Convoluted Swedish politics impacting the Israeli political scene

Dusted-off Swedish politician and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt is mixing it up in Israel. He’s where he best likes to be – under the spotlight.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt recently addressed the Herzliya Conference and, speaking to journalists on the subject of Iran, said:

“A military option doesn’t exist. You can only delay” Iran’s nuclear armament through military means (“Ya’alon: Crisis Management, Not Peace”, Jerusalem Post, Jan 22).

While this writer does not necessarily advocate a military option to combat Iran’s increasingly strident and racist stance on Israel, this is not a surprising statement on the part of the Swedish Foreign Minister.

A discredited politician
Carl Bildt is a member of the Conservative party and is in many eyes a largely discredited and discarded politician on account of several rather dubious financial dealings over the years. His appointment as Foreign Minister when the centre-right coalition came to power surprised many – apparently including himself (“On Friday I was appointed Foreign Minister of Sweden in a move that was widely seen as somewhat surprising. And in many ways it was.” Carl Bildt’s blog, October 07, 2006).

Swedish politics at play
Apart from Carl Bildt’s rather abrasive comments on Israel over the years (he calls Israel’s drive to stop Palestinian firing of Kassam rockets “indiscriminate killings”), perhaps stemming from personal antipathy towards the Jewish state, one needs also to look at his comments against the backdrop of a variety of less visible considerations.

Perhaps foremost among these driving forces is that Bildt put a lot of faith in and staked his personal reputation on the success of the Oslo Accords. That process has now been killed and buried. Killed by Arafat who on the verge of receiving what he always purported to want – an independent Palestinian state – baulked at the realization that it would also mean something which for him invoked the utmost revulsion: recognition of a Jewish state as his neighbor. And buried by the Palestinian intifada and its deliberate murder of innocent civilians as a means of achieving political and geostrategic aims. Carl Bildt needs desperately to salvage his name. Oslo failed him, Arafat failed him, now he wants to rehabilitate his name on the Iran-Israel seam line. It is Israel that is the stage for his personal brand-name marketing campaign.

A wider backdrop
Carl Bildt may be Sweden’s Foreign Minister, but his words and actions need also to be seen against the wider backdrop of pressing domestic issues rather closer to home. Bildt’s Conservative-led coalition is not doing very well in the popularity stakes. Sweden’s Jewish minority has been in the country for almost 300 years and numbers about 20,000. The country’s Muslim minority has lived in Sweden for 30-40 years and already exceeds 400,000. Bildt and his party need votes. Principles and ethics aside, a politician is in the game of politics to do just that – stay in the game. Failure to mouth words and express sentiments that will fall in fertile soil would see that possibility evaporate. Exit Bildt. But Carl Bildt, startlingly resurrected from the sidelines, has no intention of sidling off the world stage once again.

“Kill the Jews” is merely lively public discourse in Sweden
Carl Bildt is a Swede. Just two years ago Swedish Chancellor of Justice Göran Lambertz took the unprecedented step of interfering in an ongoing police investigation and directed the courts to drop a preliminary hearing. In a sermon at the Grand Mosque in Stockholm, the imam exhorted his followers to “kill the Jews”. Not even in Sweden is racism allowed. Nor is incitement to murder ratified by law. There were audio tapes to verify the imam’s fiery statements. The Swedish Chancellor of Justice, however, directed the prosecutor to drop the case with the motivation that such statements “should be judged differently – and therefore be regarded as permissible – because they were used by one side in an ongoing and far-reaching conflict where calls to arms and insults are part of the everyday climate in the rhetoric that surrounds this conflict”.

Swedish Jews are thus expected to live with calls for their death owing to an ongoing conflict on a different continent more than 3000 kilometers away. There are all sorts of theories regarding what motivated Lambertz’s remarkable departure from protocol – fear of a Muslim backlash, a well-intentioned but poorly executed attempt to defuse a potentially violent situation, latent anti-Semitism – but Carl Bildt was not in government at the time. He is, however, a product of the same background.

There may well be many Israelis who are grateful that a faraway country like Sweden should take an interest in its demographic well-being and strategic survival. There may also be many other Israelis who, upon examining Sweden’s record on immigration, absorption and integration, might well ask what Sweden could possibly teach Israel. Sweden has since the end of the Second World War accepted many different groups of immigrants. Some were survivors of Hitler’s death camps, some were political activists fleeing repression and death at the hands of despotic regimes, and many others were asylum-seekers looking to escape political strife in which they were not personally involved but which nevertheless placed their lives in jeopardy.

