Prejudice and Demonization In The Swedish Middle East Debate During The 2006 Lebanon War

In recent years numerous studies have shown that anti-Semitism is growing in some European countries and that its strongest foundation is within three groups: the extreme right, Islamist circles, and parts of the left. The increased appearance of, and tolerance toward, anti-Semitic attitudes and notions within the left is often said to be visible primarily in the media. It has frequently been argued that events in the Middle East are what “trigger” (or rather revive latent) anti-Semitic attitudes and notions, which often find expression in otherwise legitimate criticism of the state of Israel.

This was the background to a study conducted by the author in the fall of 2007 at the department of history of the University of Uppsala, Sweden. The aim of the research was to ascertain whether or not anti-Semitic attitudes and notions could be found in the reports and opinions expressed during the period of the war between Israel and Hezbollah, and the fighting in Gaza, in the summer of 2006. This was done by analyzing the content of the Swedish newspapers Aftonbladet (Social Democrat), Arbetaren (Syndicalist), Broderskap (Social Democrat), Flamman (Socialist), Folket i Bild/Kulturfront (Socialist), Internationalen (Trotskyite), Proletären (Marxist-Leninist), and RiktpunKt (Marxist-Leninist) between 12 July 2006 and 21 August 2006. Of primary interest were the presence and nature, rather than frequency or changes over time, of any attitudes and notions expressed in these newspapers.

These eight newspapers were chosen because they cover a large proportion of the left-wing spectrum of Swedish politics. The two Social Democratic newspapers-Aftonbladet and Broderskap-are both closely linked to Sweden’s biggest party in 2006, the then-governing Swedish Workers Party (SAP), and therefore (unlike the rest of the newspapers) support an inner-parliamentary policy. Aftonbladet (majority-owned by Landsorganisationen, the Swedish Trade Union Confederation) is Sweden’s biggest, and some would argue most influential, newspaper, while Broderskap is the body of the Christian Social Democratic Association of Sweden (SKSF). This dynamic makes an analysis of the content of these two newspapers in comparison to the remaining, more radical, and relatively small ones of even greater interest.

The results of the study strongly suggest that a phenomenon detected in a number of European countries can be found in Sweden as well: all of the eight newspapers of the Swedish left analyzed contained (albeit in different forms and quantities) anti-Semitic attitudes and notions, and/or a deeply problematic form of anti-Zionism which bears a kinship to certain anti-Semitic beliefs.

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