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Has the diplomatic crisis between Israel and Sweden ended?

FM Lapid speaks with his Swedish counterpart, first high-level phone call between the countries in seven years

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde (Photos: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90, Shutterstock)

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid spoke with the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs Ann Linde, Lapid tweeted on Monday. It was the first conversation between Israeli and Swedish foreign ministers in seven years.

Diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and Stockholm deteriorated sharply in 2014 after the Swedish government became the first European Union member state to recognize the “State of Palestine.” The following year, former Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström accused Israel of “extrajudicial killings” of Palestinian Arab terrorists who carried out stabbing and car-ramming attacks against Israeli civilians. At the time, Wallström also caused considerable anger in Jerusalem for urging an international investigation of the Israel Defense Forces. 

Lapid stressed the importance of relaunching bilateral ties between Sweden and Israel on this senior level. 

“I spoke with @AnnLinde, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden. This phone conversation, the first in 7 years between the Foreign Ministers of our countries, symbolizes the relaunching of relations at this level,” Lapid posted on Twitter. 

In her own tweet, Linde stressed the importance of bilateral Swedish-Israeli ties, as well as the need to respect differences on political issues. 

“Very good talk with Israeli colleague Yair Lapid. Opportunity for me to wish him Shana Tova & emphasise the importance of our bilateral relationship. Both of us stressed that friendship & cooperation can & must go hand with respect for each other's convictions & differences,” tweeted Linde. 

In response to the Swedish foreign minister, Lapid said, “I appreciate her statement regarding Sweden’s strong and solid commitment to the security of Israel and her recognition in the course of our conversation of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.”

Relations between Sweden and Israel have often been tense, even prior to Stockholm’s official recognition of the “State of Palestine” in 2014. Sweden, a Social Democrat European liberal democracy has presented itself for decades in the international arena as a champion of the underdog and oppressed peoples around the world. During the historic UN partition vote in 1947, Sweden voted in favor of establishing a Jewish state alongside an Arab state.

During Israel’s first two decades, Swedish-Israeli relations were strong and Israel was viewed as a weak David threatened by a powerful Arab Goliath. However, after Israel’s victory in the Six Day War in 1967, Sweden became increasingly critical of Israel and the Swedish media began portraying Israel as a powerful Goliath occupying Palestinian Arabs. 

During the First Lebanon War in the 1980s, the late Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme became the first senior Western leader to demonize Israel by indirectly comparing the Jewish state to Nazi Germany. The factually incorrect and inflammatory comparison was particularly insensitive given the fact that the Israeli prime minister at the time, Menachem Begin, had lost much of his family during the Holocaust. In the 1980s, Sweden also became the first European country to recognize and host the terrorist organization Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in Stockholm. . 

Over the years, Sweden has emerged as a leading European critic of Israel, especially concerning Israel’s expansion of Jewish communities in the disputed West Bank. 

Despite many political differences, it appears that Sweden and Israel are now both seeking to improve bilateral relations. During her call with Lapid, the Swedish foreign minister said she “condemned terrorism and expressed strong and solid commitment for the security of Israel.” Linde also stressed that Sweden and the European Union are committed to a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 

In recent years, anti-Semitism has become a fundamental serious problem in parts of Sweden, mainly linked to its large and growing Muslim population. Jew-hatred has been especially widespread in Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city where approximately one-third of the population hail from the Middle East. During their conversation, Lapid and Linde also discussed the Jewish state’s participation in at the upcoming Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism, scheduled to take place on October 13. 

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