Sweden to criminalize pro-Palestine sentiments

Hundreds of people rally in Stockholm’s Sergel Torg Plaza on 16 May to protest Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. (Rob Schoenbaum/ Polaris)

Sweden stood out among European countries in 2016 when it declared the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign spearheaded by Palestinians to be a legitimate political movement that should be safeguarded from punishment.

However, under the pretense of combatting anti-Jewish hatred, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven's government is moving toward criminalizing criticism of Israel and its racist state ideology Zionism.

The Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Antisemitism is taking place this week in Sweden.

Israel lobbyists and EU officials are expected to participate to silence criticism of Israel's breaches of Palestinian rights.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and Israel's incoming president, Isaac Herzog, are high-profile speakers. Herzog has long dehumanized Palestinians and Muslims and supported violence against them.

Herzog was also active in the current defamation effort to portray UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and his followers as anti-Semitic for supporting Palestinian rights.

One of the main goals of the Malmö meeting is to solidify the so-called IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, which Israel and its lobby have actively advocated.

This definition is renowned for conflating anti-Israel and anti-Zionist criticism with anti-Jewish hatred.

"Cautionary note"

Sweden has promised to implement its own "action program" against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of intolerance as the host country.

This will involve "intensified police efforts to combat racism and hate crime," as well as the creation of a "research agency" within the Swedish defense ministry to "continuously monitor anti-Semitism and other forms of racism."

The Swedish government declares that "organized racism and support for organized racism will be criminalized."

The fact that Sweden's approach to anti-Semitism will be based on the IHRA definition should be cause for concern, as it opens the door to criminalizing support for Palestinian rights by erroneously characterizing it as "hate."

While that may appear excessive, hundreds of international anti-Semitism researchers, many of whom are Jewish or Israeli, have issued a "stern warning against the politicization of the anti-Semitism fight."

They are urging leaders to "reject and counter this instrumentalization" during the Malmö gathering.

The experts add, "We notice coordination with and reliance on lobby organizations shielding the Israeli government."

Their comment has been widely reported in Swedish and European news outlets.

According to the experts, the IHRA definition is being used to "legitimize wrongful accusations of anti-Semitism" and is being "weaponized against human rights organizations and solidarity activists who denounce Israel's occupation and human rights violations."

Amos Goldberg, chair in Holocaust studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Alon Confino, director of the Institute for Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Michael Rothberg, professor of comparative literature and Holocaust studies at UCLA; Lila Corwin Berman, professor of American Jewish history at Temple University; and Leora Auslander, professor of history at the University of Chicago are among those who have signed the petition.

Recent attempts by the European Union, especially its newly produced "handbook" for implementing the IHRA definition and its new "strategy" to combat anti-Semitism, have enraged the academics.

According to The Electronic Intifada, the playbook contains obvious distortions about the boycott campaign, while the anti-Semitism approach is a thinly veiled roadmap for silence supporters of Palestinian rights.

Katharina von Schnurbein, the EU's anti-Semitism director, is in charge of both efforts and will be in Malmö.

Earlier this year, Von Schnurbein publicly backed Israel's attacks on Gaza and Jerusalem's al-Aqsa shrine.

"Politics of repression"

According to the experts, the EU guidebook encourages giving the IHRA definition "legal effect" and using it to refuse financing to civil society organizations. "We are concerned that this will pave the way for discriminatory and repressive policies," they say.

These scholars' cautions are not new; for years, Palestinian and Jewish organizations, among others, have questioned the IHRA definition.

However, the experts point out that the EU's new strategy "ignores the growing concerns about the IHRA definition's shortcomings and instrumentalization."

They also decry the "toxic and intimidating atmosphere" created by such measures, particularly in Germany, where practically everyone criticizing Berlin's backing for Israel's crimes against Palestinians is likely to face repression and defamation.

The academicians support the Jerusalem Declaration against Anti-Semitism as an alternative.

Palestinian campaigners have welcomed the new definition cautiously, saying it "can be instrumental in the fight against the anti-Palestinian McCarthyism and repression that the proponents of the IHRA definition have intentionally promoted."

On the other hand, Palestinians caution that the Jerusalem Declaration has flaws, particularly in its marginalization of Palestinian viewpoints.

Getting to Know Israel

Sweden is publicly strengthening its ties with Tel Aviv when major human rights organizations finally admit that Israel is guilty of apartheid against Palestinians.

Stockholm's apparent concession to Israel lobby pressure over alleged anti-Semitism comes as the Swedish government discreetly concedes that anti-Semitism – however, defined – is on the decline.

The administration released the results of a poll conducted in June this year August.

Since 2005, according to the government study, "public support for both traditional and Holocaust-related anti-Semitic sentiment, as well as those related to Israel, has decreased."

Nonetheless, the government claims that "despite general improvements in attitudes, there is a risk that hate crime may rise."

Such allegations will almost certainly be used to justify the imprisonment and punishment of individuals who resist Israel's occupation, apartheid, and settler-colonialism regimes.

Publish : 2021-10-13 19:10:00

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