Below is the full text of Israel’s Ambassador to Sweden Isaac Bachman’s speech at yesterday’s 68th Independence Day of the State of Israel event organized by the Embassy of Israel in Sweden:
Government officials, Excellencies, Ambassadors and members of the Diplomatic Corps, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends.
Thank you all for coming and celebrating with us, the 68th Independence Day of the State of Israel – the one and only Democracy in the Middle East, and the continuous home and shelter for the Jewish people!
What a year it´s been!
I repeat; What a year it´s been!
Dear and esteemed friends.
The things that I am about to present to you are maybe not exactly what you would have been lead to expect by such an opening remark. And believe me, my intention is not to beautify things or paint a false picture of reality. However, let me start with some amazing achievements, which prompted my initial remark.
Because in truth, it has been a year of great advancement of Swedish-Israeli relations in many of the fields where both of our nations are at the very forefront and have so much to gain from mutual cooperation.
It has been a year of intensive and constructive contacts indeed. Let me just cite a few of our bilateral visits between Sweden and Israel:
• Sweden’s Deputy Speaker Esabelle Dingizian
• a delegation from the Swedish Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee
• an important delegation of MP:s from the 4 Alliance parties
• a visit by Secretary of State Oscar Stenström and a delegation from the Ministry of Enterprise
• a visit by Ann Linde, State Secretary in the Ministry of Justice
• a visit to Israel by the Swedish National Police Commissioner
• a visit of an important delegation from the Royal Academy of War Sciences
• a large Swedish delegation attending the Pride Parade in Tel Aviv. We were told that the Swedish flag was one of the most common flags at the Parade!
Last week, we hosted the Israeli delegation to the Eurovision Song Contest in a very successful visit – an important opportunity to promote all that Israel has to offer in the fields of music and entertainment. This included a special performance by the 1998 winner of the Eurovision, Dana International.
Concerning our economic ties, we had a number of big delegations from Sweden visiting Israel, including – to mention only a few of the giants: Volvo, Combi Tech, Tele 2, and Ericsson.
As a result of the extremely successful Volvo visit to Israel, we had 3 very senior Israeli business delegations arriving in Sweden to attend conferences on cyber security and smart cities, initiated and expertly organized by Volvo.
In the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona – known as the world´s No 1 telecom fair – there were a staggering 150 bilateral business meetings between Swedish and Israeli companies.
In the coming autumn, State Secretary Oscar Stenström from the Ministry of Enterprise will head a big business delegation to Israel. This will be his second visit in little over a year.
Cultural cooperation is also flourishing – and in the fields of jazz and dance it is particularly intense. World famous Israeli jazz musicians Avishai Cohen and Esther Rada both visited Sweden last year – and the famous Batsheva Dance Company will be in Sweden on tour twice this year. The Stockholm Israeli Film Festival attracted large numbers of moviegoers – and many more examples could be cited.
From Israel, we are very happy to have with us today a high-level delegation from the MFA in Jerusalem which has arrived in Stockholm for intensive bilateral political dialogue between our two Foreign Ministries. (Ambassador Aviv Shiron, Deputy Director General, European Affairs; Ambassador Amira Arnon, Director, Northern Europe Department)
Also, in two weeks’ time, the Sweden –Israel friendship association of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, will arrive in Stockholm for a much anticipated visit.
Indeed, as you will have noticed, the list is comprised of many visits – and I could go on…!
I have mentioned all these examples as the best demonstration of how the Swedish-Israeli relationship is SO MUCH more than our political differences;
The relationship is deep;
It benefits both countries;
And much of it is thanks to the people in this room,
THANK YOU and let us all keep up the good work!
With all of the above said, there is no hiding the fact that our two governments have very different views on the situation in the Middle East. In all the countries surrounding Israel, human rights practices are beyond terrible.
But yet Israel – the only democracy in the region and the only country engaged in constant self-defense – is the most criticized in Sweden. Sweden is very explicit with its ‘To do’ and ‘Not to do’ lists – of expectations and demands from Israel. Those very same expectations are expressed publicly time and again; and by the highest Swedish officials.
