Auschwitz wasn't on another planet

יום השואה הבינ"ל, גניבת שלט הכניסה של אושוויץ וראיון עם פרופ' יהודה באואר

Published in The Local – Sweden's news in English, January 2010

When writing about Auschwitz, it's important to start with the obvious. The theft of the camp's notorious entrance sign was an appalling act and those who are responsible for it must be punished. In a broader context, on the occasion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 65 anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, it is important to point out that the original camp site, along with the museum and archive which were built on it, are in need of serious renovation. If the site's educational projects, research activities and ceremonial events, are to continue, there is need of a large investment, of international support and of course, a better security system.

So much for stating the obvious.

There is however another way of looking at the theft of the sign which naturally raised many angry reactions. Interestingly enough, statements made after the event were of the kind usually made when religious sites are desecrated. It's easy to forget that Auschwitz is not a holy site. It is not a vandalized grave or a burnt down synagogue, in fact it's as far from a holy site as one can imagine. Birkenau (Auschwitz 2) may well be the largest Jewish graveyard in the world and the site where thousands of Poles, Roma, Russians and many others were murdered, but the entrance sign of the main camp, Auschwitz 1, which simply states "Arbeit Macht Frei" (work liberates) is perhaps one of most profound symbols of evil and one of the most symbolic representations of Nazism. So much so that it is almost tempting to cry out to the thieves and to all the Anti-Semites and Neo-Nazis who support them: "If you want it so badly, just go ahead and take it!"

 There is a reason why that sign is so symbolic. Auschwitz wasn't on another planet, as Jewish writer and Auschwitz survivor, Yehiel Dinur, once put it. It was made from the stuff of our very own planet. It took all the evils of this world and brought them to a new level. Though it developed new and monstrous techniques, it didn't invent anything new. It was the most accurate representation of the world view of the Nazi movement which, while being politically revolutionary, was based on old and conservative values. Like Nazism itself, Auschwitz was hierarchical, racist, and murderous all of which are typical aspects of the twentieth century. It was a world where human beings had no value, where every part of their body and belongings was used to make profit before they were annihilated. It was a world of cruelty and ruthlessness, but not less interesting, it was a world of lies. And this is where the "Work Liberates" slogan has its deeper meaning.

The lies in Auschwitz weren’t limited to the lies told to the victims who were told, for example, that they are entering the showers when they were standing at the doors of gas chambers. They were deeper, almost philosophical. Auschwitz had every aspect of human life. There was music, medicine and even a judicial system. There were work places, sex life, trade and industry. But these were all distorted. Any trace of humanity was sucked out of them. Music, for example, was transformed from an expression of beauty and human emotions to a soundtrack of slave marches and executions. In the so called "Joy Division", sex was transformed from a source of pleasure and expression of intimacy to violent and repeated rape. In the torture chambers of Block no. 11, the judicial system served might instead of right and in Dr. Mengale's Block medicine did not save lives, but practiced diabolical experiments to glorify a mythical ‘master race.’

And then there's work. Work can define us; it can give us pleasure, release our creative abilities or at least provide for us. Work can liberate. But in Auschwitz work was the exploitation of people struck by disease and hunger by corporations, some of which, sadly enough, still exist today. All this makes the stolen slogan not only cynical but also a pure symbol of everything wrong in this world. As such, perhaps we can do without it.

Many, myself included, were shocked by the theft of the sign. But was the response proportional? Is the symbol really so important? I have visited Auschwitz many times and have seen how the sign has turned into a tourist attraction and how groups of laughing teenagers from all over the world gather beneath it to have their picture taken. Visiting Auschwitz is important and Symbols are important too but they are not everything. It's important to remember that although the war ended in 1945 genocide, racism and oppression didn't. Perhaps it would be more effective if some of the attention given to the stolen sign were diverted to the atrocities in Darfur for example, or to the many cases of minority oppression and discrimination worldwide.

The Israeli historian Prof. Yehuda Bauer, who is one of the world's greatest authorities on the Holocaust, says: "There are many places in the world today where mass murder and even genocide are possible. Everyone knows about Sudan but there are other places like Burma (Myanmar) and East Congo. The situation in other regions like Iran, with its complex ethnical problems, The Balkans, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Iraq and some places in South America like Guatemala could also deteriorate into mass murder". Bauer, who is visiting Stockholm this week, serves as an senior adviser to many institutes including the Swedish Government, the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research and the International Forum on Genocide Prevention. "The Holocaust was an unprecedented event because of its totality, universality and the pure ideological motives behind it", says Bauer, "But it was not unique, since it was an act of human beings on other human beings, it can happen again".

Though Bauer's work with the UN and other international organizations to prevent future crimes, may be more important to future generations than the preservation of old Nazi concentration camps, it can be claimed that the stolen sign, like the camp itself, is important as a witness of what happened and can be used in the battle against those who deny the Holocaust. There is truth in this. But there will come a day when not much will remain of the original camp. What then?

Even today parts of it are falling apart despite all preservation efforts. Like it or not, physical artifacts, just like the testimonies of living survivors, important as they are, will have a smaller role in remembering and understanding the Holocaust in the future. It is, after all, an event from the past century, and sadly its' survivors are becoming fewer and fewer. Camps like Treblinka and Sobibor were totally destroyed and many documents and artifacts are already lost. Future discussion about the Holocaust will have to be based on books, museums and films, and if we want it to have a future at all, public debate, educational dialogue and historical research will have to take the place of visiting the sites themselves.

From a Swedish perspective, these observations are particularly important. The apparent involvement of a Swedish Neo-Nazi in the sign theft last month reminds us that there is a need to continue the efforts to fight racism, Anti-Semitism and undemocratic trends in Swedish society. Sweden's ambivalent role in WW2 makes this even more crucial. As a vital exporter of iron ore to the German war machine, and as an industrial and sometimes political and ideological Nazi allay, Sweden has a moral and political obligation to deal with its past even if it is also responsible for saving many lives through its diplomatical efforts and generosity to refugees.

"Anti-Semitism in Europe is getting worse", says Prof. Bauer and explains that it exists in the extreme Right-Wing as well as in the left and in parts of the second generation of Muslim immigrants who rebel against their communities by targeting Israel and the Jews. He points out Sweden's efforts in fighting these trends, "Sweden dedicated time and money and has created The Living History Forum, a government agency commissioned to promote democracy and human rights, with the Holocaust as its point of reference". There is of course still work to be done and Bauer claims that studying the core issues of the Holocaust and especially the dilemmas of its victims are crucial to this process.

As for the stolen sign, I don't really know what the thieves who climbed on Auschwitz's gate and removed the sign on that cold December night had in mind. Truth be told, I don't really care. I was shocked when it was taken and I'm glad it is now back. But that is stating the obvious again.

Beyond the obvious is another thought. In one of his books, Yehiel Dinur describes a vision of an Auschwitz prisoner. He is sitting in a truck full of prisoners on the way to the crematorium and he's looking at an SS officer. He realizes, to his horror, that under other circumstances the roles could have been reversed and he could have been the killer. The worst thing about Auschwitz, he realizes, is that it is man-maid, not the work of the devil and it lies within the potential of human behavior. He describes the truck passing under the German words "Arbeit Mach Frei" and in his mind the German words are transformed into Hebrew ones: "In the image of God created he him". The symbol of Nazism becomes the cradle of Humanism. Now that would be a sign no one could steal.

וגרסה עברית:

כשעוסקים באושוויץ חשוב לפתוח במובן מאליו. גניבת השלט משער המחנה לפני יותר מחודש היא מעשה נפשע והאחראים לו חייבים להיענש. זאת ועוד, יום השנה ה 65 לשחרור המחנה ויום השואה הבינלאומי, שיצוין השבוע ברחבי העולם, הוא הזדמנות נוספת להזכיר את מצבו הקשה של האתר בו נרצחו מעל למיליון וחצי בני-אדם ולקוות כי השמירה עליו תשופר, שהכסף הנדרש לשיפוצו יגויס בקרוב ושמאמץ ניכר יושקע בשימור המחנה ובהמשך הפעילות החינוכית, התיעודית והטקסית המתקיימת בו.

עד כאן המובן מאליו.

