Israel–Sweden relations

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Israel–Sweden relations
Map indicating locations of Israel and Sweden



Israel–Sweden relations refers to the bilateral relations between Israel and Sweden. Israel has an embassy in Stockholm while Sweden has an embassy in Tel Aviv and honorary consulates (Haifa and Eilat). The diplomatic relations between the two countries were briefly damaged when Sweden became the first member of the European Union to recognize the State of Palestine in 2014. Previously, other members had recognized Palestine, but that was before they joined the EU.[1]


Sweden voted in favor of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine proposed by UNSCOP (chaired by Swedish lawyer Emil Sandström) in 1947, which provided the legal foundation of the creation of the State of Israel, and offered the services of Count Folke Bernadotte, a Swedish diplomat and nephew of the then-reigning King Gustaf V of Sweden, to assist the United Nations in negotiations between Arab and Palestinian residents. The Swedish nobleman arranged a shaky truce between the new State of Israel and Arab neighbors who had mounted an attack on it in May 1948, then attempted to secure a more lasting peace. On 17 September 1948, a Zionist militant group, Lehi (group), also known as the Stern Gang, assassinated Bernadotte. The assassination was directed by Yehoshua Zettler and carried out by a four-man team led by Meshulam Makover. The fatal shots were fired by Yehoshua Cohen. The United Nations Security Council described the assassination as a "cowardly act which appears to have been committed by a criminal group of terrorists".[2] Lehi saw Bernadotte as a British and Arab puppet, and thus a serious threat to the emerging State of Israel, and feared that the provisional Israeli government would accept his plan, which it considered disastrous.[3][4][5][6]

Swedish Embassy, Tel Aviv

Shortly after the assassination, the Israeli government passed the Ordinance to Prevent Terrorism and declared Lehi to be a terrorist organization.[7] Many Lehi members were arrested, including leaders Nathan Yellin-Mor and Matitiahu Schmulevitz. The Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, quickly outlawed Lehi as "a gang of rogues, cowards and low schemers," but five months later, he declared a general amnesty and released them all.[8][9] Sweden believed that the assassination was planned by the government of Israel rather than independent terrorists and found the investigation and consequences inadequate to the crime. The police investigation was not initiated until 24 hours after the assassination, and according to Israeli historian Amitsur Ilan, the investigation was "amateurish." It was not until 1995 that Shimon Peres officially expressed "regret that he was killed in a terrorist way". Sweden, for its part, tried to delay the admission of the state of Israel into the United Nations. Relations between Sweden and Israel remained chilled as a result of the assassination and Israel's amnesty for the perpetrators.[10][11]

Relations between Sweden and Israel were good during the 1950s and 1960s, during Tage Erlander's tenure as Prime Minister of Sweden. Erlander expressed strong support for Israel during the Six-Day War.[12]

Olof Palme, who succeeded Erlander as Swedish Prime Minister and leader of the Social Democratic Party in 1969, was more critical of the United States and its allies, including Israel. In 1969, the Social Democratic Party adopted a neutral stance in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.[13] The new policy was justified by the Swedish diplomat Gunnar Jarring's position as the United Nations Secretary-General's special envoy in the conflict (the so-called Jarring Mission).[13]

In October 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, Sweden's Minister for Foreign Affairs Krister Wickman criticized Israel and said the problems in the Middle East could not be solved by military superiority.[13] In June 1981, Sweden condemned Israel's attack on the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq as a "clear violation of international law".[14] In July 1982, after Israel's invasion of Lebanon, Prime Minister Olof Palme compared Israel's treatment of Palestinian children to Nazi Germany's treatment of Jewish children in the Nazi concentration camps and ghettos of World War II.[15] In December 1988, Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat visited Stockholm by invitation of the Swedish government. After two days of negotiations, Arafat announced that he would now accept Israel's right to exist and he denounced all forms of terrorism.[16]

In October 1999, Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson visited Israel, offering to broker the Middle East peace process. Persson's visit was the first official visit for a Swedish Prime Minister since Tage Erlander's visit in 1962.[17]

In January 2004, Israel's ambassador to Sweden Zvi Mazel vandalized a piece of artwork by Swedish-Israeli artist Dror Feiler on display at the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm, presenting a portrait of Palestinian suicide bomber Hanadi Jaradat as "Snow White." Mazel's actions sparked a diplomatic incident between the two countries.[citation needed]

During the 2006 Lebanon War, Minister for Foreign Affairs Jan Eliasson condemned both the actions of Hezbollah and the Israeli response .[18] During the Gaza War in January 2009, Minister for Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt criticised Israel and called for an immediate ceasefire [19]

In August 2009, a diplomatic row erupted after the publication of an article in the Swedish daily Aftonbladet that claimed the Israel Defense Forces had engaged in organ harvesting from dead Palestinians. Israel called on the Swedish government to condemn the article, which it described as a "manifestation of antisemitism" and a modern "blood libel".[20] The Swedish government refused, citing freedom of the press and the country's constitution.

