Editor’s Note: For correction of the historical errors pertaining to the role of American Jewish negotiators, Yasser Arafat and Sweden in this piece, please click here.
Between the IKEA
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the shadow.
— THE HOLLOW MEN
Just after dawn one August morning in 2006, shortly after the onset of the baneful Second Lebanese War, during a period when the northern sector of Israel was daily being peppered by missiles, a strange and violent dream bestirred me from my slumbers. Even as I was distracted by chirruping in the tree outside my Beersheva bedroom window, even as the plot and specific details fragmented and then faded, all the more was I determined to retrieve them. By breakfast, however, all I could manage to recount to my wife was that it had something to do with the landing of a Hizbullah missile.
But why then had I awakened with a smile still plastered to post-Morphean mug? With a daughter who checks and polishes patent applications for ISCAR, Warren Buffett’s $4 billion precision metals baby, in an industrial park some ten kilometers from the Lebanese border and four grandchildren who call Nahariya home, I had an intensely personal stake in volatility in the North. True, the kids were distributed among various grandparents for the duration, but ISCAR remained open for business throughout the month-long missile siege. Why then was I was feeling uncommonly gratified? Since reconstructing splattered dreams can be far more elusive than deconstructing them, I abandoned this frustrating business as a lost cause until, just after breakfast, my wife announced that she was going shopping.
Click! In a flash, all the bits and pieces of my fractured dream reassembled. Coherence reigned. On my nighttime screen, a wayward Hizbullah missile had splatted on Israel’s only Swedish theme park. A bull’s-eye on IKEA kaboomed it to shadows and smithereens. This, it was, that now prompted my irreverent reverie in a Scandinavian key.
We Israelis bracket Norwegians, those inveterate brokers of concord, with the ill-conceived Accords of Oslo, a formula that instead of engendering peace in our time in a New Middle East triggered the Al Aqsa Intifada. Until North Sea oil slickened their image and swollened their purses, they were viewed as plodding, dull, vaguely loveable farmers and hardworking fisherfolk. Transmogrified by riches, they have become caricatures of good intentions pursuing a slow learning curve.
Their less insular cousins, the Danes, have been under the gun ever since September 30, 2005 when the Jyllands-Posten published a clever cartoon featuring an uninspiring Mohammed-the-Prophet. It would have passed unnoticed by the greater world, of course, did not radical Islamicists choreograph global fury. In mid-August of the following year, as Hizbullah was lobbing packets of terror and death into the streets of Kiryat Shemoneh, Metulla, and Haifa, a Danish court convicted the spokesman of the Copenhagen chapter of Hizb-ut-Abdullatif, a radical Islamic coven, to three months in prison for distributing leaflets that urged Moslems “to eliminate” government officials who thwarted their efforts on behalf of the Iraq insurgency and for violating anti-racism laws by promoting on the group’s website the murder of Jews.
But then, among Northern Europeans, the Danes have long been singular. More than half-a-century afterward, they still bask in the afterglow of the splendid behavior of their king and overwhelming majority of their citizenry. A German officer’s tip of an impending roundup of their Jewish neighbors spontaneously fomented a conspiracy that embraced virtually the entire Danish populace. In August of 1943, acting with adroitness and dispatch and under cover of darkness, they transported nearly the entire Danish Jewish population of 6,000 by sea to the safety of neutral Sweden. So much is celebrated. Less well-known is the motivation. For the Danes, it was a straightforward matter: Danish Jews were viewed as fellow Danes in distress. Like the Bulgarians who acted exemplarily in a parallel situation, the plucky Danes did not extend their humanitarianism to the unfortunate Polish or Russian Jews who happened to be trapped on their soil. Nevertheless, all things considered, Denmark and the Danes are still viewed by Israelis in a gracious light.