גניבת השלט "העבודה משחררת" עורר מטבע הדברים גל תגובות בישראל ובעולם. רוב התגובות הזכירו דברים שנשמעים כאשר מטרות יהודיות מותקפות בחו"ל. אך גניבת שלט הכניסה של אושוויץ איננה דומה לריסוס גרפיטי על בית-כנסת, להשחתת ספר תורה או לחילול קבר יהודי. מחנה אושוויץ איננו מקום קדוש, הוא מקום מקולל. שדות בירקנאו הם אמנם בית-הקברות הגדול ביותר של העם היהודי, אך דווקא השלט בעל הכתובת "ארבט מאכט פריי", הוא הדבר הרחוק ביותר מהיהדות או מהאנושיות שניתן לעלות על הדעת. הוא אולי הייצוג הנאמן ביותר של הנאציזם ושל הרוע עצמו. הוא ארור ומאוס עד כדי כך שמפתה לומר לגנביו כמו גם לכל האנטישמים, הניאו-נאצים והפשיסטים למיניהם שחוגגים את האירוע: "אם אתם כל כך רוצים את השלט הזה, בבקשה – קחו אותו!".

אושוויץ לא הייתה, כפי שאמר ק.צטניק, פלנטה אחרת. להיפך, אושוויץ הייתה בנויה מהחומרים של הפלנטה הזאת. היא לקחה את כל הרעות החולות של העולם המודרני והביאה אותן לקצה. היא פיתחה אמנם טכניקות חדשות, מפלצתיות, אך היא לא המציאה שום רעיון חדש. היא הייתה התגלמותו הנאמנה של האידיאולוגיה הנאצית, שהייתה מהפכנית אולי מבחינה פוליטית, אך התבססה על עקרונות שמרניים ומוכרים, החל מהפרקטיקה הניהולית ועד השימוש בפסיכולוגיה של התליינים והקורבנות. במחנה אושוויץ, כמו בנאציזם עצמו, היה כל מה שהיה רע במודרנה. הייתה בו ההיררכיה, הגזענות והרצחנות שאפיינו את המאה העשרים (ושלא חלפו עדיין מן העולם). נבנה בו עולם בו בני-אדם היו פחות מסך כל חלקיהם, חפצים חסרי ערך שכל חלק מגופם ורכושם נוצל למטרות כלכליות. היו באושוויץ אכזריות, חוסר חמלה ודיכוי אך  מעניין לא פחות, אושוויץ הייתה מבוססת על שקר. וכאן בדיוק תפקידה של הסיסמא הידועה לשמצה: "העבודה משחררת".

ההונאה באושוויץ לא התבטאה רק בשקרים שסופרו לקורבנות שנכנסו לתאי-הגזים מתוך אמונה שהם מקלחות. השקר של אושוויץ היה עמוק יותר. כמעט פילוסופי. באושוויץ היו הרי כל ביטויי העולם האנושי, היו בה מוסיקה, רפואה ומערכת משפט, היו בה מקומות עבודה, חיי מין, מסחר ותעשייה. אך מחולליה של אושוויץ לקחו כל מה שהיה לו פוטנציאל אנושי והפכו אותו על פיו. המוסיקה באושוויץ, למשל, הפכה מביטוי של יופי ורגשות אנושיים לפס-קול של מצעדי עבדים והוצאות להורג. בבית-הבובות המין הפך ממקור של עונג ואינטימיות לאונס סדרתי ואלים. במרתפי העינויים של בלוק 11, המשפט לא עשה צדק אלא הנציח את שרירות לבו ואכזריותו של השליט. בבלוק 10 של הדר' מנגלה הרפואה הפכה ממצילת חיים לגיהינום של המתת ילדים וקטיעת איברים.

ויש כמובן את העבודה. העבודה מעצבת את מי שאנחנו, היא יכולה להיות מקום של יצירה ומקור של פרנסה, היא יכולה להיות משחררת. אבל לא באושוויץ. באושוויץ העבודה הפכה לעבדות, לניצול של בני-אדם מוכי קור, מחלות ורעב ע"י תאגידים כלכליים שחלקם, למרבה הציניות, קיימים עדיין היום. כל אלו מבוטאים היטב בשלט "העבודה משחררת". זוהי יותר מציניות, זהו הביטוי הטהור ביותר של השקר והרוע של הנאציזם.

רבים הזדעזעו, ובצדק, מגניבת הסמל החשוב הזה. אך האם הפרופורציות הופרו? האם הסמל הזה באמת כל כך חשוב? אני ביקרתי באושוויץ פעמים רבות. ראיתי כיצד השלט הזה הופך לאתר תיירות וכיצד קבוצות מצחקקות של בני נוער מכל העולם מתקבצים תחתיו כדי להצטלם. אין ספק, הביקורים באושוויץ הם חשובים וגם סמלים הם חשובים אך הם לא מראית הכל. המלחמה אמנם הסתיימה ב 1945 אך מעשים של רצח-עם, גזענות ואפליה הם לא נחלת ההיסטוריה. ייתכן שלא היה מזיק אם מעט מתשומת הלב שלו זכה השלט הנאצי באושוויץ היה מופנה לנעשה בדרפור, לדיכוי מיעוטים או לצמיחתן של תנועות פשיסטיות ברחבי העולם.

פרופ' יהודה באואר, אחת האוטוריטות החשובות בעולם בנושא השואה, אומר: "יש מקומות רבים בעולם כיום שהרג המוני ורצח-עם אפשריים בהם. כולם יודעים על סודאן, אך יש מקומות נוספים כמו בורמה (מיאנמר) וקונגו המזרחית. המצב במקומות כמו איראן, על המורכבות האתנית שלה, הבלקנים, זימבבווה, קניה ועיראק ומקומות מסוימים בדרום-אמריקה כמו גווטאמאלה, יכול גם הוא להידרדר לרצח המוני". באואר, המבקר בימים אלו בסטוקהולם, משמש כיועץ בכיר לפורומים בינלאומיים שונים הנלחמים בתופעות של הרג המוני ורצח-עם. "השואה הייתה אירוע אי-תקדימי במובן הזה שהיא הייתה טוטאלית, אוניברסאלית, שיטתית ומונעת ע"י מניעים אידיאולוגיים טהורים", הוא אומר, "אבל היא איננה ייחודית. מכיוון שהיא בוצעה ע"י בני-אדם היא יכולה לקרות שוב".

למרות שעבודתו של באואר ושל אחרים חשובה אולי לאנושות יותר משימור מחנות-הריכוז הישנים, יש הטוענים שהשלט הגנוב, כמו שאר שרידי המחנה, חשוב כדי להילחם בהכחשת השואה. יש אמת בטענה זאת אך יבוא היום שבו לא יוותר הרבה מהמחנה המקורי ומשרידיו. כבר היום חלקים ממנו מתפוררים ויש שרידים שיתכלו למרות כל מאמצי השימור. השרידים הפיזיים כמו גם העדים החיים, חשובים ככל שיהיו, לא נותנים היום מענה להכחשת השואה וגם לא להבנתה. אחרי הכל, מדובר באירועים מאמצע המאה הקודמת ובקרוב לא יוותרו להם עדים חיים. מחנות חשובים כמו טרבלינקה וסוביבור נהרסו לחלוטין ע"י הגרמניים וחומר תיעודי רב נהרס ונעלם. אם חשוב לנו שהשואה ולקחיה לא יישכחו ניאלץ להתרגל ללמוד אותם דרך ספרים, סרטים ומוזיאונים ובעיקר דרך מחקר היסטורי, דיון ציבורי ושיח חינוכי.

מנקודת ראות שוודית אבחנות אלו חשובות במיוחד. מעורבותו לכאורה של ניאו-נאצי שוודי בגניבת השלט בחודש שעבר היא תזכורת לחשיבותו של המאבק בגזענות, באנטישמיות ובמגמות אנטי-דמוקרטיות בחברה השוודית. זכר התפקיד האמביוולנטי של שוודיה במלה"ע השנייה רק מחזקת צורך זה. כיצאנית ברזל חיוני למכונת המלחמה הגרמנית וכשותפה עסקית, ולעיתים גם פוליטית ואידיאולוגית של גרמניה הנאצית, לשוודיה יש אחריות פוליטית ומוסרית להתמודד עם עברה, אפילו אם היא הצילה אלפי בני-אדם בתקופת המלחמה כתוצאה ממאמציה הדיפלומטיים ונדיבותה כלפי פליטים. זוהי מחויבות היסטורית שנוגעת גם למגמות מדאיגות בהווה.

"מצבם של היהודים באירופה גרוע יותר היום משהוא היה בעבר", אומר פרופסור יהודה באואר ומסביר כי יש היום באירופה אנטישמיות מסורתית, דומה לזו הטרום-נאצית וגם אנטישמיות חדשה יותר. האנטישמיות לדבריו מגיעה משלושה מקומות מרכזיים: הימין הקיצוני, השמאל והדור השני והשלישי של מהגרים מוסלמים שמפנים את המרד שלהם בחברות המערביות הקולטות נגד ישראל והיהודים. שוודיה, מציין באואר, מקדישה מאמצים, זמן וכסף רב להילחם במגמות אלו אך יש עוד עבודה רבה. השימוש בגרעין הקשה של השואה, ובעיקר בדילמות של קורבנותיה, היא הדרך הטובה ביותר להמשיך את הדיון החשוב הזה.