In October 2014, the newly elected Swedish Social Democratic Party-led government of Stefan Löfven announced it would recognize the state of Palestine saying that "the conflict between Israel and Palestine can only be solved with a two-state solution... A two-state solution requires mutual recognition and a will to peaceful co-existence. Sweden will therefore recognise the state of Palestine."[21] In response, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's office said that "he regrets that the new prime minister was in a hurry to make statements on Sweden's position regarding recognition of a Palestinian state, apparently before he had time even to study the issue in depth"[22] and that the Swedish ambassador would be summoned to have a "conversation" on the issue.[23] Lieberman also stated "Lofven had hastened to make declarations ... apparently before he could delve into the matter and understand it is the Palestinians who have constituted the obstacle to progress" in reaching a peace accord with Israel. Then he called on Lofven "to focus on more burning problems in the region such as the daily mass-killings going on in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere".[24] Israel recalled its ambassador to Sweden, Isaac Bachman, for consultation but he returned to Sweden a month later. In December, Liberman announced his plan to boycott the visit anticipated by his Swedish counterpart, and added that, "Relations in the Middle East are a lot more complex than the self-assembly furniture of IKEA." Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström responded to Liberman's barb with the comment, "I will be happy to send him a flat pack of IKEA furniture and he will also see that what you need to put that together is, first of all, a partner. And you also need to cooperate and you need a good manual and I think we have most of those elements." It was announced in January 2015 that she has cancelled her visit until further notice. The purpose of the visit had been primarily to honor Raoul Wallenberg, the diplomat from Sweden who saved tens of thousands of Jews from being sent to concentration camps by issuing them Swedish papers during World War II.[25]

Commercial and trade ties[edit]

The Swedish clothing chain H&M opened its first store in Tel Aviv in 2010, followed by five more stores across the country. More stores are planned for the Gush Dan area.[26]

In 2014, Israel exported a total of US$185 million to Sweden, mainly in the field of electronics,[27] while Sweden exported US$491 million to Israel, mainly vehicles and machinery.[28]

Cultural ties[edit]

The Sweden–Israel Friendship Association is a Swedish-based organization that works to promote cultural ties between Israel and Sweden. It was established in Stockholm in 1953, with local branches opening in Gothenburg and Malmö the following year. Today the association comprises 26 local branches with a membership of 3,000.[29]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Persson, Anders (2015). ”Sweden's Recognition of Palestine: A Possible Snowball Effect?”, Palestine - Israel Journal of Politics, Economics, and Culture, Vol, 20, No. 2/3, pp: 35-41.
  2. ^ UNSC [1] resolution 57 (18 September 1948).
  3. ^ A. Ilan, Bernadotte in Palestine, 1948 (Macmillan, 1989) p. 194
  4. ^ J. Bowyer Bell, Assassination in International Politics, International Studies Quarterly, vol 16, March 1972, 59–82.
  5. ^ Haberman, Clyde (22 February 1995). "Terrorism Can Be Just Another Point of View". New York Times. Retrieved 28 December 2008. Mr. Shamir, nearly 80, still speaks elliptically about the Bernadotte assassination. Years later, when Ben-Gurion moved to a kibbutz in the Negev desert, Sdeh Bokker, one of his closest friends there was Yehoshua Cohen, who had been one of the assassins. Review of Kati Marton's biography.
  6. ^ Cowell, Alan (2 November 1991). "THE MIDDLE EAST TALKS: REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK; Syria Offers Old Photo To Fill an Empty Chair". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 December 2008. In recent years, several members of the group known by the British as the Stern Gang have acknowledged responsibility for the killing. Mr. Shamir, who was a member of the Stern Gang, has declined to discuss the killing, and one of his spokesman has said he had no role in it.
  7. ^ Ami Pedahzur, The Israeli Response to Jewish Terrorism and Violence: Defending Democracy, Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York 2002 p. 77
  8. ^ BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Terrorism Can Be Just Another Point of View The New York Times, 22 Feb 1995
  9. ^ [Heller, J. (1995). The Stern Gang. Frank Cass. ISBN 0-7146-4558-3 p. 267]
  10. ^ Israel's forgotten hero: The assassination of Count Bernadotte - and the death of peace The Independent, 18 Sept 2008
  11. ^ Israel Delivers Reply to Sweden on Bernadotte’s Assassination; Admits Police Failure JTA, 20 Jun 1950
  12. ^ Ahlmark, Per (1997). Det öppna såret : om massmord och medlöperi (in Swedish). Stockholm: Timbro. p. 195. ISBN 91-7566-326-0.
  13. ^ a b c Ahlmark 1997, p. 196.
  14. ^ Ahlmark, Per (2004). Det är demokratin, dumbom! (in Swedish). Stockholm: Timbro. p. 46. ISBN 91-7566-548-4.
  15. ^ Anförande vid TCO kongressen
  16. ^ Horisont 1988 (in Swedish). Malmö: Bertmark. 1988. p. 291.
  17. ^ När var hur 2001 (in Swedish). Stockholm: Dagens Nyheter. 2001. p. 17.
  18. ^ Gustafsson, Erik (13 July 2006). "Skarp kritik från den svenska regeringen" [Sharp criticism from the Swedish government]. Dagens Nyheter (in Swedish). Retrieved 29 August 2009.
  19. ^ "Carl Bildt om situationen i Gaza" (in Swedish). Government Offices of Sweden. 8 January 2009. Retrieved 11 April 2010.
  20. ^ Ravid, Barak; Uni, Assaf (23 August 2009). "Netanyahu to Sweden: Condemn IDF organ harvesting article". Haaretz. Retrieved 29 August 2009.
  21. ^ "Sweden to recognise Palestinian state". 2014-10-05. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  22. ^ "Israel chides Swedish PM Stefan Loefven over Palestinian state". India Times. 2014-10-05. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  23. ^ "Israel slams Sweden′s decision to recognize Palestine". Deutsche Welle. 2014-10-05. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  24. ^ "Israel criticises Swedish plan to recognise state of Palestine". Reuters. 5 October 2014.
  25. ^ Swedish foreign minister cancels trip to Israel The Times of Israel, 7 Jan 2015
  26. ^ "First H&M Store In Israel Opens". The Financial. 12 March 2010. Retrieved 6 January 2011.
  27. ^ "What does Israel export to Sweden? (2014)". The Observatory of Economic Complexity. 2014. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  28. ^ "What does Sweden export to Israel? (2014)". The Observatory of Economic Complexity. 2014. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  29. ^ Sweden-Israel Friendship Association

External links[edit]