Lunch With Sweden's Foreign Minister, the Woman Israel Loves to Hate

Margot Wallström bears the brunt of Israeli diplomatic bullying, but one day she'll make Israel eat its words.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, November 2015.
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, November 2015.Credit: AP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

STOCKHOLM – The devil didn’t wear Prada. The Swedish foreign minister is modestly dressed and her watch is small and old. The most hated woman in Israel is an honest, captivating woman whose integrity is beyond reproach.

Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon compared Margot Wallström to Count Folke Bernadotte (including a nod to the Swedish diplomat’s assassination in Jerusalem in 1948), noting “the latent anti-Semitism that characterizes her, her arrogance, ignorance and thinking about her Muslim constituents’ interests.”

The woman accused of wanting “to fight against the foundations of Israel” says the worst moment in her entire career was when she was accused of anti-Semitism, which she had been raised to combat from childhood.

On Friday, Wallström returned to Sweden from the foreign ministers’ session of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa (which she attended as part of Sweden’s campaign to join the UN Security Council). She went straight from the airport to the Foreign Ministry building, which is protected by an elderly, unshaven security guard.

It is said her protection detail has been beefed up following the recent threats on her life, but Sweden – whose prime minister, Olof Palme, was murdered in 1986 – doesn’t believe in the Israeli style of protecting dignitaries. Only a few code-operated doors separate the street from Wallström’s grand office. Official luncheons are served in the adjacent room. Wine is not served, to avoid the appearance of decadence. The alternative is oversweet apple juice. Unlike most Israeli politicians, Wallström knows how to listen and is eager to learn.

No bodyguard detail could protect Wallström from the wave of vicious attacks she has been subjected to, both in her country and worldwide, since she dared voice a few words of criticism against Israel. This wave, which Israel and its various “friends” are orchestrating, will blow up in our faces one day.

After being named the most popular woman in Sweden in 2006, Wallström’s status has been damaged not only in Swedish public opinion, but in Europe and the world. This is not only because of the recent minor corruption case involving her, but because of what she said about Israel. In Sweden and the European Union, it is still believed that the demand to investigate the deaths of Palestinian knife assailants is too “extreme” a step, which Europe should avoid due to its past baggage.

When Wallström criticized the “medieval-style” penal code in Saudi Arabia last year and a few Arab states recalled their ambassadors in protest, it was said she was sabotaging her country’s foreign relations. But only her criticism toward Israel can really endanger her impressive career.

Jerusalem must itself ask if the bullying techniques practiced against public figures who dare criticize Israel actually work. In the short-term, using the ultimate weapon – accusations of anti-Semitism – may paralyze the Europeans, who are haunted by the shadow of the past.

Israel is taking advantage of this with incredible cynicism. Its goal is clear: to use the character assassination of Wallström as a warning to other statespeople who wish to criticize Israel. But things will blow up, and then Israel will pay the price of its violent extortion.

The aggressiveness of Israel’s representatives and the Jewish establishment – threatening politicians and journalists not to utter a word against Israel – will one day cause the pent-up objection and disgust to burst out in the form of steps against Israel’s reckless behavior.

Ambassadors who work to thwart the invitation of occupation-opposing Israelis to other countries, for example, and the embassies that slander them, make them look like former East German embassies.

Wallström will continue in her own way, simply because she believes in it. She wants to save the two-state solution. Our conversation is interrupted only when a group of Syrian women wants to talk to her on the phone. She is eager to visit Israel and the territories, but Israel forbids it. Wallström will wipe the spit from her face. Maybe Sweden will too, but the day of reckoning is coming.