Hasbara in Sweden Just Ain’t Working – The Jewish Press
I am one of the few Swedish pro-Israeli opinion makers who refuse to give up on what we believe is right and avoid an anti-Israeli rhetoric, that is not part of describing the real Israel. But avoiding that rhetoric is hard if you want to be published in the Swedish media.
Recently I had a conversation on this rhetoric with the editorial office of SVT Opinion, the Swedish Public Service online forum for opinion makers.
The reason why I had that conversation is that some weeks ago SVT Opinion published an anti-Israeli op-ed by Jonatan Stanczak, a Swedish citizen who resides in Jenin in Judea and Samaria. Stanczak accused Israel of having an ”apartheid regime” and ”racist government”. I wrote an op-ed to SVT Opinion, in which I stressed how important it is, if you want to criticize Israel, to use facts and not lies. My op-ed was not published, so I called the editorial office to know why. From our conversation I understood that if I do not surrender to an anti-Israeli narrative my op-eds will not be published. I have never surrendered and that is why many of the big mainstream news papers in Sweden have never published my perspectives on Israel. Does it mean that I do not get published? Of course not. I do get published in Swedish media but not in paper edition media or the public service media who have the majority of the readers and viewers.
In my unpublished op-ed to SVT Opinion I explained that it is very dangerous to associate Israel with apartheid and racism when there is no facts to base it on. Such lies against Israel is dangerous as they ignite the hate against not only Israel but also Jews in Europe among certain segments of the European population. The Islamist terrorists who attacked and killed Jews in European cities have claimed that they have acted in order to revenge what Israel allegedly do to the people in the Palestinian territories. Those views of terrorists are not only the result of Islamist terrorist propaganda against Israel and Jews. They are also the result of a one-sided, anti-Israeli narrative in the mainstream European media. In Sweden you have to criticize the settlements or you will have a hard time getting a word in edgeways, so I understood from my more than 40 minutes talk with the editor in SVT Opinion,Terje Carlsson. According to the mainstream opinion in media, Israel has the main responsibility for the conflict in the region. It is almost a taboo to put equal responsibility on the Palestinian Authority, which government now also officially represents all Palestinian parties including the terrorist organization Hamas. In the Swedish media Israel always has to be associated with occupation, war and conflict. It seems like different, positive and diverse perspectives on Israel hardly have no place in the Swedish media.
Other pro Israeli opinion makers confirmed that I was not the only one with these experiences with the Swedish media. What I have experienced is quite common.
One reason why this is common is that sometimes the editors and journalists, who have great influence on the content in the media, have their own professional interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.The editor that I spoke to in SVT Opinion, Mr. Carlsson, is a documentary filmmaker, who has directed the Al Jazeera awarded anti-Israeli documentary Israel vs Israel. He is also very active in the anti-Israeli Facebook group named after his movie. In the Facebook group he has written things about Hamas like ”ignoring a democratically elected political party doesn’t work”.
Another problem in Swedish media is that there is no room in media for the voices of real peace and coexistence. My organization Perspective on Israel invited Israeli Arabs, who supports Israel to Sweden. They came to Sweden last August, participated in a pro-Israel demonstration and made themselves available for the Swedish media. I sent messages to radio stations and newspapers. It was an historical event that Arab Israelis who support their country went to Sweden to participate in a pro-Israeli demonstration and made a political tour to talk about their Israeli perspective on the conflict. No responses from media.
I read and listen to news published by Arab, Israeli and PA media. I listen to the people in Israel when I visit Israel. I have interviewed Jews, Arabs, secular people and religious people in Israel. That is why I simply do not think that the Israeli settlements are the greatest obstacles to peace in the Middle East, nor that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the mother of all conflicts in the region. Such views are just based on cheap rhetoric and not on real facts. But in Swedish media and politics such views are mainstream, and difficult to challenge.
I study media and communication at the Stockholm University and it actually worries and saddens me to see how narrow-minded the Swedish media have become over the years. I want Swedish democracy and media to be an arena where journalists, politicians and opinion makers of different opinions can contribute to broaden the knowledge of the Middle East and offer a diversity of opinions and perspectives on that region. That is a very important mission for media as many of our Swedish citizens have their roots in the Middle East in countries without freedom of expression. The Swedish media should show that in a democracy like Sweden freedom of expression really means diversity of opinions and perspectives. Without that we do not have much of a democracy.
Pro-Israeli opinion makers also should reflect on, whose rhetoric they are really using and how that affects their possibility to reach out with a positive and honest perspective on Israel. We do not need to adopt anti-Israeli rhetoric. Like Swedish media, pro-Israeli opinion makers have to reach out to an increasing number of people in Europe with roots in anti-Israeli Arab states. It is possible with a positive attitude and real facts.
Sweden has an important role in the European politics and the politics in the Middle East. Israelis and Americans should pay attention to what is happening in our corner of the world. Sweden more or less unconditionally fund the corrupt PA, 1,5 Billion Swedish Krona over the next 5 years. Sweden also has recognized it as a Palestinian State, a ”state” that is not even recognized by professional literature and that indoctrinates citizens to hate Jews and Israel. In general Swedish politicians seem to not care about what consequences their policies have for Israelis. Why on earth should Israel and friends of Israel care about what is going on in Sweden, where everything seems to go wrong, you may wonder.
Well that is exactly why to care. An anti-Israeli rhetoric in Swedish media and politics have negative consequences for Israel and puts Jews in danger.
Nima Gholam Ali Pour is a political commentator in Sweden and has a master’s degree in International Migration and Ethnic Relations (IMER). Tobias Petersson is a Swedish freelance writer and has focused on Israel and the MENA region. They are the spokespersons for Perspective on Israel, a grass root NGO, founded in 2013 to counteract the negative, distorted image of Israel that is spread in the Swedish media and in political parties.