Sweden condemned in Israeli press

Nyheter • Publicerad 24 augusti 2009

Sweden lacks real press freedom. Ikea is an anti-Semitic company and should be boycotted.

Weird views on Sweden are widely spread as discussion gets all the more heated in the aftermath of the Aftonbladet articles.

"There is no press freedom in Sweden,” writes the former Israeli ambassador to Sweden, Zvi Mazel, in Israeli newspaper Jerusalem Post.

”About 80 percent of the newspapers there, especially the four national papers in Stockholm and hundreds of papers in the countryside, which set the tone in Sweden, are connected in some way to the Social Democrat movement and the trade unions, both of which are anti-Israel.”

By the ”four national papers” Mr Mazel most probably means Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Aftonbladet and Expressen. He doesn’t explain how they are connected to the social democrats.

The national trade union centre, LO, used to be a major stockholder in Aftonbladet. Today LO owns nine per cent of the shares. The rest is owned by Norwegian media conglomerate Schibsted, which also owns Svenska Dagbladet.

Dagens Nyheter and Expressen are owned by the Bonnier Group.

Zvi Mazel continues his Sweden-bashing:

”This is by no means a bold, investigative press. When there are corruption issues or problems, they are mentioned briefly and then left to disappear.”

His attack followed a diplomatic crisis that arose when Sweden’s ambassador to Israel, Elisabeth Borsiin Bonnier, denounced an Aftonbladet article that aired suspicions that Israelis were exploiting dead Palestinian bodies in the organ trade.

”The Swedish government has tried to hide behind the veil of ’freedom of the press.’ But I say in very clear terms: There is no press freedom in Sweden,” Zvi Mazel said in the article.

Yesterday, Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt tried to calm the situation down:

– We are putting all our efforts into maintaining a good relationship with Israel, he said

This has had little effect in Israel, where strong anti-Swedish sentiment is spreading across the nation. There are strong calls for boycotts of Ikea, Volvo, H&M and other Swedish companies. Thousands of Israelis have signed a petition to boycott Ikea.

Israeli citizen Shmuel Pakor is one of them. On a web site he explains why he has thrown out his Ikea-cabinet:

”From an ethical point of view, I cannot own a product manufactured by a Swedish company encouraging anti-Semitism.”

In a press release, Ikea Israel tries to disarm the boycott by saying that Ikea is an apolitical company that has good relations with its Israeli customers.

Ikea gets no backing from the government in Jerusalem, which on the contrary seems apt to prolong the fight. This Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded the Swedish government formally denounce the Aftonbladet article.

This pleases Zvi Mazel, Israeli ambassador to Sweden between 2002 and 2004. He claims to have discussed the anti-Israeli tone of the Swedish media several times with his superiors in Jerusalem, but never got any feedback.

”We cannot just say it's raining when they have been spitting on us for so long,” Mr Mazel writes.

Later on in the article he writes: ”Finally, this government has decided that enough is enough.”

Zvi Mazel is now retired. He became known to the Swedish public when he in 2004 attacked the controversial art installation ”Snow White and the madness of truth.”

Zvi Mazels wife Michelle Mazel has also written a critical article about Sweden in the Jerusalem Post. She describes how she, as the ambassador’s wife, had looked forward to royal events and “glittering functions”. In stead she was met by hateful, anti-Semitic propaganda.

The Jerusalem Post has labelled Michelle Mazels article a “must read”.

Sweden has a bad reputation, says Gil Hoffman, chief political analyst at the Jerusalem Post to news agency TT.

– Almost as bad as Israel’s two worst enemies – Iran and Switzerland.


Monday August 17

Aftonbladet publish an article by journalist Donald Boström. In the article, Palestinians claim that Israeli soldiers kill young Palestinians to steal their organs. Boström suggests that the Israeli military runs an organised organ trade, but presents no evidence.

Tuesday August 18

Reactions on the article come. In Israeli newspapers, including Yediot Ahronot and Ha'aretz, commentators rage at a Swedish newspaper spreading anti-Semitic myths.

Wednesday August 19

Sweden’s ambassador to Israel, Elisabeth Borsiin Bonnier, publishes a comment on the embassy web page. It says that the Aftonbladet article is as “shocking and appalling” to Swedes as it is to Israelis.

Thursday August 20

Debate runs high in both Israel and Sweden. Israeli foreign secretary Avigdor Lieberman demands the Swedish government condemn the article.

Friday August 21

Sweden’s foreign secretary Carl Bildt repeatedly explains that it is not within the scope of governmental power to condemn newspaper articles. Israeli Ambassador Benny Dagan is summoned to the foreign office to have the Swedish laws on press freedom explained to him.

Saturday August 22

Several calls are made to boycott Swedish companies in Israel. Ikea, H&M, Volvo and Absolut Vodka are mentioned as companies that should not be supported by patriotic Israelis. Ikea and Volvo go public mentioning their good relations with Israeli customers.

Sunday August 23

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu enters the conflict backing up his foreign secretary with demands that the Swedish government condemn the article in Aftonbladet.

Monday August 24

Former Israeli ambassador to Sweden Zvi Mazel, writing in the Jerusalem Post, claims Sweden lacks a free press. His wife Michelle Mazel compares sentiments in Sweden to those in Germany in the 1930s.

Hamsun gives Norway diplomatic problem.

Norwegian author Knut Hamsun was born 150 years ago this year. Israeli foreign secretary Avigdor Lieberman is criticising Norway for commemorating Hamsun’s birth.

Knut Hamsun got the Nobel prize in literature in 1920. His most notable works are “Hunger” and “Growth of the soil”. He took to German culture and towards the end of his life became a convinced Nazi. Speaking at an Israeli university last weekend Lieberman expressed “surprise and shock” at the Hamsun celebration. The Norwegian government said this summer that Hamsun would be commemorated with a stamp and a museum, but also said Norway had not forgotten his political views.

Sara Riis Hasselskog
Niklas Orrenius, translation: Joakim Palmkvist
Så här jobbar Trelleborgs Allehanda med journalistik. Uppgifter som publiceras ska vara korrekta och relevanta. Vi strävar efter förstahandskällor och att vara på plats där det händer. Trovärdighet och opartiskhet är centrala värden för vår nyhetsjournalistik.