אינני יודע מה בדיוק עבר בראשם של החוליגנים העלובים שטיפסו על השער של אושוויץ, הבריגו החוצה את שלט הכניסה וברחו איתו. למען האמת, זה גם לא אכפת לי במיוחד. המובן מאליו אומר שהשלט חשוב להנצחת הקורבנות ולפעילות החינוכית של המוזיאון וטוב שהוא הוחזר. אבל מעבר למובן מאליו יש מחשבה נוספת.

הסופר ק.צטניק בספרו "הצופן" מתאר חיזיון של אסיר, שלד בין שלדים עירומים, היושב במשאית בדרך לקרמטוריום ומביט אל קצין SS. האסיר מבין שהזוועה האמיתית של אושוויץ היא בכך שהיוצרות יכולות היו להתהפך ושהוא עצמו, בנסיבות אחרות, יכול היה להיות קצין SS. אושוויץ הרי איננה יצירת השטן, הוא מבין, אלא יצירת בני-אדם, שכולם שווים וכולם נבראו בצלם. "המשאית עוברת את שער אושוויץ שמעליו האותיות הגרמניות: ARBEIT MACHT FREI", כותב ק.צטניק את חזיון האסיר, "והן מתחלפות באותיות העבריות: "בצלם אלוהים ברא אותו". כך הופך סמל הנאציזם לערש ההומניזם. את השלט הזה אין איש יכול לגנוב.

Sweden navigates complex waters of EU foreign policy

מדיניות החוץ של שוודיה

Published in The Local – Sweden's news in English, September 2009

It was an October evening in the Karlskona archipelago when a local fisherman saw something unusual. He didn't know it at the time, but what he saw was about to cause a dramatic military and political standoff that would attract the world's attention and influence Swedish foreign policy for years to come. He phoned the Coast Guard and reported what he had seen, which turned out to be a submarine which ran aground not far from Karlskrona's town centre and naval base. To everyone's amazement, the vessel was a Whisky class submarine of the Soviet Union's Baltic fleet which hit an underwater rock. The story would later be referred to as the 1981 "Whisky on the rocks" incident.

Recalling this incident now, as the EU's 27 Foreign Ministers are preparing to meet in Stockholm this weekend, is useful since it gives an important historical perspective to the event. After two devastating world wars and a long cold war, Europe is still looking for its role in the new world order. It is clearly a great economic power and a model of stability and prosperity. It is also a leader in many international issues like climate change. Still, when it comes to many of the world's security problems and international dilemmas, the EU seems either absent or lost. The US, Russia and China are more decisive and influential and many say that the Europeans are too divided and that they lose political power because their many states, institutions and organizations don't speak with one voice.

Within the EU, Sweden's situation is a special one. Today, just like other nations, it is navigating the complicated waters of a multi power world, creating alliances and making friends and foes as it goes along. But things used to be different. Since the 19th century Sweden maintained a unique position of nonalignment which defined its foreign policy. This brings us back to the "Whisky on the rocks" affair and other occasions in the 1980s when foreign submarines threatened Sweden’s neutrality; these incidents had long-term political consequences, some of which are at the root of Sweden’s foreign policy today.

In October 1982, following a dramatic "submarine hunt" outside Stockholm, a Parliamentary investigation committee was appointed. The committee's report said that the Soviet Union was behind the incursion and political repercussions followed. Sweden's ambassador to the UN was criticized for creating secret channels with Soviet officials. The Foreign Minister, Lennart Bodström, was forced out of office after he openly questioned Soviet responsibility. Both were probably acting on instructions by the newly-elected PM, Olof Palme, who was trying to maintain Sweden's vulnerable foreign relations. Later on, Palme became furious when a young conservative member of the original committee met with representatives of US intelligence. He called him a security risk and a threat to Swedish foreign Policy. The upcoming MP's name was Carl Bildt.

This historical anecdote is significant as Carl Bildt is now Sweden's foreign minister and he will be the one hosting the semi-annual informal meeting of European Foreign Ministers in Stockholm this weekend. In the years since the submarine dramas of the eighties, Bildt has had a decisive role in shaping Sweden's political landscape and international attitudes. He was MP in the eighties, PM in the nineties, he has been acting as Foreign Minister since 2006 and he's one of those responsible for changing Sweden's neutrality and nonalignment policy. Though Sweden hasn't joined NATO or the EURO zone, it is part of the EU (since 1995) and many of its officials talk about strong European and American ties and "solidarity" with neighboring Nordic and Baltic states, even to the extent of military assistance.

But as the old conflicts between those who want to maintain Sweden's nonalignment and those who seek closer ties with one of the great powers disappear, what are the new burning topics of Swedish foreign policy? If Sweden once aspired to be an independent bridge between east and west in a divided Europe what is its mission when Europe is united? And what are its interests in the new world order? Surprisingly, it's not easy to tell. In a country where every minute detail of employment, health and education policy is discussed in the public arena, foreign policy is often hidden in the back pages.

If this weekend's informal meeting is any indication, climate change and the economic crisis are the main issues concerning European Foreign Ministers and their Swedish hosts. "The most pressing issues on the agenda", Kjell Engelbrekt, an associate Professor at the Swedish National Defense College tells The Local, "will likely be the financial and economic crisis, the upcoming Copenhagen summit on climate change, and a variety of topical foreign policy questions". Engelbrekt adds that since the foreign ministers of Croatia, Turkey and Macedonia are attending the second day, the issue of EU enlargement will probably be discussed too.

Anders Jörle, director of the press section at the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs tells The Local that "It is well known that the situation in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and the Middle East will be among the topics of the meeting". He also says that the agenda is not fixed and to some extent it is decided on the spot. "There will be no decisions, common conclusions or resolutions", he says, "Success is if there will be an open-minded discussion that brings effectiveness to the foreign policy of the union". In order to understand this special dynamic, one has to go back to the early seventies and to a meeting that took place in a 17th century castle in West Germany.

Gymnich castle near Bonn is an impressive Baroque building which was used as a guest house for foreign dignitaries by the German federal government. It has seen guests like Ronald Reagan, Queen Elisabeth and Leonid Brezhnev. In 1974, nine EC foreign ministers met there for the first time and since then it has become a tradition –  in addition to regular meetings of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, EU foreign ministers meet for "Gymnich meetings" every six months, in an informal setting in the country holding the presidency of the European Council. This weekend they will meet in Stockholm's Modern Museum and will be joined by Javier Solana the high representative of the CFSP, the commissioner for external relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and the commissioner for enlargement, Olli Rehn. As usual, although no formal decisions will be made, the outcome of the discussions could have a decisive influence on the relationship between Europe and the rest of the world.
These relations are crucial to an understanding of Sweden's foreign policy, which is itself part of the dilemma facing European policy makers. Judging by almost any parameter, Europe can be a world power, but does it really want to become one? Is the EU a united force striving to influence world affairs or is it content dealing with issues within and close to its borders while leaving the bigger issues to its component states and to other world powers?

Kjell Engelbrekt says: "The EU can be described as a composite actor because of its lack of cohesive policies and executive power toward many parts of the world". Engelbrekt adds that the EU has a powerful negotiating position in global trade talks and a collection of aid donors more important than the US', but its significance on a variety of political issues is only to the extent that it limits the range of views, options and policies that its members endorse, and consequently agree on. Although the EU is expected to help shape the future of Afghanistan, and is engaged in the question of Iran's nuclear program and the Middle-East peace process, its power is limited. Other issues like North Korea, Pakistan and other Asian countries, says Engelbrekt, are way beyond the EU's reach.

It is true that the EU's EUFOR military deployment is keeping the peace in Bosnia and it was important in similar efforts in Eastern Congo and Chad. The EU was also involved in solving tough issues such as the Ukraine-Russian crises and the January energy cutoff. But is the EU cut out to be a real world power? Many are skeptical. And like the bigger European picture, the Swedish one is ambivalent too. On some issues, Swedish policy is clear, as Kjell Engelbrekt explains: an international agreement on climate change must be reached in Copenhagen at the end of this year. This is not only crucial to the survival of mankind; it's also a "key area from which the Union draws legitimacy as a global player". Sweden's policy is pretty clear on the question of enlargement too. "The commitment made by the Union in Helsinki in 1999, to treat Turkey as a candidate country, must be upheld. It is now up to Turkey to conduct negotiations and fulfill its obligations as a candidate country". The same can be said about the other two recognized candidates – Croatia and Macedonia.

