Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Antisemitism in Sweden 

Sweden accused of persecuting civil servant for pro-Israel views

By Cnaan Liphshiz
Wed., February 20, 2008 Adar1 14, 5768

An employee of the Swedish Migration Board sued the organization last month for what he considers unlawful demotion for his support of Israel and the U.S., which he expressed in his personal Web site. The parties met last week at the Goteborg District Court for a first hearing on the case.

Lennart Eriksson, 51, told Haaretz by phone that his boss, Eugene Palmer, had demoted him last September from the position of manager of an asylum assessment unit - which he had held for six years - to manager of one of the board's shelters. Eriksson maintains that in effect, the demotion constitutes dismissal.

The board - the government body handling immigrants - disagrees with this.

Eriksson, who is not Jewish, also said he viewed his demotion as a form of political persecution.

According to Eriksson, Palmer told him he had seen Eriksson's Web site and that Eriksson's views were both "unusual and controversial." According to Eriksson, Palmer told him he was being demoted because of the Web site, and that running such a site was inappropriate for a senior official of the migration board.

He said his site "does not and has never contained hateful or acrimonious ideas."

The board's press officer, Marie Andersson, said the board "strongly denies that it persecutes any of its employees." She added: "Under the Swedish Secrecy Act [Sekretesslagen], the board is not at liberty - and we do not find it appropriate either - to discuss one of our employees and the specifics of this particular case."

The board had confirmed in previous queries by the Swedish media that Eriksson had been "transferred" as a result of the opinions he expressed on his Web site. Andersson said the board finds it "crucial to preserve people's confidence in the organization."

This, she says, makes it essential "for employees to not show that they are in favor of one side in a conflict which leads people to seek refuge in Sweden." It is particularly important for staff in leading positions to "show impartiality," she said.

But Eriksson says that at least one of his former colleagues, Arne Malmgren, is a veteran pro-Palestinian activist working against human rights violations in the West Bank and Lebanon. Malmgren and his wife, Birgitta Elfstrom - who also worked at the board until retiring recently - are quoted in the international media in this context.

The board never approached Malmgren on this issue and has even recently promoted him, says Eriksson. Press officer Andersson would only say on this issue that "Mr. Malmgren has not been promoted to a position as head of any unit."

Israel's former ambassador to Sweden, Zvi Mazel, said he was not surprised by the incident.

"The people who fired Eriksson took the lead from a prevalent anti-Israel atmosphere in Sweden's corridors of power," he said. Dr. Mikael Tossavainen, a Swedish-born researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said he considered the incident a danger to free speech.

Upon hearing about the case, the vice chair of the Sweden-Israel Friendship Society, Ilya Meyer, launched a public campaign to raise awareness about what he calls political persecution apparent in Eriksson's case.

"If someone from another country had suffered the treatment to which Eriksson has been subjected, the victim would be granted political asylum in Sweden on the grounds of political persecution," Meyer said.

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