Peter Wolodarski Interview

March 20th, 2009

Featured Interview with Peter Wolodarski, Editorial Writer, Dagens Nyheter
(Scandinavian Leadership Delegation, May 2003)

1. How would you characterize the political relationship between Sweden and Israel? Could you share with us your sense of how that relationship has evolved in the past years and where you see it heading?

The relationship on the whole is good, although there are some problems. Public opinion in Sweden is still quite critical of Israel’s policies, believing generally that Israel is using overwhelming force toward its neighbors, toward Palestine; it’s not creating Palestine in a fair way; it’s not listening to the United Nations. So, on the whole, public opinion is critical of Israel. When it comes to politics, we have many political voices critical of Israel. However, the relationship is still good as we have a lot of trade and a lot of high-tech exchange in the economic sphere. It’s a good relationship but some problems remain due to the role of the Church which is critical of Israel and even makes anti-Semitic outbursts. The Arch Bishop 2-3 years ago led a boycott campaign against Israel. It was irresponsible because it was launched in April 2003, almost 70 years after the Nazis launched their initial boycott against the Jews and it was executed with the Ambassador to Germany. This is the situation in many European countries, not only Sweden.

In the beginning, Sweden had been ruled by the Social Democrats Party. In fact, when Israel was founded, it was a role model country for the Social Democrats. During its first 20 years, Israel had a very positive image, but something changed after the Six Days’ War. Something happened in public opinion among the left in Europe and it became quite hostile toward Israel. The anti-Zionist campaign launched by the Soviet Union in the 1960s also had a huge influence. The then Prime Minister changed the course of the party completely. However, over the last 10 years, the Prime Minister has launched a big campaign, “Living History”, which teaches Holocaust education. So, the attitude is not as hostile as it once was.

2. How would you describe Swedish common public perceptions or sentiment toward Israel?  In what sectors do you find the most support or hostility toward Israel? How does this differ, at all, from the rest of Scandinavia?

It is difficult for me to assess the situation in other Scandinavian countries. It is complex in Norway. In Sweden, the most hostile country, the extreme right is marginalized, but a larger anti-Israel following can be found on the left among the Swedish Church, (formerly the State Church), and other groups including, of course, the former Communist Party.

3. What is your attitude toward Swedish foreign policy goals and priorities in the Middle East?

Israel is now less of a dominant issue in our foreign policy than as it was initially. We have had a new government since Fall 2006, and the most important issue will become the isolation of the PA as there are some leading politicians who want to end the boycott and start a dialogue with Hamas. I suspect it will become an even larger issue in the coming months and I hope that Sweden will convince the EU not to dialogue with Hamas until Hamas recognizes Israel and ends its support for terrorism.

4. What leadership role do you see Sweden taking in the EU and Northern Europe in the future?

I think we are viewed as a consistent partner although Sweden is a small country. People trust our word and we have great influence over European policy. We have a history of constructive dialogue which gives us leverage today. People tend to listen to Swedish politicians when they have something to say. We have a history of mediating in the Middle East although we are not currently seeking a leadership role. We can help tip the balance in the EU in the debate over whether one wants to dialogue with Hamas or boycott Hamas. In that regard, we have influence.

5. How would you characterize the impact of the media on opinion- and policy-making circles in Sweden regarding Israel and the Middle East?

[The Swedish media has] (g)reat impact [on opinion- and policy-making circles]. If you compare European media to American media you see great differences on how things are reported. Just generally speaking, European media has a sympathetic view of Palestine whereas American media has an understanding of Israel. That is obvious when you read The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal compared to Financial Times and Le Monde. The pattern is the same in Sweden.

6. You traveled to Israel on an educational seminar in 2003.  Could you share with us about some of the people you met and places you found to be most interesting or memorable?

Project Interchange was extremely professional as it was possible for people to meet so many high-level Israeli leaders in such a short period of time. So many doors were open as we met with diplomats, politicians and journalists. We took home interesting conversations from Israel. I had been there before but it gave me lots of food for thought. Everything was extremely professionally done.

7. Many Project Interchange alumni return to their home countries with increased interest and background knowledge about Israel and the Middle East. Did your participation in the seminar impact your professional life in the short- and long-term? How did it affect your understanding of Israel?

The impact on me [from the seminar] was that I was invited in 2004 to attend the AJC’s Annual Meeting and, once I arrived, I was immediately interested. This is my 3rd Annual Meeting and it is a continuation of my trip to Israel.

8. Do you have any suggestions or advice for Project Interchange as we develop future programs from Sweden? Where should we place or shift our focus?

I think it’s important to reach out to people who don’t have a firm opinion of Israel: people who are interested and curious in seeing the country for themselves; people who are not pro- or anti-Israel but people who have not made up their minds and are still open. The more you see, the more easy it is to understand the situation [in Israel].