But other issues are more complicated. Some, like the relationship with Russia and energy supply, are politically complicated because of conflicting interests (economic interest vs. environmental concerns and diplomatic relations with Russia, Germany and the Baltic states). Other issues can raise a heated political debate – what is Sweden willing to risk in order to gain more international credibility both in terms of its independence when it concerns adopting the EURO or giving away power to Brussels, and in terms of lives when it concerns military involvement in other countries. And there are yet other issues which raise almost philosophical questions.

Sweden's official neutrality was never really what many thought it to be. It was designed to keep Sweden out of wars but in many cases it meant that different Swedish elements played conflicting roles in world affairs, serving both admirable and sinister purposes. Sweden's neutrality during WW2, for example, was used to save thousands of refugees from Ghettos and concentration camps throughout Europe but at the same time it assisted the Nazi war machine. Later on, official nonalignment was used by Swedish organizations to spread both humanitarian aid and weapons in developing countries.

Sweden's current foreign policy can have similar ambivalent effects. It could be used to serve the narrow interests of powerful economical or political elites or it could be used in the service of something greater than Sweden alone, be it a political union or a set of ideals. It's hard to tell if the current Swedish EU presidency is showing the way to a new leading position in international politics, but the Gymnich meeting is surely a good opportunity to take a broader look at the situation. The world is facing enormous challenges and its inhabitants are making choices every day. Some are joining hands and confronting the challenges, others continue to engage in "old world behavior". Sweden and other European countries are making choices too. This time it's not about chasing submarines or creating secret diplomatic backchannels, it's about taking responsibility and making history.

Cynicism prevails for vote-hungry officials

 פרשת הכתבה על הסחר באיברים בעיתון השוודי אפטונבלדט

Published in The Local – Sweden's news in English, August 2009

The latest quarrel between Israel and Sweden is a particularly ugly one. Although some of the points made by both sides are valid, they are contaminated by cynicism and false innocence on the Swedish side and by inadequate and inappropriate reactions on the Israeli side. This may be the time, almost two weeks after the publication of the original article in Aftonbladet, for both sides to take a fresh look at the situation and to reconsider a new course of action.

It would be wise to begin with what started the tension in the first place – the article itself. I don't know Donald Boström, the journalist who wrote it and I'm not a regular reader of Aftonbladet, but I read the article titled "Our sons plundered for their organs" more than once and it must be said that before being inciting or inflammatory it's simply bad journalism, if it can be called journalism at all. Don't take my word for it. Read it yourself: in Swedish ( or in one of the web-based translations ( There's no proof of anything, no real investigation and no news value whatsoever. It's a bizarre combination of speculation, unconfirmed testimonies and half truths from old, washed up stories. Anything goes as long as it can summon up the words Israel, war-crimes and stolen organs along with a picture of an autopsied body. Expressions like "serious accusations" and "questions remain" used throughout the article, remind one of those low budget conspiracy theories.

 Here's just a taste of the article's negligence – first of all, the main story, which is one of many unrelated stories, is 17 years old which makes it well-nigh impossible to confirm. Second, Boström makes no attempt to contact the Israeli Ministry of Defence, the Israeli Forensic Pathology centre or the Israeli medical profession. In fact the only Israeli he claims to have interviewed (a soldier) is unnamed, we don't get his rank or his position and we don't get any context to the interview. The same applies to the UN staff Boström claims to have talked to. Maybe this is designed to create an atmosphere of secrecy and mystery but journalism isn't about atmosphere: it's about facts. And facts are not a high priority for Boström who makes too many sloppy mistakes.

Why, for example, would soldiers, who as Boström claims, are sent out to steal organs, deliberately shoot the people they're stealing organs from in the chest or the stomach, when it's common knowledge that organs cannot be harvested from bodies with serious chest wounds. Even the family members whose evidence is the only "source" to the story are now distancing themselves from Boström's report and are claiming that they never said that organs were stolen. It's as if an Israeli reporter would visit Sweden and 17 years later publish an article about witnessing a group of blond, drunken Vikings (just like Boström uses stereotypes of IDF soldiers) kidnapping and murdering a Norwegian woman. He can't prove it, he spoke to no one about it, and they're no "sources" other than relatives and an anonymous cop. But, obviously, there are serious accusations and many questions remain.

Israelis are right in claiming this is the stuff blood libels against Jews were always made from. But that, I think, is not the point here. It's more important that this is the stuff a certain kind of modern journalism is made from. Just like the English Sun and the German Bild, Aftonbladet needs human-sacrifice and the Jews, though far from being the only victims, are indeed ideal ones. They were in the medieval shtetl and they still are in 21st century journalism. The differentiation between Jews and Israel in this case, like in many others, is wishful thinking on the part of many. In reality, there is no differentiation. Like it or not, Israel and the Jewish people are intertwined, each paying the price when the other is attacked, each rising and falling with the others' successes and failures. Aftonbladet knows this of course and takes advantage of it. They can make racist attacks disguised as legitimate political journalism. Their's isn't traditional anti-Semitism based on religion (the Jews killed Jesus). It isn't even modern anti-Semitism (the Jews are rich and control the world). This is Post Modern anti-Semitism. It's all about rating and it's business orientated. It sells news papers. No body cares about the truth because it's subjective anyway, nobody has time for research and you can definitely count on it that no one will take responsibility. The writer gets his 15 minutes of fame; the paper makes millions. And damn the consequences.

But it's not just about money; it's also about politics too. The never ending and, quite frankly, tedious text Swedish officials use about freedom of speech is not relevant in this case. First of all, despite the claims of various official spokespeople, it is not absolute and untouchable, even in Sweden: witness the Danish Muhammad cartoons, and various regulations, self censorship and safeguards that protect Swedes from offensive commercials and sensitive publications. Sweden is very firm when it defends the rights of large minorities or powerful establishments (like Aftonbladet) but much less decisive when it comes to weaker groups or even the general public. This is why authorities in Malmö preferred to defend the right of an angry mob to boycott a tennis match between Israel and Sweden than to defend the right of the general public to watch the match.

Is Sweden's Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, really so naïve that he thinks that freedom of speech in Sweden applies equally to everyone and works equally for every one? I don't think so. When he says that free press and free speech are the best defense against "breaches of judgment, bad taste and transgressions of core societal values", he knows very well that these freedoms can very easily be used to wage attacks on minorities by an aggressive majority. Israel isn't a minority in Sweden but an attack against it is very popular in many circles. This is where Bildt's claims have a cynical twist. Defending freedom of speech in this case earns him the support of many. Especially valuable is the support of many on the other side of the Swedish political spectrum. What politician would object to that?

To be fair, Bild't and Sweden's political establishment didn't have to limit freedom of speech; they weren't requested to close down Aftonbladet or to censor it. Instead of flying empty slogans which hide political interest, all they needed to do was to say they don't believe the allegations and they see them as provocative and irresponsible. That's not taking sides, it's just being fair-minded. Instead of that, Bildt chose to distant himself from Sweden's ambassador to Israel who did exactly that. He did the math: no one gains political points in Sweden from pleasing Israel. Quite the opposite.

But the cynicism is not limited to the Swedish side. Israel too is responsible for the deterioration of the situation. Every state has the right to defend itself against slander and lies, even if they're published in a paper thousands of miles away. But there must be some kind of discretion in choosing methods of defence and counter attack. I would like to know, for example, who chose to use the holocaust card as the first reaction. Surely, of all the arsenal of Israeli arguments, another one could have been used against a Swedish tabloid, Auschwitz could have been saved for say, states that say they want to annihilate Israel and are in the process of building the weapons to do it. If, according to Israel's Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, the Afonbladet article is like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Bildt's refusal do condemn it is equivalent to Sweden's WW2 neutrality, then what is left for going after terrorist attacks against Jewish and Israeli targets and against genocidal, fascist regimes?

Perhaps it's time for Israeli spokespeople to learn the power of understatement. A simple and straight-forward statement denying the allegations and denouncing those who spread them, accompanied with a nuanced "you should be ashamed of yourselves" would have done the job. If Israel wants to take it a step further, why not show the world the power of civil debate and education? Why not organize a seminar for journalists on the connection between irresponsible journalism and hate crimes? Why not get Jewish organizations around the world to promote educational projects about anti-Semitism in the world today and invite Swedish teachers and students to join? The point is not that the memory of the holocaust cannot be used in current public debate: it can and it should. It should be used by Israelis searching for their identity and moral values, it should be used around the world to fight racism and discrimination and it should be used moderately and responsibly. It's true any official using Hitler and Goebbels for a diplomatic dispute is bound to get in the papers. The problem is that those papers are exactly the same kind as the one that started the current controversy. When Lieberman speaks, he's not a speaker on a soapbox and he's not in an academic seminar. His remarks are documented, they're binding and they have consequences. Does anyone take this into account before statements are released?