If this is indeed a token of friendship as repeatedly claimed, we would hope for the same friendship to be shown to the Palestinians, with a list of publicly expressed demands to them, as it is done with us. Indeed, as one of the major international donors to the Palestinians, Sweden has great potential leverage over the incitement and education for hatred under the Palestinian Authority.
Norway has already revised its aid to the Palestinian Authority along those lines, and recently a majority in the Swedish Parliament passed a resolution calling the government to;
And I quote: “Sweden must place demands on the Palestinian Authority” since, and I quote again:
“Incitement to violence, indoctrination and hate propaganda has become the norm.”
We do welcome these expressions of concern, and we hope and expect for the Swedish government to follow the Norwegian approach, and the Swedish Parliament’s decision.
Another issue of great concern is the growing number of anti-Semitic incidents in Sweden. We hope that the serious Swedish engagement with this issue will continue and will lead to tangible and concrete results in the near future.
We welcome the visit to Israel in two weeks’ time by a delegation from the Living History Forum and SKMA (Swedish Committee against Anti-Semitism) and with the government’s recently nominated special envoy on anti-Semitism and racism, by the Swedish MFA.
It would be further appreciated if Sweden, as a sister democracy to Israel, would more clearly and frequently express its solidarity, in the face of the horrendous terrorism which has claimed the lives of so many innocent Israeli civilians. Such expectations from Sweden become even more natural, since Sweden is itself, as we speak, engaged in preparing to meet – G-d forbid! – possible terror attacks in the future.
The terrorism that Israel has faced on a daily basis since September 2015, sometimes on the scale of the Trollhättan tragedy, several times a day, has either been downplayed or ignored in Sweden. Reservations and accusations for the Israeli self-defense were voiced out loud publically, while at the same time we have not heard government officials loudly and clearly condemn “PALESTINIAN TERRORISM.”
Government officials should not shy away from using these two words – Palestinian terrorism – together as if they would be the same poles of a magnet and could never be next to each other; Palestinian terrorism HAS to be called in Sweden for what it is – PALESTINIAN TERRORISM!
Israel is a country where ethnic and religious minorities are not only protected but supported, growing, and flourishing.
In fact, Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian population has increased over the past 50 years! Christian Arabs in Israel are actually more prosperous and successful than the Jewish population in many fields, including education!
Also the Muslims in Israel are vastly better off than elsewhere in the Middle East. They live longer, have higher incomes, are more educated, have lower infant mortality rates, have full democratic rights; and they are represented in every sphere of life including, the Parliament and the Supreme Court.
Israel values and respects ethnic minorities, religious freedom, freedom of speech, equality & LGBT rights, and all of the values that an open, diverse, and prosperous democracy cherishes –
JUST LIKE SWEDEN DOES!
We are also very happy to have with us today representatives of a number of our brother minorities in the Middle East, including a large delegation from the Assyrian National Association. We thank you all for your friendship and support!
With the difficulties that we face, however, there is also much cause for optimism and over the last year we have seen many new beginnings and new opportunities. We can see how the media in Sweden, in many cases, is showing an altogether new openness to the Israeli perspectives.
Last year I published articles or was interviewed in the Swedish media over 30 times – an unprecedented number compared to previous years. All this became possible thanks to the hard work of many good friends and contacts here present – and of course the Embassy staff.
My own Facebook page has grown from maybe a thousand friends to almost 6,000 friends and followers. And a couple of months ago the Embassy’s Facebook page – “Israel i Sverige” –
hit an all-time record and over the course of only one week was read by
OVER HALF A MILLION PEOPLE!
There is obviously a growing knowledge, both in the public and in official circles, of the complexities characterizing the Middle East. The many achievements of Israel in science, innovation, economy, agriculture, but also as an open society, a vibrant democracy and a humanitarian actor in the world – are increasingly getting the attention they deserve in Sweden too.
Before one final thought – on this joyous occasion, let me invite you all – with or without a glass in your hand – to join me in a toast for the prosperity of the State of Israel and the Kingdom of Sweden,
and the bilateral ties between our two nations
LECHAIM / SKÅL!
And finally; let me take this opportunity to thank all of you, esteemed friends and counterparts, present here today, for your much appreciated cooperation and friendship.
TODA RABA / THANK YOU / TACK SÅ MYCKET!