And then there is Sweden, constrained by its posture of official neutrality in 1943 to receive, however half-heartedly, those Danish Jews as less than desirable guests for the duration of the conflict. But then, whereas the myopic Danes viewed them as Danes, their blue-eyed cousins saw them as they really were…JUDEN. Sweden too still acts and performs on the world’s stage in the light of its temporizing role during World War II. Yet it relishes its self-appointed role as moral arbiter in the world of affairs. The perfect neutral. Yet excluding not even calculating Switzerland and feckless Austria, Sweden, haunt of the climatic syndrome that engenders lethal depression, bears the most unreckoned conscience in all of Europe.
On May 8, 2007, following the example of statesmen in neighboring countries France and the Netherlands, upon the publication of government-sponsored report entitled “Submissive Europe,” Belgium’s Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt apologized to his country’s Jewish community for his country’s involvement in the deportation of Jews to extermination camps during World War II. There is not the slightest sign that any Swedish politician is ready or willing to consider the implications or to apologize for the wartime sins of “Submissive Sweden.”
Sweden emerged from that war not only physically unscathed but also much enriched. In fact, Sweden is a virtual byword for opportunism. Contravening the Hague Convention governing the behavior of declared neutral states, until late in 1942 it readily granted permission for German troops to be transported over its terrain. For years neutral Sweden acted, in fact, obsequiously to the advantage of the Nazi regime; only after Stalingrad and the Allied landings in North Africa did the Swedes, pursuing the main chance, stealthily but tangibly tilt their “neutrality” in favor of the Allies.
Today this moral giant of the North, still much vexedby JUDEN, continues to play its patented role on the world’s stage. No hypocrites, these Swedes. Indeed, thanks to its virulently outspoken animus against the Jewish State, Sweden, in sharp contrast to Denmark, has richly earned its reputation of unabashed antisemitism. Indeed, out-pointing even its Baltic neighbor Lithuania, Sweden should award itself this year’s Ignoble Prize as the most shamelessly anti-Jewish polity in the Western world.
If the clandestine Oslo Accords, in 1993 negotiated out of the spotlight, fostered a wan hope for peace, an illusion which Israel’s enemies knew brilliantly to exploit, five years earlier Sweden was the inescapable venue for the media spectacle that brought Yassir Arafat to a conference table to gambol with “the Stockholm Five.” Remember them? An economist, a Princeton history professor, two women administrators from the International Center for Peace in the Middle East, and, astonishingly, the president of the American branch of the Labor Zionist Alliance. This quintet of self-appointed, arrogant interlopers from the American Jewish scene, without authorization from any official Israeli or American governmental agency, in the full glare of publicity and with the approbation of their Swedish hosts, proceeded “to negotiate” minimal terms which might theoretically enable the PLO to meet conditions set by the United States for recognition as a legitimate “partner” in the quest for peace. The cost: Arafat’s hollow, halfhearted recognition of the State of Israel. No matter how wacky or clownish the occasion, if it placate the Palestinians, hence the Arab world, Swedes habitually elbow themselves to first in the European queue to oblige.
Even before Hizbullah’s mid-summer incursion over Israel’s northern border brought on a month of death and destruction in both Lebanon and Israel, 2006 dished up a spate of nauseating news from the Social Democratic wonderland. Early in April, the Swedish Chancellor of Justice quashed an investigation into repeated, loud cries of KILL OF JEWS emanating from Stockholm’s Grand Mosque. Such sentiments, Chancellor Göran Lambertz dispassionately articulated, should be interpreted only “against the background of the conflict in the Middle East.” Meaning? They are intelligible, comprehensible, indeed quite justifiable.
The contrast between the Swedish way of responding to incitement to murder contemporary Jews and the Danish approach is instructive. In May, disregarding the EU’s designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization, Thomas Bodström, Sweden’s Minister of Justice, outdid his Chancellor by granting permission to enable Hamas leader Salah Muhammad al-Bardawil to visit the country. Not to be outdone by his two colleagues, in June Cabinet Secretary Hans Dahlgren announced Sweden’s withdrawal from a European peacekeeping exercise because, he averred, “the participation of the Israeli Air Force has changed the prerequisites of the exercise.” In case anyone missed the point, Defense Minister Leni Björklund dropped every pretense of maintaining a diplomatic facade: “Israel,” she announced, is the kind of state that should “not participate in international peacekeeping missions.” In short, it was a country of aggressive, if not obnoxious people, a pariah state which should be held at arm’s length by all genuinely, peace-loving, civilized Europeans.