In general, much of Israel's reaction was confused and embarrassing. First, we heard Israeli officials claiming that Carl Bildt is not welcome in Israel if he doesn't apologize. He obviously didn't apologize and now we are told that no one actually really intended to cancel his September visit. If Bildt's visit to Israel is important, how could anyone consider cancelling it because of an independent newspaper article? If it isn't, why waste tax payer's money on it in the first place? The sad truth is that no Israeli politician ever lost points attacking "those anti-Semitic Scandinavians" and no public figure in Israel has anything to lose from a good old display of patriotism. And so, while Israeli bloggers are suddenly all experts on Sweden's foreign policy in the forties and Swedish bloggers know all about Israeli organ transplant procedures, we come to a full circle. Everybody's happy. Lieberman gets lots of headlines that are not related to the criminal charges pending against him; Carl Bildt becomes a champion of freedom of speech and broadens his electorate; Aftonbladet sells more papers and the Swedish and Israeli public can start a new round of boycotts and demonstrations. Everybody's happy.

Well, everybody but me. It's not easy being an Israeli in Stockholm these days. Even those who don't believe what they read in Aftonbladet blame Israel for being paranoid and hysterical. Everything you see on the news is annoying and there's always the fear that something may happen, that someone may do something. It's not like it hasn't happened before. Obviously I'm not suggesting that Swedish or Israeli policy will be made according to my convenience, but here's a thought: if policy makers could only learn to lower the flames instead of fanning the fire, any fire, and thus spread more light than heat onto our public discourse, then life wouldn't only be better for Israelis living in Sweden. I think it would probably be better for everyone else too.

ותרגום לעברית:

ראשית, גילוי נאות – אני ישראלי ואני חי בשוודיה. בימים האחרונים, מטבע הדברים, זה לא שילוב מנצח. זה לא שפרשת הכתבה בעיתון אפטונבלדט היא בראש סדר היום כאן בסטוקהולם. גם לא פרצו כאן מהומות ופוגרומים אבל בכל זאת, כפי שיעידו ישראלים רבים שחיים בחו"ל בשנים האחרונות, פרשיות בעלות גוון אנטישמי ומתיחויות דיפלומטיות בין ישראל למדינות אירופה יוצרות טעם רע של ייאוש ותסכול. יאמרו רבים, ואולי בצדק, שהבאנו את זה על עצמנו בכך שחזרנו לכאן, ליבשת בעלת העבר הטראגי וההיסטוריה הטעונה. ובכל זאת, קשה להשתחרר מהתחושה שהמהומה האחרונה היא תוצר של שילוב לא הכרחי של היתממות צינית מהצד השוודי אבל גם של איזו התלהמות ותגרנות מהצד הישראלי. ועכשיו, כשכל טוקבקיסט ישראלי הוא מומחה למדיניות החוץ השוודית בשנות הארבעים וכל בלוגר שוודי כבר מכיר את יהודה היס וחושף אי-סדרים באבו-כביר, אולי הגיע השעה לעצור לרגע, לעשות חושבים ולשנות כיוון.

כדאי להתחיל במה שהתחיל את כל הפרשה – בכתבה עצמה. סביר להניח שמעט מאוד ישראלים קראו אותה. וטוב שכך. מדובר בעבודה עיתונאית רשלנית וחסרת כל ערך חדשותי. אין שם תחקיר ואין הוכחות. מה שיש שם זה שילוב ביזארי של ניחושים, ספקולציות, עדויות לא מבוססות וחצאי אמיתות מסיפורים ממוחזרים. הכל בנוי כך שאפשר יהיה לכלול את המילים דם, יהודים ופשעי מלחמה באותה מסגרת עם תמונה של גופה מצולקת תחת הכותרת: "בזזו את האיברים של הילדים שלנו". ההוכחות היחידות שכתב העיתון, דונלנד בוסטרום, מביא הן עדויות של בני משפחה פלסטיניים והוא מרבה להשתמש בביטויים כמו "סימני שאלה רבים עולים". אפילו כתיאורית קונספירציה זוהי כתבה עלובה. קודם כל, הכל סובב סביב תקרית שאירעה לכאורה לפני 17 שנה. מה שהופך את האימות לכמעט בלתי אפשרי. שנית, בוסטרום מתאר (בצבעוניות רבה) חיילים אכזריים היורים בצעירים פלסטיניים, בין השאר בבטן, כדי לבזוז את איבריהם. הוא לא לוקח בחשבון עובדות כמו העובדה שיריות בבטן ובחזה הורסות את האיברים שלכאורה נבזזים.

בוסטרום לא פונה ללשכת שר הביטחון, לא אוסף עדויות מהחיילים, לא בודק באבו-כביר ולא מראיין אף איש ציבור ישראלי. התגובה היחידה שמובאת מדובר ישראלי היא של "דובר צבאי" שאינו מצוין בשמו, בדרגתו או בתפקידו. הוא מצוטט ללא הקשר וללא שום תיעוד. אי אפשר שלא להתרשם שהעניין פשוט מומצא. אפילו עורך העיתון, יאן הלין, כותב במאמר מערכת תוקפני בזכות חופש הביטוי שהעיתון לא מאשר את הטענות לכאורה של הפלסטינים ולא קובע מהי האמת. ועכשיו, מסתבר מפרסום בג'רוסלם פוסט, שהמשפחות הפלסטיניות עצמן מתנערות מהכתב ומהמצאותיו. הדבר דומה לכך שעיתונאי ישראלי יחזור משוודיה, יספר שהוא היה עד לחטיפתה ורציחתה של אישה נורבגית ע"י קבוצת וויקינגים שיכורים. הוא לא יכול להוכיח את זה, הוא לא בדק את זה עם אף אחד, הוא לא שאל אף אחד חוץ מקרובי משפחה ושוטר מקומי אנונימי, ובכל זאת העיתון היומי הנפוץ במדינה יפרסם את זה. סימני שאלה רבים עולים מהמקרה אחרי הכל.

אלו הם החומרים של עלילת דם ימיביניימית אבל יותר מכך, אלו החומרים של סוג נפוץ של עיתונאות מודרנית, עיתונאות, שלמרבה הצער, הופכת נפוצה יותר ויותר בכל מדינה מערבית ודמוקרטית. האפטונבלדט הוא העיתון הנפוץ ביותר בשוודיה וממש כמו הבילד הגרמני או הסאן האנגלי הוא מכונת רייטינג משומנת הזקוקה לקרבן אדם. והיהודים הם קרבן קלאסי. הם היו כאלה בשטייטל והם כאלה גם היום בכרך התקשורתי של המאה העשרים ואחת. לא יעזרו כל ההכחשות של השמאל האירופי, אין הבדלה אמיתית בין יהודים לישראלים מחוץ למוחותיהם של פסיאודו אינטלקטואלים ואקדמאים בגרוש. כותבי ועורכי האפטונבלדטים של העולם הזה יודעים את זה היטב. כתבות כאלו נוצרו למען הפרובוקציה והן מביאות איתן גל של שנאה, גזענות ולפעמים גם אלימות. אך זוהי איננה אנטישמיות קדומה המבוססת על חומרים דתיים, זוהי אנטישמיות מודרנית, אולי אפילו פוסט-מודרנית, אנטישמיות עסקית המבוססת על רווח. אף אחד לא מעוניין בחשיפת האמת, לאף אחד אין זמן לתחקיר אמיתי ובוודאי שאף אחד לא אחראי לתוצאות. זה ביזנס אחרי הכל. הכתב מקבל את דקות התהילה שלו והעיתון עושה מיליונים. אבל יש כאן הרבה יותר מאינטרס כלכלי. יש גם עניין פוליטי.

