‘Obviously, we have reason to be worried,’ the Swedish foreign minister, Margot Wallström, said last November, three days after the attacks in Paris, ‘because there are so many that are being radicalised. Once again, we are brought back to situations like the one in the Middle East, where not least, the Palestinians see that there is not a future.’ Her words were immediately condemned by the Israeli government. But the Israeli ruling coalition had been the first to make the connection. Officials compared the recent ‘wave of anger’ by Palestinians – the random knife attacks that have killed 28 Israelis, while more than 140 Palestinians have been killed in street executions – to the co-ordinated Bataclan massacre; an attempt, and not the first, to tar Palestinians with the Isis brush.
‘When we look at the Europe of today,’ the Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said on 14 November, ‘which is busy labelling settlement products when the Middle East is on fire… we understand the problem.’ Two days before the Paris attacks, the speaker of the Knesset, Yuli-Yoek Edelstein, had blamed product labelling for the migrant crisis: ‘As well as being foolish, it is also hypocritical to deal with the origin of a tomato instead of helping, from the source, millions of miserable people in the world, including the refugees who are flooding Europe after fleeing the battles in Syria.’ (Israel hasn’t accepted any Syrian refugees.)
The attacks in Paris didn’t change Edelstein’s argument. On the contrary. Should the labelling of settler goods lead to the shutting down of factories, he said on 17 November, in a message of condolence to France, ‘it will increase unemployment and despair on the Palestinian side, and the way from there to terrorism is short.’
Wallström didn’t let up either. In a Parliamentary session in early December, she criticised Israel’s use of ‘disproportionate force’. Earlier this month she called for an investigation to determine if Israel was guilty of extrajudicial killings, a prospect dismissed by Israel’s foreign ministry as ‘delusional’ (which it almost certainly is, given that Palestinian deaths are rarely regretted by Israeli officials, much less investigated). Israel has responded by refusing official visits from Swedish delegations, and Wallström has been declared persona non grata. Lieberman has called for boycotts of Ikea. Sweden’s ambassador was officially censured for Wallström’s comments (the Knesset was largely united in this). Last week fifteen Israeli mayors announced they would no longer be attending a management conference in Sweden.
In the nationalist newspaper Makor Rishon (‘First Source’), the former head of the Israeli education ministry, Zvi Zameret, compared Wallström to Count Folke Bernadotte, saying that both were motivated by ‘ignorance’ and ‘anti-Semitism’ (never mind that Bernadotte, as vice-president of the Swedish Red Cross, negotiated the release of thousands of prisoners, including 450 Danish Jews, from Theresienstadt in 1945). Bernadotte was sent to Israel in 1948 to draw up a resolution for the withdrawal of Israeli military forces – and the return of Palestinian refugees – as part of the UN Partition Plan. He was assassinated in Jerusalem by the Stern Gang.
Only Joint List, an alliance of four Arab political parties and the third largest faction in the Knesset, has officially criticised the Netanyahu government’s attacks on Wallström, arguing that the roots of Palestinian violence lie in the anti-Arab racism of Israeli society. But Israel doesn’t preach only to Sweden. Earlier this week the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, was accused by Netanyahu officials of ‘encouraging terror’ for suggesting, in condemning the Palestinian knife attacks, that it may be natural for oppressed peoples to resist occupation.