The leader of Sweden’s largest ruling party the Sweden Democrats and three of his closest colleagues are on an unofficial visit to Israel – a visit that was not announced in advance.
“In addition to deepening our relations with the Israeli government and Israeli civil society, we are here to show our support for Israel in a difficult time”, said Jimmie Åkesson himself.
It was Bonnier’s Expressen newspaper that first reported that Åkesson and the party’s parliamentary leader Linda Lindberg, foreign affairs committee chairman Aron Emilsson and MEP Charlie Weimers were in Israel at the invitation of the Likud’s Council for International Relations.
While in Israel, Åkesson will visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum during the day – but the visit has not been publicly announced in advance.
– Jimmie Åkesson is here today. It is an unofficial visit, not coordinated with our Foreign Ministry. He is free to visit Yad Vashem, as is anyone who comes to Israel. He registered for a tour online on our website, said Simmy Allen, a spokesman for Yad Vashem.
Israeli opinions divided
Although the Council for International Relations is part of the ruling Likud party, Mr. Åkesson’s visit should not be seen as an official Israeli invitation to the party.
– Our policy towards the SD has not changed. We are not meeting with them. I have no information about a visit, it is not coordinated by the Foreign Ministry, says Lior Haiat, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
Israel’s ambassador to Sweden, Zig Nevo Kulman, has previously said that Israel does not want any contact “with the SD or similar parties in Europe with a clear neo-Nazi background”.
However, Michael Kleiner, a legal expert for the Likud, believes that the SD should be officially welcomed – as the party is perceived as very pro-Israel.
– Israel is making a mistake by boycotting the SD. It is in Israel’s interest to have contact with pro-Israel parties, he says.
Wants to get closer to Netanyahu
After his trip was announced, Åkesson wrote on Facebook that he was there to strengthen the SD’s ties with Netanyahu’s government and to support the country in its war against Hamas.
“In addition to deepening our relations with the Israeli government and Israeli civil society, we are here to show our support for Israel in a difficult time. Among other things, we will discuss the ongoing war against the Hamas terrorist organization, the humanitarian situation in Gaza, the release of hostages and the possibility of a temporary cease-fire”, he writes.
SD leaders Richard Jomshof and Charlie Weimer have visited Israel before – they also visited the Holocaust Museum, and even then the trip was shrouded in secrecy. Several Israeli parliamentarians also canceled their meetings with the Swedish politicians – or demanded anonymity.