זעקות השבר הנישאות מראש כל גבעה מטעם דוברים שוודיים בדבר קדושתו האינסופית והמוחלטת של חופש הביטוי הן שקריות וצבועות. האם הדוברים השוודים באמת חושבים שישראל לא תגלה שחופש הביטוי הוגבל גם הוגבל כשפרשת הקריקטורות הדניות של הנביא מוחמד שטפה את סקנדינביה והעולם? אז, נסגר אתר אינטרנט של הימין הקיצוני שפרסם את הקריקטורות בעקבות אינפורמציה שסופקה ע"י המשטרה החשאית השוודית. שרת החוץ, שאמנם הכחישה שהסגירה הייתה תוצאה של לחץ ממשלתי, לא היססה לגנות את המפרסמים. השוודים נוטים לא להגביל את חופש הביטוי כשהפגיעה היא במיעוטים שאין להם כוח פוליטי גדול במיוחד אבל יש לא מעט צנזורה עצמית בכל הנוגע בפגיעה בציבורים בעלי כוח אלקטוראלי גדול. האם שר החוץ השוודי, קרל בילדט, באמת תמים עד כדי כך שהוא חושב שהמדיניות השוודית היא ניטראלית ושפתחון פה ניתן לכולם ובאופן שווה. אני בטוח שלא. זוהי לא תמימות. זוהי היתממות והיא צינית ומכוערת. השוודים במקרה זה, כמו במקרים אחרים, אינם מסוגלים לעמוד בפני התוקף ולהגן על המותקף אם לתוקף יש כוח אלקטוראלי גדול או תמיכה ציבורית רחבה. זאת הסיבה שכשציבור גדול בעיר מאלמו איים בהפגנות והחרמות נגד נבחרת ישראל בטניס כשזו שיחקה שם נגד שוודיה לפני כמה חודשים, השלטונות העדיפו לסגור את המשחק לקהל במקום להגן על זכותם של אוהדי הספורט, הספורטאים והציבור הרחב שרצה להשתתף באירוע ספורטיבי, חוקי ולגיטימי.

הממשלה השוודית לא צריכה הייתה לסגור את העיתון או לצנזר אותו. כל מה שנדרש היה הצהרה מפי פקיד בכיר בסגנון הזה: "אנחנו חושבים שהדברים שהתפרסמו באפטונבלדט הם שקריים וחסרי אחריות. למרות שאנחנו שומרים על זכותו של העיתון לפרסם קשקושים חסרי בסיס, אנחנו לא חייבים להסכים אליהם ואנחנו מגנים אותם". זה הכל. לא יותר. רוצה הפקיד הבכיר להגדיל ראש? שיבטל את המנוי שלו. לא רוצה? גם בסדר. במקום זה קיבלנו התנערות של שר החוץ מהשגרירה שלו בישראל שאמרה את הדבר הנכון והביעה זעזוע מהכתבה. קיבלנו גם הרצאות צבועות על חופש הביטוי כאשר ברור שמה שעומד מאחוריהן היא ההגנה על זכותו של הממסד העיתונאי לעשות כסף ושל הממסד הפוליטי להרוויח קולות. לשוודיה אין אינטרסים רבים מדי בישראל ואלו שיש לה לא ייפגעו בלאו הכי. לעומת זאת לקואליציה של בילדט, הנחשבת בשוודיה לפרו-ישראלית באופן יחסי, יש אינטרס פוליטי להרוויח כמה קולות מאלו שמחפשים גינויים אוטומטיים של ישראל בכל הזדמנות. כל הדיבורים הפילוסופיים על חירות וחופש הם דיבורים באוויר.

אבל הציניות היא לא נחלתו של הצד השוודי בלבד. גם למדינת ישראל יש אחריות בהידרדרות הפרשה לכדי המשבר הדיפלומטי הנוכחי. לכל מדינה יש את הזכות ואפילו את החובה להגן על עצמה מפני השמצות ושקרים, אפילו אם הם מופצים ע"י עיתונים הנקראים במרחק אלפי קילומטרים ממנה. אבל האופן שבו נערכות המגננה ומתקפת הנגד נתון לשיקול דעת. והפעם דומה שהוחלט לוותר על שיקול דעת. מעניין אותי לדעת, למשל, מי החליט שמכל הקלפים בחפיסת הקלפים של הטיעונים הישראליים, דווקא זה של השואה צריך להישלף ראשון. האם אין אף אחד במשרד החוץ שחשב שכדאי לשמור את הקלף של אושוויץ וטרבלינקה לאיומים אסטרטגיים יותר. אולי, נאמר, למדינות שמאיימות להשמיד את ישראל ומכינות במרתפיהן נשק שיכול לעשות את זה. אם, אליבא דה אביגדור ליברמן, כל כתבה בצהובון משולה לפרוטוקולים של זקני ציון והתגובה השוודית הנוכחית משולה לתגובה השוודית לנאצים, מה נאמר על פיגועים נגד מטרות ישראליות בחו"ל, על מדינות, משטרים ותנועות פוליטיות שחוטפות ורוצחות יהודים או, אתם יודעים מה, מה נאמר על מעשי הג'נוסייד שמתרחשים עדיין בעולם.

אולי כדאי להסביר למשרד החוץ הישראלי שיש כוח גם לאנדרסטייטמנט. וזאת לא חייבת להיות הבלגה, פגיעה בכבוד הלאומי או השלמה עם רוע הגזרה. מה היה רע, לצורך הדוגמא, אם ישראל הייתה מסתפקת בהודעה רשמית המכחישה את הדברים בתוקף ומתבוננת מלמעלה במעט התנשאות, כמו אומרת: "תתביישו לכם". מה היה רע להשלים את התגובה הישראלית בהזמנה לסמינר משותף לעיתונאים שוודיים וישראלים בנושא הקשר בין עיתונאות לא אחראית לשנאת זרים וגזענות, בתוספת לאירועים חינוכיים של ארגונים יהודיים מרחבי העולם בנושא אנטישמיות אז והיום. למה היה צריך לגרור את השואה גם לכאן? מה בדיוק ניסו להשיג המפגינים מול שגרירות שוודיה כשהם הציגו לעיני העולם מצות מרוחות בדם בצורת מגן דוד? זוהי וולגריזציה שנועדה להכניס את המפגינים לעיתון. לא יותר.

הבעיה היא שהעיתונות שמחפשת את התמונות האלו היא בדיוק העיתונות שמוכנה לפרסם כתבות כמו זאת שהם מפגינים נגדה.

בעוונותיי, עסקתי פעם בהדרכה של בני נוער במסעות לפולין ואני האחרון שיטען שאסור לדבר על השואה בקונטקסט עדכני. להיפך, מותר וגם צריך. צריך את זכר השואה כדי להילחם בגזענות, באנטישמיות ובשנאה. צריך את זכר אושוויץ וטרבלינקה כדי להתמודד עם הזהות שלנו כיהודים ועם דרכה של מדינת ישראל. צריך את הדוגמאות ההיסטוריות של גבלס, היטלר ואייכמן כדי להתמודד עם שאלות פילוסופיות על טבע האדם והמערכות הפוליטיות והמדיניות שהוא יוצר. אבל לא בכל הקשר מותר להשתמש בשואה ולא לכל אחד מותר לעשות את זה בכל הזדמנות. כשליברמן מתבטא זוהי לא הפגנה בכיכר ולא פעולה בתנועת נוער, זוהי התבטאות דיפלומטית של מדינת ישראל. היא מתועדת, היא מחייבת ויש לה השלכות. יש מישהו שלוקח את זה בחשבון?

כל ההתנהלות הזאת היא מביכה למדי. תחילה היו דיבורים מטעם גורמים רשמיים שונים על ביטול ביקורו של שר החוץ השוודי אם הוא לא יגנה את הכתבה. הוא לא גינה. והיום אנחנו קוראים שהוא עדיין מוזמן ושאף אחד בעצם לא רצה לבטל את הביקור. וכך למרות הטרמינולוגיה המצ'ואיסטית, ישראל שוב מצמצה ראשונה. אם הביקור הוא חשוב לאינטרסים של שתי המדינות, איך ייתכן שכתבה בעיתון תגרום לביטולו או, כפי שהוצע, להסבתו ממטרתו המקורית למעין ביקור נזיפה. ואם הוא לא חשוב, למה בכלל מראש צריך לבזבז עליו את כספי משלם המיסים. האמת הקשה היא שגם בצד הישראלי יש אינטרס פוליטי. אף אחד מעולם לא הפסיד נקודות בציבור הישראלי ממופעים מרהיבים של פטריוטיזם. לפוליטיקאי הישראלי יש רק מה להרוויח מכך שהציבור הישראלי יתפוס אותו כאחד "שהראה לסקנדינבים האנטישמים האלו מאיפה משתין הדג". וכך, נסגר המעגל. כולם מרוצים. העיתון הרוויח את המנה היומית שלו, שר החוץ השוודי הפך לגיבור היום כשהוא מגן על חופש העיתונות ומרחיב את האלקטורט שלו וישראלים רבים הצליחו שוב להוציא את העצבים שלהם בקריאות להחרמות (שכמובן לא יתקיימו ויישכחו כעבור שבוע) בניצוחם של פוליטיקאים שהרוויחו עוד כמה אינצ'ים של כותרות שאינן קשורות לחקירות ולכתבי אישום. כולם מרוצים.

