
Pro-Israel activity had almost totally collapsed by 1981. Simply because the pro-Israel camp had grown smug, lazy, convinced of its invincibility, convinced nothing could shake the support it enjoyed. It rarely bothered to put its case in the media.
6. The rise of the left-wing media
When the Palestinian narrative of Sabra and Shatila broke, the pro-Israel camp had already disbanded, its champions had already been out of the debate for some time, and the field was left open to a coalition of pro-Palestinians and left-wing Swedes. By now, the media was firmly a left-wing breeding ground. With the automatic blockade on neutral or pro-Israeli articles from about 1984 onwards, Swedes rarely had an opportunity to hear the other side. Swedish pro-Israel action was in disarray. Some of its fiercest proponents had moved abroad – many to Israel – and many had simply become disillusioned with what was seen as a hopeless fight against impossible odds.
7. Rising anti-Semitism powered the modern pro-Israel effort
The situation didn’t improve until halfway through the second intifada, when Swedish anti-Israel sentiment became increasingly expressed as open anti-Semitism. This gave new impetus to pro-Jewish and pro-Israel individuals and organisations to take up the fight once again, stimulating and supporting a strongly pro-active effort on the part of Swedes who supported Israel as a democracy and Sweden’s Jews as a natural part of the demographic scene.
8. TT – the monopoly on news
There is one very tangible reason why Sweden continues to be anti-Israel today: TT. The majority of its shares are in the hands of left-wing newspapers, and its reporters have a virtual monopoly on all ME-related news published in Sweden. What TT doesn’t want to say simply doesn’t get said, end of story.
9. Lesson for the future
The anti-Israel lobby is learning quickly from its mistakes. We will probably never see another media onslaught against Israel being tainted with anti-Semitism. Not because this isn’t a major driving force behind much of the Swedish anti-Israel sentiment – it largely is – but because they have learned that this (1) galvanised the pro-Israel effort against them, and (2) it galvanised a strong and public stance against anti-Semitism by the Swedish government and the country’s citizens. The anti-Israel lobby had made the mistake of using the two weapons together, and the result was that in response, the fight against anti-Semitism also focused attention on the fight against anti-Israel propaganda. The pro-Palestinian lobby will not repeat this mistake again.
So if you’re in the Israel advocacy business, don’t wait for the anti-Semitic card to be played again. It won’t. Instead there will be a massive, very slick, very cohesive drive focusing solely on the “illegitimacy” of Israel. It will be mounted within the next 2 to 3 years.
At the time of writing (December 2005) the withdrawal from Gaza has created a real, lasting problem for the anti-Israel lobby. They are recovering, however, and the thrust of the new campaign which is in its infancy is the illegitimacy of Israel in the first place.