Dear Colleagues, dear friends…
Five years have passed since my wife Osnat and I first came to Stockholm, and difficult as it is to believe, the time has come to return home to Israel and close an unforgettable Swedish chapter in our lives.
As I see so many appreciated contacts, and indeed good friends, gathered here today to celebrate the 69th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, I am reminded of the many highlights and memorable moments during these years that have flown by so quickly.
In 10 days I will celebrate my 60th birthday – no doubt a milestone in the life of any human being. It is rather a symbolic thing – 5 years are 60 months of service in Sweden. 1 month in Sweden for each year of my 60 years of life.
Today’s birthday child however, the State of Israel, while being millennia old – now counts 69 years since its miraculous rebirth in the land of our fathers. As a second generation to survivors of the Holocaust, it is my pride and privilege to represent the Jewish State which despite daunting challenges, is up there competing with the most advanced nations in the world in numerous fields of cutting edge technologies, advanced science and groundbreaking economic advances. More than anything, however, it gives me pride and pleasure to represent the incredibly diverse mosaic of our nation – one of the most pluralistic societies on earth, and the Middle East’s only true democracy.
Upon arrival, Osnat and myself decided to see as much as we possibly could of this new, though temporary home of ours, Sweden. During our very first Pesach/Passover here, we drove ourselves 2800 km all the way up, along the coast to the ends of Sweden in Norrbotten, and back down through the inlands of Västerbotten – a full circle. North and South, East and West, we have travelled through this country and from the major cities of Gothenburg and Malmö to small towns, we have made ourselves at home. Most importantly – and some of you might be surprised – everywhere we have come, we have been met by great hospitality and great love for Israel.
It would be pointless to conceal, that these have not been easy years in the bilateral relations between Israel and Sweden, and I cannot hide from you that the mutual ties are not what they should, could and ought to be if one considers, all that our two nations have in common.
We have experienced in Sweden dramatic events, like the recognition of Palestine, that led to my recall to Jerusalem, for consultations. Unfortunately, this initiative of Sweden led to more Palestinian terror on the ground – instead of bringing about better prospects for peace.
We, together with all the people of Israel – at the height of an intensive Palestinian campaign of terror, and while we were burying our dead – were astonished, shocked and deeply hurt to be accused, more than once, of “extrajudicial executions”. All this, while in Sweden itself the shooting of a terrorist in very similar circumstances in Trollhättan, was applauded by top Swedish government officials.
Swedish voting patterns in international organizations and most notably UNESCO, remain a cause for great concern.
Very recently we have seen how Sweden, for the 3rd time within a year – and this time as the only EU country – voted in support of a resolution which radically attempts to write the Jewish people out of the history of Jerusalem.
It is not in vain that Israel and Jewish communities, in Sweden and across the world, have expressed their outrage and disbelief.
The Swedish media coverage of Israel is another area of considerable concern. The hardcore problem being the shocking unacceptance for the Israeli narrative to be brought to the Swedish public. I do believe that through persistency and a pro-active agenda, there has been indisputable progress and some important breakthroughs, in this regard.
While grievances do exist, we should not lose sight of the many areas, where our bilateral relations continue to function smoothly, and hold great promise for the future.
Trade and scientific exchange, in many ways, are flourishing, and the potential is even greater. During this past year, Volvo has opened up a ground-breaking innovation hub in Tel Aviv – called ‘Drive’, and several of Sweden’s largest companies have visited Israel with major delegations during 2016/17 – including Ericson, Volvo Trucks, and Volvo Cars.
Skanska, sent a large high-level delegation, to study cyber security – an area where Israel is increasingly considered one of the absolute world leaders. In the big international fairs, there are many meetings between representatives of Swedish and Israeli enterprise. For instance, in the World Mobile Congress – the largest telecommunications fair in the world, taking place in Barcelona every year – there were this year more than 150 meetings between Israeli and Swedish companies. Considerably more than with many much larger nations.
Especially in the sphere of culture, we can see how relations are truly blossoming. While Israeli dance has literally conquered Sweden, our movies are prominently featured in one film festival after the other, and the traditional, yearly performances of the Avishai Cohen Trio and other brilliant modern Israeli musicians is a much anticipated, recurring sensation in the world of Swedish jazz. The recent visit by conductor Daniel Barenboim and his East-West Divan Orchestra captured the hearts of experts and aficionados alike. At the same time we can see how Swedish trombonist Christian Lindberg has worked wonders as the artistic director of the highly respected Israel NK Orchestra in Netanya.
Back to our strictly personal experiences. I know that I speak for both Osnat and myself, when I say that in so many ways, we have truly loved this city of Stockholm. It is not in vain that we have stayed 1 year longer than the 4 years we were supposed to – which is the best proof of our appreciation for this country.
Sweden, in so many ways, is an extraordinary place to be. The standard of life is enviable, and it is easy to understand how this country consistently ends up on top of lists grading the performances in different areas of the nations of the world. We are proud that Israel also, very often, appears next to Sweden on these lists – sometimes just after and sometimes just before it.
I would like to thank all of the good, generous and kind-hearted people, we have gotten to know during these years. So many wise and knowledgeable friends of Israel, who have shared with us their love and commitment for the Jewish State. And so many others that are still shy about it – but will come up to the surface, soon.
More than anything, of course, I would like to thank my extraordinary wife Osnat for tolerating and putting up with a not easy husband at all. One that dragged her to 6 different countries and made her responsible for something I would never do myself – packing and unpacking an entire home 12 times – each time in a different country. Thank you for always working at the Embassy, proving that husband and wife can and do work together successfully. Thank you also, for always hosting with such unparalleled generosity and frequency and if this is not all – while always acting modestly and without seeking the limelight. (Please step forward – now give her a warm applause).
To my co-workers and the Israeli Embassy staff: all of your efforts have been invaluable, and were instrumental in achieving our common goals! (Please raise your hands – now give them a round of applause!)
I want to thank my counterparts in the Swedish MFA who have always maintained cordial and highly professional relations. It is not always easy to maintain such cordial and good relations when the issues dealt with, are quite often marked by disagreements. Thank you for your professionalism and friendship!
Sweden will forever remain engraved in our hearts, so please all, join me in proposing a toast for Israel on its 69th birthday.
For our Swedish hosts and for the bilateral ties between our two nations which have so much in common.
SKÅL – LECHAIM!