כולם חוץ ממני. לא נעים להיות יהודי או ישראלי בסטוקהולם בימים אלו. גם מי שלא מאמין למה שנכתב באפטונבלדט מאשים  את ישראל בהיסטריה ובפרנויה. כל דבר שנאמר בחדשות הוא מעליב ופוגע וכמו תמיד, יש את החשש ששוב יקרה משהו, במקרה הטוב הפגנה, במקרה הגרוע יותר תקרית אלימה. אינני מציע, חלילה, שמדיניות החוץ של ישראל תקבע לפי הצרכים שלי ושל יהודים או ישראלים אחרים היושבים בחו"ל אבל הנה רעיון מעניין: אולי ביום שקובעי המדיניות יהיו כאלו שמרוויחים מהנמכת הלהבות ולא מהוספת שמן למדורה, כל מדורה, לא רק מצבם של הישראלים בסטוקהולם ישתפר. אולי גם ישתפר מצבם של אלו היושבים בציון.

Anti-Semitism on the rise in Sweden

התגובות בשוודיה לאירועים בעזה

Published in The Local – Sweden's news in Enlgish, Febuary 2009

Sweden, like most countries in the western world, is obsessed with the Middle-East. The Arab-Israeli conflict receives constant media coverage and public interest, and the recent events in Gaza were no exception. As usual, they sparked a lively and sometimes violent debate. Sadly and this too is usual, the debate is full of misinformation and misunderstandings.

Most Swedish political figures positioned themselves between strongly condemning Israel whilst mildly criticizing Hamas' actions and totally supporting the Hamas and its administration in Gaza. On the left many condemned Israel's military operation and the Jewish state in general. "I don’t think Israel is a democracy worthy of the name. It’s a racist apartheid state,” said Left Party's Hans Linde, calling for a boycott of Israel. On the right, Carl Bildt, Sweden's foreign minister who visited Gaza last week, blamed Israel of intentionally targeting economic infrastructure and called Israeli policies "neither morally nor politically defensible". These remarks were part of a wider debate which included demonstrations, calls for boycotts and anti-Israel diplomacy.

A leading Social-Democrat, Urban Ahlin, Deputy Chair of the Committee of Foreign Affairs, implored the government to encourage the EU to suspend its cooperation agreement with Israel and perhaps the most amazing remark was made by another Social-Democrat. “Israel is an apartheid state. I think Gaza is comparable to the Warsaw ghetto,” said Ingalill Bjartén, the vice-chair of one of the Social-Democratic women's organizations.

This is all very well and is part of living in a democracy but when one mentions the Holocaust and the latest round of violence in the Middle-East in the same breath – a ridiculous and manipulative comparison – one should try to remain true to the facts. These are important since the victims of the conflict in Gaza and southern Israel, Jews and Arabs alike, deserve the truth. Deceitful and over simplified versions, like those listed above, are an insult to those who live through the reality of the region, and are part of the reason the tragedy goes on.

Here are a few inconvenient truths that Swedish politicians, on the left and right, choose to forget:

There is no Israeli occupation in Gaza. Israel withdrew all its troops and settlements years ago and did not blockade Gaza when its forces withdrew. In fact (and this may come as surprise to those who don't bother with facts before they make their moral judgments), Israel signed an agreement with the Palestinian Authority concerning security arrangements and safe passage of people and goods between Israel and Gaza. The agreement was breached by the Hamas, purposely ignoring the best interest of the Palestinians themselves, when they took control of Gaza in 2007 and declared that all agreements and cease-fires with Israel were cancelled and that Israel must be destroyed.

The Hamas then launched numerous rocket attacks against Israeli citizens (whom, for some reason, don't attract much attention by Swedish moral experts) and massacred hundreds of members of rival Palestinian fraction, Fattah, amongst them those who were responsible for the safety of the borders with Israel (yes, that’s right, their own people). Two additional facts are interesting to point out here: first, even when Israel finally had to close its border with Gaza because of the violent nature of the new Palestinian regime it still allowed the passage of humanitarian help, fuel, electricity and money.

Second, Egypt too had to close its border with Gaza, which shows that this is not really an Israeli-Arab conflict, but rather a struggle against gangsters and thugs. Egypt, of course, drew absolutely no Swedish criticism though it is blockading Gaza just as much as Israel is. In Swedish terms you could imagine the following scenario: Norway is taken over by a gang of crazed fascists who regularly launch rocket attacks on Karlstad, kidnaps Swedish nationals and threaten to annihilate all Swedes in a holy war. Obviously, in a case like this most Swedes would support a strong reaction and certain adjustments in Swedish border and foreign policies. Well, this is exactly what happened in Israel and Israel waited eight years before finally attacking the Hamas power basis in Gaza!

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. During the latest conflict Hamas intentionally fired rockets from schools and mosques in order to provoke a counter-attack. You would expect the Hamas' rather unlikely Swedish supporters (oddly enough, usually left-wingers supporting ultra nationalist religious fanatics), to be a little more critical of a leadership cynically sacrificing its own people, including women and children for political purposes.

Even the Arab press has had enough of this. "There are a million and a half desperate people", wrote a columnist in the leading Arab daily "Al-Hayat", "they were wounded, their houses destroyed, their children were kidnapped to be human shields for those craving a confrontation with Israel. And there are those who sit in their comfortable chairs in Damascus and Beirut, boasting their divine victory which never existed and preventing a cease-fire". It is one thing that extremist Arab regimes silence voices like this. It's incomprehensible that Swedes should do the same.

In the broader context, The Hamas began to implement Sharia-Law over the population of Gaza. These laws include punishments such as executions, beatings and limb amputations, not to speak of the degradation of women, a total lack of respect for Human Rights and a complete disregard of human life. Not exactly the material of Socialist utopias.

Now Israel is often accused of aggression towards its Arab and Muslim neighbors but history, both recent and far, shows that it is the Arab regimes which oppress their own people and sometimes slaughter them in an orgy of death-worshipping fundamentalism. Yet, somehow Israel is always to blame. Israel, though far from perfect, didn't butcher almost two hundred thousands Muslims with knives and axes during the nineties, that was Algeria. Tens of thousands of Palestinians were murdered during "Black September" by forces of the king of Jordan, not by the Israelis.

The Israeli regime, whilst having its flaws, didn't slaughter, rape and burn thousands of Shia Muslims in Afghanistan. That was the Taliban. Israel is not responsible for the daily suicide bombs in Iraq that claim the lives of thousands of Muslims. Israel is not innocent, it is has also committed acts of violence and aggression, but it is nothing compared to the barbaric and murderous regimes in Sudan, Syria and Saudi-Arabia, which, like Hamas are all responsible for countless Muslim deaths and for millions of Muslims living in poverty and despair.

Swedes with a conscience may want to stop turning their head the other way when it concerns the homemade tragedies of the Muslim world. Was there a large demonstration in Sergels Torg when the Syrians, the Pakistanis or the Somalis initiated yet another of their bloodbaths? Are there any boycotts of products from the Gulf States which continue to persecute minorities, oppress women and mock basic concepts of freedom and Democracy? Of course not. It's all Israel's fault. If only the Jews could stop provoking the Arab world, say Israel's critics, if only Israel would accept a peaceful solution. But they're wrong. The assumption that the Palestinian struggle is a reaction to Israeli policies, though it may sounds reasonable, is simply wrong.

Any careful study will show that Radical Islamism is not a reaction to Israel's so-called imperialism – it existed long before the state of Israel; Islamic racism and Anti-Semitism are not a reaction to Israel's so-called aggression, they existed long before the Zionist movement even began and, for God's sake, movements like Hamas and the Hizbullah aren't really interested in a Palestinian state. Their agenda is to kill Jews and focusing on this agenda enables them to continue oppressing their own people. The Palestinians themselves rejected numerous chances to establish an independent state and reach a solution to their tragic situation (some examples are the 1936 Peel Commission, the 1947 UN Partition plan and the 2000 Clinton proposal). Their leadership simply thrives on the conflict and they'll continue it at any cost.

But why are these facts ignored in Sweden? How can a leading Social-Democrat compare Israel to the Nazis and still keep her seat. Is this ignorance or deceitfulness? Are they ill-informed or are they knowingly playing an active role in the propaganda machine of extremist elements from the Middle-East? One can only speculate which of these is the case regarding Ms. Bjartén and Mr. Linde.

And it's not just a question of words. Mr. Linde and Ms. Bjartén cannot claim their words have nothing to do with the eggs and bottles thrown at pro-Israel demonstrators in Malmö at the end of January. They are partly responsible for the attacks on Israel's embassy in Stockholm, the Jewish centre in Helsingborg and the Jewish cemetery in Malmö. An ugly wave of Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Sweden and they cannot claim to be free of responsibility.

