Israel faced elections on the 22 January, and as encouraging this is as a reminder of the State’s unique democratic tradition in a region plagued by tyrants and autocracies, there is unfortunately also the need to despair. The current political discourse indicates that although Israel does not lack for leaders, there is an acute lack of uniting and sensible leadership to guide the State through its current challenges. On the right, Likud has no shortage of scapegoats to explain the lack of progress in the negotiations with the Palestinians or in creating hard-hitting social reforms to support the weaker segments as well as to prevent a further brain drain of Israel’s young and brightest. The feasibility of Prime Minister Netanyahu implementing his Bar Ilan vision for a two-state solution is eroding with the same pace that centre-right Likud politicians are being replaced with hawkish hardliners on the party’s Knesset list. Religious sectorial interests determined to secure funding to bolster their own political position of power, notwithstanding potential detrimental effects on State finances and security. Finally, on the rapidly rising far right, the winning argument is that the State should be free to act as it wants no matter how the world evaluates its actions. The standard seems to be that anyone that criticises Israel’s policies from the outside can be ignored as he, she or it probably hates Israel anyway.
In March of 2009, I was one of 100 or so Israel supporters that attended the Sweden-Israel Davis Cup games in Malmö, Sweden. The Baltiska Hallen Arena, where this sports event was held, holds 4,000 seats; however, no public ticket sales were allowed due to security concerns. This resulted in those attending being either Swedish Tennis Federation bigwigs or, people such as myself, those associated with the Jewish Community or the Israeli Embassy.
This absurd version of home court advantage may well have been a contributing factor to the Swedish team, although seen as favourites going in, ending up losing the games to Andy Ram's side. Outside the arena the tension was palpable. Hundreds of police officers besieged the surrounding area, creating an environment that is very far from what one would expect of a friendly sports event in peaceful Sweden. At the same time in central Malmö, a 12,000 people strong demonstration, where violent far-left activists, as we are well acquainted with from G8 and WTO summits across the globe, joined forces with pro-Palestinians and neo-Nazis. The common denominator was that they were all looking for a fight as well as a common enemy, and a Jewish-Israeli team playing a "white sport" such as tennis did the trick.
Following the demise of Mubarak's authoritarian rule in Egypt we can see two important developments unfolding amongst Scandinavian media and decision makers: firstly, there is unanimous support for the success of the Egyptian people in their fight for democracy.
The determinative role of the military, giving its blessing for recent developments and, even more importantly, shaping the future of Egypt with the formulation of a democratic constitution, is by large not scrutinised, as focus is being placed on the power of the populace in shaping their own future. Secondly, when discussing a regional context, no references are made to Israel and its democratic tradition. An underlying reason could be that there has never been any public criticism directed against the lack of democracy or personal freedoms in Egypt, in vast contrast to attitudes towards Israel, a country frequently being portrayed as a violator of human rights and international law.
On December 11, ordinary Swedish citizens were for the first time targeted in an attempted suicide bombing on Swedish soil, as Taimour Abdulwahab’s malfunctioning bomb led to his own death on a cold and crowded Stockholm shopping street.
The country referred to by al-Qaida strategist Abu Mus ab al-Suri as a suitable base for activities, due to lax security and a comprehensive welfare system, now faces a new reality. The question that we need to ask is if this shift from base to target will affect Swedish attitudes? Will a country that prides itself on standing on the side of the weaker party, with a history of strong official criticism of Israel's actions, such as the erection of the security barrier, now commence a transformation that will entail greater understanding of life in Tel Aviv, New York, London and Madrid in the shadow of a constant threat of terror attacks targeting innocent civilians?