Coming to Israel for bilateral talks in my capacity as Sweden’s deputy minister for foreign affairs is indeed a great pleasure, even at this difficult moment when our two countries are still struggling with the consequences of a dangerous pandemic.
I have many positive memories from serving here as Sweden’s ambassador from 2003 to 2007 and have been back many times since, most recently with Prime Minister Stefan Löfven last year for the World Holocaust Forum.
When Ann Linde was appointed as our new foreign minister in the autumn of 2019, she publicly stated that one of her first ambitions was to improve relations between Sweden and Israel. It remains one of my foremost priorities as her deputy.
Sweden and Israel are both medium-sized countries with open economies. We are both at the global cutting edge of innovation and technology. And we share values of democracy, social justice and equality.
The history of our relations is long and deep. Sweden in 1947 voted in favor of the United Nations plan recommending the creation of independent Jewish and Arab states. Swedish solidarity with the newly established State of Israel was strong, and for many Swedes working in the kibbutzim was part of their formative experiences.
Today our economic and trade relations are growing, while cultural exchange and tourism have flourished, and I am sure will do so again post-pandemic. Sweden does not support BDS or any boycott of Israel. We seek more trade and exchanges with Israel, not less.
It is no coincidence that the Swedish Innovation Authority, Vinnova, opened an office in Tel Aviv in 2018—its second office outside of Sweden (the first being in Silicon Valley). Cooperation in science and research is expanding.
When I meet my Israeli counterpart, I will look forward to covering a broad and deep agenda of regional issues. I will, inter alia:
• Congratulate Israel on normalizing and building relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco—peace and friendly relations between states is good news for Israel and the region,
• Express our concern over Iran’s nuclear program and support for destabilizing regional actors, and discuss how effectively to address these and other challenges to regional security,
• Express our strong support for a negotiated two-state solution, leading to Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security,
• Reiterate Sweden’s unequivocal condemnation of all acts of terrorism, as illustrated by our support for the U.N. resolution condemning Hamas, which unfortunately failed to pass in the General Assembly in 2018,
• Support Israel’s right to defend itself, in line with international law, when attacked, such as during the rocket attacks by terrorist groups from Gaza in May.
• Elaborate on how E.U.-Israel relations can be deepened and strengthened, ahead of a hopefully soon upcoming Association Council meeting.
During our talks, I will brief my Israeli counterpart on preparations for the International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism, where world leaders will gather in Malmö, Sweden, on Oct. 13. I will also address our work with Israel and other partners in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), to be chaired by Sweden in 2022, and whose definition of anti-Semitism we have fully endorsed.
Israel and Sweden have many things to discuss. We should do so directly and openly, in agreement and disagreement, but always based on friendship and mutual respect.
Robert Rydberg is the Swedish deputy minister for foreign affairs.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.