A participant in a demonstration in Stockholm, a Swede converted to Islam who writes regularly in the Swedish press, wrote in his blog: "it felt good to burn Israel's flag and trample on the remains. It was uplifting to shout "Allah hu akbar" (God is great, D.S) together with blond and blue eyed non-Muslims Swedes". Do Mona Sahlin and Jan Eliasson of Sweden's biggest political party, really think that marching under Hezbollah and Hamas flags, as they did a couple of weeks ago, doesn't contribute to the legitimacy of these actions? Can they really consider themselves worthy heirs to the noble Social-Democratic values of Humanism and Solidarity?

Back in Israel, many Israelis are not at all sure that the Israeli operation in Gaza was wise or justified. Many opposed it and demonstrated against it. They may be right. Israel is a democracy and unlike the Palestinians in Gaza they are entitled to express their opinion without being tortured or executed. The aftermath of almost every round of violence in the Middle-East is that the conflict isn't between Jews and Arabs, it's between progressive peace-seekers and warmongers within the various countries.

At the end of the day, the Palestinians have suffered the most from the recent conflict. Sadly, their own leadership is responsible. Most Palestinians, and specially the children and the families who have lost everything, are innocent victims. For their sake the historical lesson must be clear. Freedom and Democracy must be defended at any cost. Racists, fascists and promoters of oppression and genocide must be opposed. Hamas is all of these things just like the Lebanese Hezbollah, despite the support they attract from the bizarre Swedish so-called left. Swedes, as lovers of peace and freedom, would be wise to encourage those who fight these forces of evil thousands of miles away or they might find them in their back yard. If they're not there all ready.

Crowd ban risks bolstering extremists

בעקבות ההחלטה לקיים את משחק גביע דייויס בין ישראל לשוודיה ללא קהל

Published in The Local – Sweden's news in Enlgish, March 2009

I have never been a big tennis fan. In fact, the odds are that I wouldn't even have heard of the Davis Cup match between Sweden and Israel, taking place this weekend in Malmö, if it wasn't for the "Stop the Match-Boycott Israel" campaign which has been underway since December. The campaign organizers are doing their best to mobilize thousands of demonstrators to Malmö this weekend and according to Malmö police chief, Håkan Jarborg Eriksson, some extremists have stated that they want to "stop the match at any cost". 

Like it or not, sporting events are part of our culture and official matches between national teams often become political events. This is particularly true in Sweden. Many Swedes were in favor of boycotting the Olympic Games in China, for example. Others wanted to boycott the 2006 Football World Cup because it promoted prostitution and human trafficking in Germany. The Davis Cup itself has also been a source of controversy in the past. When Sweden played Rhodesia and Chile in the late sixties and early seventies there were many calls for cancellation and mass demonstrations were organized.

Many sports fans may object to it, but in reality sports and politics are both part of the public arena, and cannot always be separated. In a democracy people have the right to mix them together, to demonstrate and even call for boycotts. Still, municipal officials are expected to live up to their minimal responsibilities even in the face of an angry crowd. This is the reason that the decision made by Malmö's sports and recreation committee, to hold the Israel-Sweden match behind closed doors is so outrageous.

According to Bengt Forsberg, chairman of the committee, there was no political motive behind the decision. Though police had said the match could go ahead and that the public could be admitted, Forsberg's committee decided not to take the chance. "This is absolutely not a boycott", he explained, "We do not take political positions on sporting events. We have made a judgment that this is a high-risk match for our staff, for players and for officials". In other words, someone made a threat and the city of Malmö decided to cave in.

To many this may seem reasonable at first sight. Why take unnecessary risks? If there are concrete threats, it could be claimed, everything must be done to avoid casualties. But in this age of terror and violence where does this end?

Anyone who has been anywhere near a Stockholm derby football match, for example, couldn't miss the extensive police presence. Policemen on foot, on horse and in helicopters above try to maintain the peace, at an enormous cost to the tax payer, while large groups of drunken young men throw objects at the field, terrorize other spectators and get involved in large scale fights. The authorities, quite rightly, have decided time and again to fight hooliganism and protect peaceful football fans. It is, after all, a basic civil right to engage in sporting activities without being subjected to threats and violence. There has been talk of anti-hooliganism legislation, and the National Council for Crime Prevention even proposed treating hooliganism as organized crime. But in the case of the tennis match in Malmö, the combative rhetoric disappears and the ones who are punished are the fans instead of the hooligans. Why is this?

One explanation is that Mr. Forsberg and his committee aren't being entirely honest or they may be extremely naïve. Despite their claims, any decision at this level is political. Obviously, no one will stop the money making and extremely popular football league because of threats. In this case, freedom and democracy will prevail against the dark forces of violence. But when it comes to tennis match against Israel the attitude changes. Mr. Forsberg obviously doesn't care much about a match against a team from a country that a large part of his constituency hates anyway. I wonder if the good citizens of Malmö would approve of banning fans from a Malmö FF game because someone said he's so pissed off that he might hurt someone.

At the risk of being accused (yet again) of promoting paranoid theories of Anti-Semitism I'll add the following point: after giving in to threats such as the ones made by angry Anti-Israel demonstrators, why shouldn't the City Council of Malmö close down the Jewish cemetery and synagogue since they were already attacked and are definitely at a high risk of being attacked again. Why shouldn't pro-Israel demonstrations be banned since demonstrators are often met by angry stone-throwing mobs. In fact, why shouldn't local authorities close down the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm or the Jewish centre in Helsingborg, both of which have recently been attacked?

This scenario may have sounded unrealistic a few months ago, but the decision to ban the public from the Davis Cup match shows that it is more than possible. A few Jewish or Israeli targets may not affect most Swedes but it's a slippery road. If a few threats on a relatively minor sporting event can empty a 4,000 seat arena, just imagine what a real terrorist attack would do to Swedish society. Would a terrorist attack on a local bus close down the public transport system? Will night clubs and restaurants loose their licenses if they will are targeted by terrorists? Will municipalities say they prefer not to risk going on with daily life even when the police clearly say they can handle the work load? Regardless of political convictions, there must be a consensus that a modern freedom loving democracy has to protect itself against violent extremists. In the post 9/11 world, perhaps it's time for local authorities to realize that the times, they are a'changing.  

Another explanation for Malmö's City Council decision may derive from the very nature of the objections to the match. It's a discriminating decision that is a result of a discriminating campaign. Make no mistake, "Stop the match – Boycott Israel" is a legitimate campaign. I don't agree with what they say or with their political allies but no one can take away their right to express their objections to Israeli policies or to publicly sympathize with the Palestinians in Gaza. It's true, some of them have said terrible things and spread vicious lies (such as comparing Israel to the Nazis); some have actively supported terrorist organizations, but their right to express themselves remains. Still, anyone who wants to see the bigger picture should be careful with boycotts. They are seldom effective and tend to end up hurting the wrong people, and although it is tempting to make comparisons to boycotts like the one against South African apartheid, the analogy is wrong.

The conflict in the Middle-East is nothing like that in South Africa and a boycott policy against one side in it is simplistic at best and biased, unbalanced and hypocritical at worst. This is not to say that Israel cannot be criticized, but Swedes should be careful when using a tool as powerful as boycotts. Sweden had no problem participating (and winning twenty medals) in the 1936 Berlin Olympics under Hitler or participating in the Beijing games despite China's massive violations of Human Rights. Hundreds of demonstrating students were killed by government forces just days before the 1968 Mexico-City Olympic Games, but that didn't "Stop the Match" for Swedish athletes just like the British soldiers who shot unarmed civil right activists in Derry, Northern Ireland didn't bring about any boycotts against English products or English cultural and sporting events.

Does this make the calls for boycotting the Davis match against Israel invalid? Of course not. But it would imply that Israel is worse than Nazi Germany and that Israeli policies brought about events more severe than the Irish Bloody Sunday, the Mexican Tlateloco Massacre and the events of Tiananmen Square all combined! It is clear what kind of people make claims like this. What isn't clear is how the Swedish government allows a situation where local officials impose such extreme policies and onions in a matter which is, after all, a national issue, not a local one.

And here's one last thought for the demonstrators in Malmö who must be very proud of the exposure their campaign has received these last couple of months. They gained support, their case is all over the media and they even forced local officials to close the controversial match to the public. But here is a word of advice: don't be too pleased with Malmö's decision to give in to threats. The same authorities that cannot stand up to today's threats will not stand up to those of tomorrow.

What started as threats against tennis players and fans could easily lead to threats by ultra nationalists against immigrants or Neo-Nazi threats against Mosques and Madrasahs. "The ultimate weakness of violence", Martin Luther King once said, "is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it".