Margot Wallström caused quite a bit of outrage in Israel this week. Speaking on public television, Sweden's foreign minister allegedly linked the terror attacks in Paris by Islamic State last Friday and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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What, exactly, did she say?
Asked if she was worried about the radicalization of young Swedes fighting for ISIS, Wallström said: “Obviously we have reason to be worried, not just in Sweden but across the world – because there are so many that are being radicalized. Here, once again, we are brought back to situations like the one in the Middle East, where not least the Palestinians see that there is no future. We must either accept a desperate situation or resort to violence.”
Israeli right-wing politicians interpreted her as suggesting that Israel is to blame for the Paris attacks, and called foul.
Former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman called Wallström’s remarks “a cynical, offensive, hypocritical act that brings back memories of Sweden’s behavior during World War II”. Deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely said Wallström displayed “not only a blindness to reality, but also unbelievable wickedness”.
Emanuel Nahshon, spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry, called Wallström’s comments “shocking in their chutzpah” and said Sweden has once again exhibited “genuine hostility” toward Israel. The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem summoned the Swedish ambassador to Israel for an official rebuke.
Wallström did not specifically link the Paris attacks to Israel. But the link she drew between ISIS’s origins and the plight of Palestinians was bad enough.
ISIS is a radical death cult that has nothing to do with the legitimate claims Palestinians have against a 50-year-old occupation that denies them their human rights. Any link drawn between the two is false, and damaging, most of all for the Palestinians themselves.
But Wallström did not invent the equation ISIS=Palestinians. The Israeli right wing did. Now that comparison seems to have backfired and blown up in its face.
'In Israel, as in France'
Within hours of the Paris attacks, Israeli politicians were capitalizing on the tragedy by likening them to Palestinian terrorism.
"In Israel, as in France, terrorism is terrorism, and its motivation is radical Islam and a desire for destruction,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page. Culture Minister Miri Regev posted an image on Facebook that read: “Paris 13/11, New York 9/11, Israel 24/7.”
The comparisons between the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation and ISIS did not begin with Paris. The right wing has been claiming for years that Palestinian violence does not stem from Israel’s actions in the occupied territories, but is a consequence of a “clash of civilizations” between the West (represented by Israel) and radical Islam. In the past year, as ISIS became the world’s new Big Bad, the comparison between Palestinians and ISIS has become a major right-wing trope.
Less than a month ago, for instance, Netanyahu claimed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “has joined ISIS and Hamas” in claiming that Israel threatens the al-Aqsa mosque. And in his address to the UN General Assembly in 2014, Netanyahu said “ISIS and Hamas are branches of the same poisonous treeHamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas.”
It is no wonder that the right-wing likes to link ISIS and Palestinian violence. ISIS is a murderous, women-enslaving, undeniably-evil organization, motivated by a fanatical Jihadist ideology. When you link it to Palestinian violence, you remove every trace of historical context from the conflict (namely: the occupation of the West Bank), making it very easy to absolve Israel of any responsibility to the recent outbreak of violence. As Netanyahu himself said this week: “We are not guilty of the terror committed against us, just as the French are not guilty of the terror committed against them.”
Given that in this current wave of terror, Israel is not facing trained terrorists so much as 15-year-olds armed with screwdrivers and cutlery, the ISIS comparison certainly benefits Israeli propaganda (hasbara).
But you can’t have your ISIS cake and eat it too. You can’t keep repeating “Hamas is ISIS,” without expecting others to take the next step and link ISIS to the Palestinian cause. It is an absurd, groundless link that cheapens both the global fight against ISIS and the Palestinians’ struggle against the occupation. And like many absurd, groundless things, that too began with the Israeli right wing.