Today, of course, the icy-veined Northerners warm neither to their own Jewish citizenry nor to the nasty, tiresome, illegitimate little “homeland” the Jews have carved for themselves in the Middle East. Sweden’s estimated 16,000 Jews, many of them descended from the 6,000 Jews deposited after dark by Danish fishing boats, are dwarfed by an estimated 400,000 Muslims who have flocked to the Swedish corridor. That 2006 just happened to be an election year seems hardly coincidental. Nevertheless, there are considerable grounds to believe that Swedish antisemitism rests upon more than merely canny political calculation. On the contrary, antisemitism in Sweden is grounded upon indigenous, sincere, deeply felt conviction that many highly principled Swedes hold dear. Taking advantage of its proximity to Germany, which bans blatantly antisemitic material, Sweden’s second city Gothenburg, a center teeming with enterprising entrepreneurs, has long been perhaps the major purveyor of the most salacious sort of antisemitic rot to be produced on the European continent. There is, after all, a good buck to made from garbage.
Outweighing its innate distaste for Jews, for a number of years Sweden entrepreneurial reach has extended even to the Jewish homeland. Netanya is a seaside city of 175,000 whose beaches and hotels attract many tourists, of late principally Jews from France. It also attracts a steady stream of serious students because it is home to what is widely regarded as Israel’s most effective ULPAN for improving one’s facility with Hebrew. Because the city spreads north and south like an inkblot along the coast precisely where svelte Israel’s waistline tapers most dramatically–barely eight miles’ from Palestinian population centers–Netanya also gets visited with disturbing frequency by Palestinian terrorists. It is, in fact, best known to the world as the site of the heinous massacre of thirty guests (among hundreds of injured) who in 2002 were celebrating the Passover seder at the Park Hotel.
Among Israelis, however, who feverishly pursue the elusive dream of living out their lives as “a normal people in a normal land,” Netanya has for several years exuded a special cachet: on its outskirts sprawls the country’s only outlet of IKEA, the Swedish furniture octopus. On any given day perhaps 30,000 Israelis, pursuing the human, indeed humane dream of “normality,” glide down its wide aisles to savor the panache of advanced design in bookcases, kitchen stools, toilet seats, and umbrella stands. IKEA is a bazaar with pizzazz, an agent of globalization that makes provincial Wal-Mart, whose shadow has not yet been cast over the Land of the Bible, seem even more dowdy than it is. Shopping a la Suède is a cipher for normality. For the local soul, IKEA sells not only thoroughly contemporary merchandise but an environment that spells reassurance.
Some ten months ago, good-naturedly yielding to transparent wiles, I made my first and last descent into Israel’s first and only IKEA. After a leisurely breakfast, my wife announced that she REALLY would like to check out what IKEA had to offer in the way of a comfortable reading chair and a floor lamp. Sensing how churlish it would have been to gainsay her appeal, I magnanimously capitulated. “But no more than an hour,” I avowed. “I won’t stay a minute longer.”
For fifty-eight minutes, sprinting along wide aisles like runways and passing beguiling displays of (I had to grant) reasonably stylish, moderately priced, home furnishings, I kept up with my good wife. The upshot? I am composing these lines by the light of a sturdy, handsome, freestanding lamp with an enviably adjustable neck, a lighthouse in the dark that, following the enclosed instructions, my wife cobbled together in twenty minutes. And so why cannot I contain my bile? At the very least, why cannot I behave like a satisfied consumer of modernity at the Swedish-on-the-Med emporium of good design? Because in addition to reaping material benefits as they did from exporting iron ore to any combatants with the cash to pay during World War II, the Swedes seem have grander designs on our little pariah state. Indeed, like Charles Lindbergh in Philip Roth’s penultimate fiction, hand in glove with their Hamas penpals they seem to have hatched a fiendishly cunning plot to undermine whatever remains of Israel’s frayed inner fabric. Pay close heed as, paranoia-driven, I spell out its dimensions.
