Zvi Mazel blew a fuse - he stepped up to the art installation "Snow White and the Madness of Truth" at a Stockholm museum and damaged it in public view. The ambassador later explained that the installation, which compares the female suicide terrorist in the 2003 attack on Haifa's Maxim restaurant to Snow White floating in a pool of blood, was the last straw.
In a lecture in Israel after he completed his posting, he called Sweden "a strange bird." For about a month now that country has held the rotating presidency of the European Union. He defined the Scandinavian country's conduct in the international arena as "problematic." From Mazel's analysis it emerges that this definition is, as he sees things, an extreme understatement. He described his previous posting as ambassador to Egypt as a kindergarten compared to Stockholm's lion's den. Sweden is trying to promote an image as an advancer of world peace and defender of international law, yet it is obsessively concerned with the Mideast conflict and constitutes a focal point of unbalanced and hypocritical policy, he says.
"The entire Swedish system - the government, media, human rights organizations, academic institutes, Islamic bodies - all of them, as if speaking with a single voice, have put Israel on the dock as the sole defendant implicated in the Mideast crisis, while condemning all its means of defense, as though they wanted us to commit suicide or evaporate," says Mazel.
Dr. Motti Shalem, a Yad Vashem historian, has written in Haaretz that Sweden distinguishes between anti-Semitism, which must be condemned, and severe criticism of Israel, which some critics believe is not only legitimate but also derives directly from the lessons of the Holocaust. The result, he says, is that in Sweden anti-Semitism is more prevalent than in the past. While the "Snow White" installation was on display, a conference on genocide was being held in Stockholm. At this event, which was supposed to be a direct continuation of a conference in 2000 on the memory of the Holocaust, Israel was depicted as accused of genocide: Official posters for the conference were hung at the train station with pictures of four events representing genocide: the Holocaust, the killing fields of Cambodia, the genocide in Rwanda and ... an Israel Defense Forces barrier.
As reported in Haaretz on July 9, the deputy director general of the Swedish Foreign Ministry director general Robert Rydberg takes a tough view: "There will be no compromises on the matter of the settlements and the roadblocks." He depicted Israel as recalcitrant compared to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, "who is interested in reaching an agreement." These opinions give credence to the assessment that the Israel of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman will not have it easy while Sweden holds the rotating presidency.
However, in Israel today some people are depicting Sweden differently. Since the political reversal in 2006 that brought the Swedish right into power, the tone has changed and relations have improved. During Operation Cast Lead, Sweden declared that Israel has the right to self-defense. Before Sweden took on the rotating presidency it sent government ministers and senior officials to meetings with their Israeli counterparts. "The Swedes are no longer out to get us," said the Israelis after the meetings. "The desire to cooperate is evident."
Foreign Minister Carl Bildt is known for his blunt criticism and sharp tongue, but he is conducting his foreign policy in close coordination with the Americans, with whom he maintains good relations. In any case, the Europeans today feel that their work is being done in Washington. Freeze the settlements? Lift the siege on Gaza? Renew the negotiations with Abbas and advance a final-status agreement? Why bother when U.S. President Barack Obama is in the White House. It's time to set aside the "megaphone policy" and move on to tailwind diplomacy.