Recently the Israeli English-language daily Jerusalem Post published an interesting interview with Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov. In the interview Mladenov stated that “European foreign ministers do not always have a fair understanding of what Israel is up against, and that Turkey reacted ‘a little bit too strongly’ to the Gaza flotilla episode”. He also stated that Sweden is on the European list of Israel’s harshest critics.
After the Ship to Gaza incident many European leaders were fast to condemn the actions taken by Israel, mainly even before it was clear what had happened. Turkey, the country of origin of the 9 “activists” who were killed, would be expected to have the most severe reaction. Sweden, a self-proclaimed “neutral” country from the north was one of the European countries which arguably over-reacted and had a very biased view of the incident. It’s fair to say that Sweden can be seen as a prime example of a European country which is completely oblivious as to why the initial blockade of Gaza was imposed and what the state of Israel is up against.
Mladenov—whose country can be described as amongst the most supportive of Israel in the EU—now argues that “European foreign ministers do not always have a fair understanding of what Israel is up against” and for Sweden, he is right on the money.
It is clear that Sweden completely fails to understand the problems which Israel is dealing with. For example, Sweden’s foreign minister Carl Bildt just recently received Nabil Shaath in Stockholm. Shaath, as mentioned earlier in this blog “belongs to one of the more radical elements [he has been seen in meetings with Hamas leaders in February] which see a peace process mostly as a way to achieve a Palestinian state. Once this is accomplished he doesn’t see anything wrong with Hamas continuing their war against Israel—this time in a stronger position”. Receiving Shaath in Stockholm makes it appear that Bildt also supports the ideas held by his guest.
Perhaps the Swedish leadership thinks that Israel, when dealing with the Palestinians can use the same approach as Sweden does in meeting with other European leaders. It should be clearly emphasized, though, that no Danish, Norwegian or Finnish citizens are seeking to eliminate Sweden, nor do they try to achieve this by committing suicide attacks on Swedish civilians. Neither is the total eradication of Sweden the stated policy of the neighboring governments in Scandinavia.
Before condemning every action taken by Israel, Sweden needs to acknowledge that Israel, while having a Western, democratic society—is not surrounded by like-minded neighbors. It is therefore unfair to expect that Israel should or can act like a country located inside the European Union. As Benjamin Netanyahu once said, “If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel”. This is something that Bulgarian Foreign Minister Mladenov seems to have understood and what also sets him apart from many other European leaders.
Two other good points Mladenov made in the Jerusalem Post interview:
“When asked if there was a fair understanding among his colleagues in the EU of what Israel was up against, Mladenov replied, “Not always, no. I’m being quite honest – no. I think sometimes we tend to oversimplify things in Europe, perhaps because war and confrontation and terrorism are not something that is a daily threat to many in Europe.”
“I think we should be a little more sensitive to the fact that this is a very tough environment, and that Israel needs to be alert at every single moment in order to be able to protect its security and the security of its people”.
Mladenov also identified an East-West split in the stance towards Israel within Europe. According to him the Israeli supporters can be identified as: the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Bulgaria. The greatest critics of Israel were accordingly identified as: Ireland, Sweden, Portugal, Belgium, and Greece.
It seems those countries which have experienced conflict and totalitarianism more recently are also more skeptical of “simple solutions”. Sweden—which has found that “neutrality” is profitable and also avoids dealing with a volatile immigrant situation at home—allows itself the hypocritical luxury of preaching pacifism while supporting those who use violence against Israelis.