New demographics
The largest single group of immigrants – and it is not a homogeneous ethnic group by any means – represents a massive influx of Muslims over the past 30 or so years. While all previous waves of immigrants took to their new country and integrated quickly and smoothly into the fabric of their new society, these more recent immigrants have remained apart, isolated, literally a foreign body within the country. Sweden is of course not exceptional in this regard; France, Britain, the Netherlands and Germany, for instance, all echo this same pattern. While it is both impossible and wrong to make generalizations about any ethnic group, it is safe to say that these immigrants – disenchanted, separate, many of them unemployed and, they claim, unemployable owing to unofficial discrimination, semi-lingual in two half languages instead of bi-lingual in two – these immigrants have totally failed to integrate, to identify themselves with their new country. The number of parabolic antennae pointing east is perhaps an indication of their affiliations and interests.

None of this is remarkable in the Europe of today, perhaps, but bearing in mind the failed state of Sweden’s immigration and absorption program, it is scarcely likely that Israel can benefit much from listening to Carl Bildt on how best Israel should come to terms with its own indigenous (and often very intractable) Muslim minority and the highly aggressive Muslim nations surrounding Israel. While it is naturally incumbent upon the host nation to listen politely when a visiting Foreign Minister speaks, Israel may well conclude there is not much need to make extensive notes of his Herzliya Conference speech.

Tiptoe on Iran – or else…
Of course, Carl Bildt does have to tread warily whenever he tackles the Iranian issue. A large proportion of the Iranian asylum-seekers living in Sweden want no truck with the mullahs of Teheran. Among the foremost reasons they have fled their home country are religious-inspired persecution and Iran’s failing economy. This latter is due in no small measure to Iran’s hugely costly drive towards nuclear capability which, according to many observers, also embraces nuclear weapons. Any hairdressing salon or pizzeria in the city of Gothenburg where this writer lives will probably be run by an Iranian – one who has sought and is grateful for Swedish refuge.

Yet the w
eekly flights to Teheran are packed – these are supposed to be terrified asylum-seekers, remember – and first-hand accounts relate that on almost every flight there are fit, burly young Iranian men sporting crew-cuts and neatly trimmed moustaches who disembark not from the front of the aircraft like the rest of the passengers but from the rear, and that they are not seen again in passport control or in the luggage terminal. Iran’s covert activities in Sweden are a major worry for Carl Bildt and most Swedes. And rightly so, the regime has never failed to bomb its critics into submission even as far afield as London and Buenos Aires. Carl Bildt does well to handle Iran with kid gloves, he is quite rightly looking after Sweden’s interests. But Israel should not lose sight of where his natural interests lie when he speaks on the subject of Israel and the wider Middle East.

Carl Bildt endorses PM Ehud Olmert and praises Mahmoud Abbas – the former apparently has a 2 percent popularity rating and the latter famously does not even control the streets beyond his compound in Ramallah – as “partners for peace”. This is scarcely surprising. Whatever Prime Minister Olmert’s and Mahmoud Abbas’s sterling qualities may be, “uncontroversial” and “strong leadership” are not the words one might instinctively choose to characterize their periods at the helms of state. The Israeli and Palestinian Arab publics may choose to view Bildt’s endorsement as valuable backing, or they may choose to regard it as yet more evidence of a trio of rather inadequate public figures holding hands under the public spotlight.

Right-wing politician is the darling of the Far Left and Communists
Finally, the Swedish perspective on Carl Bildt’s visit to Herzliya needs to make the following clear to anyone unfamiliar with this Scandinavian nation’s politics. Carl Bildt is a Conservative. But to a public attuned to 30 years of unadulterated criticism of Israel no matter what she does or does not do, any sentiment that undermines Israel’s legitimacy or strategic security is music to the ears of a Left that is vicious in its condemnation of the USA and, by some inexplicable link, Israel. Conservative politician Carl Bildt is in the peculiar position of being the darling of the Swedish Left, Far Left and Communists, and generally rather disparaged by Sweden’s Centre and Right.

And you thought Israeli politics was convoluted?