Will Israeli foreign minister’s ‘landmark’ visit to Stockholm raise Swedish antisemitism?

“Sweden and Israel have a lot in common and could be strong allies if they realize their common ground,” says Swedish Zionist Federation president.

By Pesach Benson, TPS

In a landmark visit, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen embarked on a diplomatic mission to Sweden, marking the first time an Israeli foreign minister has visited the country in over two decades. His arrival on Sunday night comes as part of a concerted effort to bolster bilateral ties. But a key figure in Sweden’s Jewish community hopes Cohen will raise Swedish antisemitism as well.

Cohen’s itinerary includes a meeting with his Swedish counterpart, Foreign Minister Tobias Billström, where they delved into a range of topics, primarily focusing on the continued improvement of bilateral relations and collaborative efforts to address regional security concerns. Sweden currently holds the presidency of the European Union, making it a vital player in shaping Europe’s stance on various security matters.

“We are opening a new page in relations between Sweden and Israel after years in which Sweden had a critical posture toward Israel,” Cohen said. “The visit in Stockholm, the first for an Israeli foreign minister since 2001, signals a change in the direction of ties between the countries.”

But Saskia Pantell, who founded the Sweden-Israel Alliance and also serves as president of the Zionist Federation of Sweden, told the Tazpit Press Service that it is crucial that Cohen raise Swedish antisemitism in his discussions.

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She told TPS that antisemitism in Sweden is “being mixed up between Israel and the Jews.”

Pantell, who is in Israel, cited as an example an incident in 2020 after the US relocated its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“Jewish students were celebrating Chanukah at a synagogue in Gothenburg when 20 masked men attacked the synagogue with Molotov cocktails,” she recalled. “This was a criticism of [Donald] Trump moving the embassy. They targeted Jews, but the police considered it arson. If it was a criticism of a state, you don’t criticize the local Jewish community.”

Pantell added, “Swedish police dismiss the majority of antisemitic hate crimes as just criticism of Israel.”

“Last year, Sweden was celebrating the anniversary of the IHRA definition of antisemitism. They were talking the talk, but not walking the walk on antisemitism,” Pantell told TPS. She was referring to non-binding definition of antisemitism developed in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), an intergovernmental organization based in Berlin that seeks to strengthen Holocaust education.

Pantell was also critical of what she called Sweden’s “undefined” aid to the Palestinians.

“Aid goes to organizations but you hope for the best that it lands where it’s supposed to land. This needs to be addressed,” she told TPS.

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“Sweden doesn’t realize that when you give aid money, it doesn’t necessarily go where it’s supposed to go. I believe Sweden wants good, but it can be naive,” she said. “Giving a lot of aid money without tracking it or asking for a receipt may very well end up in the pockets of terrorists, and ultimately be used even for rockets targeting Israel.”

Cohen acknowledged the issue of Swedish aid in comments ahead of his meeting with Billstrom, saying, “We will discuss ways to prevent aid funds from reaching terrorists and their families.”

Cohen also praised Sweden’s early adoption of the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism and expressed his determination to collaborate closely with Sweden in the ongoing fight against all forms of hatred.

In addition to the meeting with Billström, Cohen is expected to engage with other government officials, business figures, and members of the local Jewish community. Between 16,000 and 18,000 Jews live in Sweden.

Noting what she called “strong startup scenes and a strong sense of democracy” in both countries, Pantell told TPS, “Sweden and Israel have a lot in common and could be strong allies if they realize their common ground.”

World Israel News contributed to this report.