One of Sweden’s most respected senior statesmen compared Israeli security forces to Nazis during a television appearance on Monday, sparking harsh criticism from the local Jewish community, with one of its leaders describing the comments as antisemitic.
"What triggered [the current round of fighting] was what happened with the police operation at Al-Aqsa Mosque. It's like sending Nazis into the Vatican. There are such strong feelings,” former Prime Minister Carl Bildt said on public broadcaster SVT1’s Morgonstudion morning program.
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"When you go up to the Temple Mount, which is a sensitive area for Muslims and some Jews, you do something that stirs up emotions. Then you get the fourth or fifth Gaza war.”
Following a public outcry over his comments, Bildt, who served as prime minister from 1991 to 1994 and as foreign minister between 2006 and 2014, told the national tabloid Expressen that he regretted his choice of words and “did not actually compare Israel's policy with the Nazis.”
Rather, he asserted, he had meant to compare the possible reaction to Israel’s actions on the Temple Mount with how people would have reacted to a Nazi incursion into the Vatican, adding that “there is actually a difference. And a pretty important one.”
Bildt is currently the co-chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Speaking with Haaretz by phone from Stockholm, Aron Verstandig, the head of the Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, called Bildt’s comments “pure antisemitism.”
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“It’s such a strong and vile comment, comparing soldiers and policemen of the Jewish state with Nazis and this community is very much comprised of children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors so it was very upsetting,” he said, adding that Bildt “didn’t apologize but sort of took a step back.”
“I wouldn't say he is an antisemite, thats very hard to say, but this comment was definitely antisemitic,” he continued, noting that it contravened the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, which was adopted by Sweden in January.
According to one of the supplementary examples accompanying the definition, “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” is antisemitic.
Confronted by veteran Swedish journalist Johan Romin on social media on Wednesday afternoon, Bildt replied that he was not comparing Israel with the Nazis, tweeting that “it would probably have been better to say that it was as if ISIS had stormed into St. Peter's Basilica – or in important synagogues. This leads to strong reactions.”
“I’m very shocked,” Romin told Haaretz. “Now he’s comparing the Israeli police to the Islamic State. This was way over the line.”