The Swedish Tiger Roars as Synagogues Close
It was a familiar slogan throughout war-time Sweden: en Svensk tiger, which can be translated as “a Swedish tiger” — or, more to the point: “a Swede keeps secrets.”
The so-called Swedish Vigilance Campaign made this expression the focus of its effort to prevent Swedes from spilling secrets that could harm its national defense during World War II.
But the World War II silence campaign is best understood in the context of Sweden’s complicated relationship with Nazi Germany. Despite its neutrality, Sweden sold iron ore to Germany and allowed Hitler’s regime to use its railways when Germany invaded Norway. In 1943 the Swedish government instructed its central bank to ignore evidence that the Germans were paying Sweden with looted gold. Swedish silence, it seems, applied to more than just national security secrets.
Whether Sweden’s actions during the war were a product of weakness or indifference to German aggression — or both — the country’s history makes its role today as self-appointed moral arbiter in the Middle East all the more puzzling. The Swedish tiger has awakened, but is using its voice to lash out at the Jewish state.
In 2012 a group of Swedish politicians with extreme anti-Israel views formed an organization called the Jerusalem Committee. Its supporters include current Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist.
In 2014 Sweden recognized a Palestinian state, saying that the criteria for statehood had been fulfilled, even though the Palestinians had not negotiated an agreement with Israel.
Swedish Housing Minister Mehmet Kaplan participated in an anti-Israel flotilla from Turkey to Gaza in 2010. This past summer, a similar fleet left Sweden before being intercepted by the Israeli navy en route to Gaza.
Following the ISIS attacks in Paris, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom bizarrely responded by linking the atrocities to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “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 them),” she said. “(The Palestinians) either have to accept a desperate situation or resort to violence.”
Such actions follow a longstanding tradition of anti-Israel bias in Sweden, whose government has yet to condemn the ongoing terrorist onslaught against Israeli civilians, even as it rationalizes the attacks in Paris by citing the situation of the Palestinians. Unfortunately for Sweden’s beleaguered 20,000-member Jewish community, the government’s anti-Israel rhetoric is feeding a climate that has severely compromised Jewish security.
On November 19, synagogues in Sweden temporarily shut down in response to the Paris attacks, as Jewish institutions in that country were seen as highly vulnerable targets. Sweden has seen a pronounced increase in antisemitism over the past decade, caused largely by a highly radicalized Arab and Muslim community, a neo-Nazi political party called the Sweden Democrats, and a steady drumbeat of anti-Israel criticism in the media. A 2013 European Union survey indicated that one third of Swedish Jews had experienced antisemitic harassment in the previous five years.
This is a form of linkage that Swedish politicians should better understand: the demonization of Israel and the double standard consistently applied to the Jewish state have consequences for the security of Jewish communities around the world, with Sweden as a notable example.
And as they contemplate that very real contemporary dynamic, Swedish officials should further consider: How does a country that remained neutral during World War II, cooperated with the Nazi regime, and allows antisemitism to thrive, still feel it has the moral authority to lecture the Jewish State on how to defend itself?
The author is the deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy and director of legislative affairs.