Rishon le-Zion, which sits south of Tel Aviv, is somewhat larger than Netanya. In July of 2006, an item in the regional section of the Friday paper proclaimed “Rishon Merchants anti-IKEA.” Ah HAH! Newfound allies? But why so? The Scandinavian giant had announced that it was purchasing 250 acres of industrially zoned land on the outskirts of the city to construct “IKEA Village,” a consumer theme park projected to be three times larger than IKEA’s mammoth depot in Netanya. Around 75,000 customers a day are anticipated. Rishon merchants fear, not without reason, that, in the manner of Wal-Mart’s coast-to-coast carpet-bombing of America, IKEA Village would sound a death knell to the commercial life their city’s downtown.
And how came it to be that IKEA was able to purchase an industrially zoned lot at a relatively low price? Any savvy Israeli could conjure up the arrangement. In return for some sort of consideration, IKEA surely received prior assurances from Rishon’s Planning Commission that in due course it would rezone that parcel from industrial to choicer commercial purposes. Who, after all, knows better than the Swedes about Jewish cupidity? In any event, the local merchants have hired themselves a lawyer to block the deal, but, with such major interests in the balance, the likelihood of his prevailing is not high.
Sweden today exercises a measure of gratuitous malice toward Jews so abundant and spontaneous that it evokes nothing less than the epiphany of Elizabeth Costello, world-weary protagonist of J. M. Coetzee’s eponymous novel. Abruptly, her consciousness purchased access to the obscene agency of evil in the world. Those stylish Swedes not only dis Jews and trash Israel at every opportunity, but they simultaneously have found a means to undermine both the wellbeing of Israel’s homegrown economy and the watery ethics of its local politicians. What’s to be done? As I say, last night I dreamed a dream, a violent one of wreckage and devastation. All very symbolic, of course, but, as someone once said, if we will it, it will be no mere dream.
No one will be pointing a gun at the heads of those 75,000 Israelis who, in all likelihood, will one day soon be maneuvering their cars around the vastness of IKEA Village’s parking lot. There is no need. IKEA’s aura appeals to the cocoanut milk sloshing in the interstices of the Israeli soul, the hidden complement to its prickly outer surface. The company’s slick, calculating directors have good grounds for feeling confident. If they build it, the sheep they privately loathe and their government publicly defames will surely flock. And spend their good time. And spend their Jewish money.
Surprisingly, in recent months the Swedish electorate ended the sixteen-year domination of knee-jerking despisers of Israel. Good riddance to outstanding Social-Democratic Jew-haters of the caliber of Lambertz, Bodström, Dahlgren, and Björklund, victims and embracers of the most notorious of endemic Swedish disorders. But only time will tell whether the new Conservative government falls prey to this pernicious Stockholm syndrome or whether it manages to behave more responsibly.
Grounds for optimism are slight. Since Hizbullah cannot be relied upon to accommodate my delicious fantasy, the question is, could enough of us Israelis exercise our vaunted abnormality, indeed our infamous exceptionalism, to resist Viking penetration of either our psyche or our consumer economy? A straw in the wind: Israelis turned collective thumbs down on Starbucks. The odds may be long, but, between the motion and the act, could we not yet fashion an imaginative, assertive rebuff to IKEA that would prove the bastards wrong?
HAIM CHERTOK is a writer who has lived in Israel since 1976. His current book is HE ALSO SPOKE AS A JEW: THE LIFE OF JAMES PARKES: Vallentine Mitchell, London and Portland, Website www.vmbooks.