A few weeks ago (May 2004), Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds achieved considerable notoriety when, during a visit to a class of 16-year-olds in Gothenburg, she accused Israelis of behaving like Nazis towards the Palestinians. She beamed with appreciation when one of the pupils, a Muslim girl, voiced the theory that according to the Torah, the Land of Israel was promised to the Jews upon the return of the Messiah, and since the Messiah had not returned, the Jews had no right to be there and should accordingly be expelled. This was a school with a high proportion of immigrants, many of them Muslims, and one solitary Jewish pupil. When that pupil, devastated to the core of his being, wrote in the newspapers of his sense of betrayal that the Foreign Minister in the country of his birth could treat the truth in such cavalier fashion, Ms Freivalds denied it all.
Wind forward to the visit by Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds to Yad VaShem in Jerusalem on 9 June 2004. In her speech there, she said: “Let me … state very clearly that it is legitimate to criticise Israeli government policies, as it is to criticise the policy of any government. Such criticism can never in itself be equated with anti-Semitism, and we firmly reject attempts to do so.” At no time during that speech or in any context prior to that speech, however, did Ms Freivalds evince any interest in expressing criticism of the Arab regimes surrounding Israel. Criticism of Israel – the world’s only Jewish state – while failing to even mention the reprehensible actions of the regimes surrounding the Jewish state, has one effect and one effect only: it nurtures anti-Semitism. End of discussion.
At the end of the match, according to customary sportsmanlike tradition the teams were to line up on the pitch and shake hands with each other. However, led by the team captain – who instead of shaking hands held his opponent with one hand and hit him in the face with the other – the Somalian team launched a full attack on the Jewish team. They were immediately joined by their supporters, who also laid in with punches and kicks to the 15-year-old Jewish football players. The Jewish team was led away bleeding, shocked and traumatised. Not, however, before administering a lesson their opponents would not easily forget.
No-one is suggesting that Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds was as active in supporting this disgrace as she was in encouraging hate and division at the school in Gothenburg, but her spirit seems to have pervaded every pore of Swedish society. The 15-year-old Somalian kids have taken their cue from a leadership that will go to any lengths to deny it has created and is nurturing a problem.
But Sweden does not have a problem, it has a festering sickness. The first step in curing any sickness is to identify it and administer the appropriate medicine. Denying one has an ailment because it is a highly embarrassing one to have to admit to it in public may be a perfectly understandable human reaction, but it is hardly conducive to effecting a cure.
Sometimes surgery is the only option. Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds may find she is part of the sickness, not the cure, and that political surgery to remove her from office may be the only option if there is to be a cure for an increasingly ailing Sweden.
She may also find that no number of White Buses furnished by yesterday’s Swedish leaders will do anything to undo the disgrace of some of today’s Swedish leaders. Prime Minister Göran Persson, that man of immense vision and the force behind Sweden’s renowned “Living History” programme, should act before there is nothing left to save.