Israel’s Pro-democracy Protests Now Extend as Far as the Nordic countries

Officials in Scandinavian countries generally prefer not to intervene in Israel’s domestic affairs, but the concerns are palpable – even among its Jewish supporters in Stockholm

Published in "Haaretz":

“I am closely following what’s happening in Israel and see that they’re even talking about a civil war there,” says Lars Aslan Rasmussen, addressing the protests over the Netanyahu government’s efforts to undermine the judiciary. “Israel is a democracy, it had five elections within a short time while its neighbors have no elections at all,” says Rasmussen, a member of the ruling Social Democratic Party in Denmark. “However, as a social democrat and a secular person, I think it would be a pity if Israel changes as a result of the far right that provocatively enters the Temple Mount and tries to impose religious law on the inhabitants of the country. It is important that Israel remains a democracy despite the far right.”

In recent weeks, leaders in Western Europe such as French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have been expressing their concern about the Israeli government’s plans. Rasmussen’s words reflect the concerns of elected officials in Scandinavian countries, who are now joining the international chorus of alarm. In most cases, the criticism is still gentle – in part because it is coming from representatives of parties that are traditionally not hostile toward Israel.

Rasmussen is considered a friend of Israel and was awarded the Jerusalem Prize by the World Zionist Organization last year. “Extremist tendencies exist in many countries, including Denmark and the United States in the days of Donald Trump’s presidency,” he says. “I don’t think the relations between Israel and Denmark will weaken [because of the judicial overhaul], but it’s good that people are criticizing and demonstrating against the rise of the power of the far right.” The Danish Foreign Ministry declined to answer questions or provide an official statement on the political unrest in Israel.

In Norway, however, Erling Rimestad, the state secretary at the Foreign Ministry, had no hesitation in taking a clear position. “We’re following the developments in Israel closely,” he says. “Some of the legislation put forward by the new government is highly problematic and could, if passed by parliament, have far-reaching consequences for Israel’s future as a liberal and democratic state. This would also have implications for the many Palestinians living in areas occupied by Israel, and for Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.”

Rimestad says that Norway has long-standing ties with Israel and will continue to maintain relationships and dialogue with the Israeli authorities and the Israeli people. However, he also criticized the new government – and not only in regard to the so-called judicial coup. “Norway has strongly condemned some of the Israeli government’s policy announcements and measures, in particular the punitive measures against the Palestinians,” he says.

“We have condemned the legalization of outposts and new settlements. Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. We have also voiced our concern over statements and actions by members of the Israeli government regarding the holy sites. It’s important to respect the status quo in Jerusalem. In addition to our bilateral dialogue, there are also international forums where we bring up human rights concerns.”

Rimestad, the state secretary to Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt (a position akin to deputy minister), adds: “Israel’s human rights situation will be assessed during the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva this coming May. Norway will give our recommendations to Israel there.”

The Labour Party is in power in Norway, but the concern over the situation in Israel transcends party lines. Christian Tybring-Gjedde, a legislator from the right-wing Progress Party, says he believes “it is very important that Israel remains the beacon of hope in the Middle East. It is therefore of vital importance that Israel protects its democracy. It means that a few religious, conservative politicians should not be able to determine Israel’s future. Politics all based on an ancient religious text is not the way to govern a democracy.”

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David Stavrou דיויד סטברו

עיתונאי ישראלי המתגורר בשוודיה Stockholm based Israeli journalist

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