Israel-Swedish Diplomatic Row over Pro-Palestinian Art Exhibit
An undiplomatic act by Israel’s ambassador to Sweden has switched the spotlight on a virulent strain of anti-Semitism sweeping West Europe that draws its moral legitimacy from demonizing the Jewish state. What better symbol of this hybrid object of hate than the exhibit whose plug ambassador Zvi Mazel furiously pulled?
The exhibit consists of the photo of the female Palestinian suicide bomber who blew 21 Israelis to their deaths in a Haifa restaurant on October 4; it is planted on a boat floating serenely on a large pool of red water. Labeled “Snow White”, it was shown in an exhibition that opened Friday night, January 16, at Stockholm’s Museum of National Antiquities, part of an upcoming conference on genocide hosted by the Swedish government.
After wrecking the exhibit and calling it “a monstrosity and an affront to the grieving families,” the Israeli ambassador was hustled out of the museum and informed he would be summoned to the Swedish foreign ministry next Monday to explain his actions.
In Jerusalem, the Israeli foreign ministry official Ran Curiel called the Swedish ambassador to warn him that if the offensive exhibit is not removed, Israel will reconsider its attendance at the conference. Sweden, he said, would not be allowed to hide behind the principle of artistic freedom to justify terrorist murders of Israeli citizens.
A diplomatic storm had blown up in hours.
The designers happened to be an ex-Israeli Swede called Dror Feiler and his Swedish wife Gunilla Skoeld Feiler. Dror is president of a group called “Jews for Palestinian Peace.”
Clearly, they neither knew nor cared that the red pool represented Jewish and Arab blood – both Jews and Arabs were murdered in the restaurant by innocent “Snow White.” The bloody symbol they used inevitably recalls the fictional blood libels drummed up by European anti-Semites as the pretext for medieval pogroms. In modern-day Sweden, the purported Christian boy victim has been replaced by a real-life Palestinian suicidal killer.
The angry ambassador was backed to the hilt by his boss, foreign minister Silvan Shalom – more unexpectedly by former prime minister Ehud Barak, who said he understands the emotions the exhibit aroused in the diplomat, but confessed he cannot fathom Israelis like Feiler who efface themselves at European feet.
The to-do in Stockholm occurred on the day that Pope John Paul II invited Israel’s two chief rabbis to the Vatican for the first time to discuss the tide of anti-Semitism besetting Europe. Crucifixes were taken off the walls of the papal audience chamber as a gesture of respect to the guests. But did the historic meeting have any concrete results? Not immediately.
Heads of the European Union and its members talk constantly about combating the blight of anti-Semitism but the only action they have taken is to shelve a report they themselves commissioned because it pointed to Islamic and Palestinian agitators as leading culprits.
Israel has not done much either. When Miki Theodorakis branded the Jews “the root of the world’s evil,” the Greek government, while refraining from entering the controversy over freedom of speech versus racial incitement, made the gesture of finally introducing a Holocaust day on the 2003 national calendar, suddenly noticing that 90 percent of Greek Jews had perished in Nazi concentration camps in World War II. However, in Israel, no banking or financial institution has ever responded actively to comments made by the Dutch wife of the president of the European Central Bank last year that “Israel is worse than the Nazis,” and “the rich Jewish lobby in America is responsible for the Palestinians’ plight.” ” (“Jews” and “Israelis” are interchangeable when it suits their denigrators.)
The recent poll in which a majority of Europeans canvassed described Israel as the biggest threat to world peace likewise went by without response. In fact, shortly after its publication, Israel’s deputy prime minister and minister of industry, Ehud Olmert, bowed to the EU’s demand to add special markings to Israeli products manufactured across the Green Line in order to help European consumers boycott them.
As for Sweden, after the Palestinians embarked on their 2000 confrontation with Israel, more than one voice urged the Nobel Prize committee to recall the peace prize awarded jointly to the late Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat from… Peres.
If Israel were to follow the European example, its ministers, senior officials and high court judges would tomorrow morning hand in the Swedish Volvo automobiles which are standard Israeli VIP issue and trade them for cars made in other countries. There is nothing, moreover, to stop the heads of the Jewish Agency advising Jews around the world to boycott Volvo, SKF and Ikea, in the same way that many American consumers spontaneously blacked French wines and cheese in response for French hostility to the Iraq War.
European democracies like Sweden might then have the necessary incentive to finally decide how far freedom of expression or art may be indulged when blood libels against Jewish citizens are published freely on European Web sites and exhibited publicly in their national museums. Who will draw the line on freedoms used to license incitement to mass murder?