Intellectuals in Scandinavia have long aligned themselves with Hamas and the Palestinians against the state of Israel. The luminaries of the Swedish Church (Svenska kyrkan) are no exception, and the animosity against Israel has ratcheted up in recent years.
How hostility to Israel rose up in the churches
Gunnar Hyltén-Cavallius has read Johan Sundeen’s report of the opinions hostile to Israel within, among other organizations, the Swedish Church. Hyltén-Cavallius concludes that in order to understand how the earlier friendly attitude to the State of Israel could change to one directly hostile, Sundeen’s report constitutes an inevitable fundamental building block.
In recent times anti-Semitism has been debated more and more. Investigations point out the Jews in our country are living with increasing insecurity, especially the situation in Malmö, which has received special attention.
Recently a scientific report has been published whose focus is a previously strong feeling of friendship for Israel, which has come to be replaced by pronounced criticism. The Ecumenical Clapham Institute has an ongoing research project within the framework “Israel and Faith Communities”. Johan Sundeen, professor of history of ideas, has now issued the project’s first report: “When theology became 68 ideology. Establishment of a hostile opinion (against) Israel within Swedish Christianity, 1967-1982.”
The dust jacket drawing speaks its own language: A Swedish bishop, in full vestment, holds the Palestinian flag like a crosier. He sticks an Israeli flag down behind him (in the sand, the snow?)
For years ago, when Sundeen published his ground-breaking study “68-Church”, he focused less on the complex problem of Israel and Palestinians. One reason for this was that the book would have been more extensive. Perhaps, this deficiency was for the good, for now, Sundeen has been able to return and examine this many-faceted and controversial question.
The preface is by Annika Borg, Doctor of Theology and a priest. She believes that research that investigates and exposes the imaginary worlds that give rise to and spread anti-Semitic ideas is not just a scientific task, but is “crucial for the development of society” as well.
In the introduction Sundeen refers to a debate in Expressen during the late summer of 2020 when the Swedish Church’s relationship with Islamist organizations was discussed. The columnist Susanna Birgersson had pointed out that many churches “designate Israel as the world’s villain, among them, the Swedish Church”. This was quickly denied by the Church’s headquarters in Uppsala. The Israeli ambassador Ilan Ben Dov claimed in a subsequent post that the policy of the Swedish Church toward Israel often seemed “more polarizing than that which has its origin in the Arab world.” (Expressen August 30 2020, September 1 2020, and September 9 2020).
Questions about the building of relationships in the Islamist direction and hostility toward Israel are closely related, claims Sundeen. Anti-Semitism is a key component in both cases. Critics from several quarters believe that Archbishop Antje Jackelen, in her endeavors for deeper religious dialogue, has allied herself with fundamentalist forces.
Johan Sundeen, who launched the term “68-Church”, places anti-Israel opinion in a historical context of ideas with a leftist twist by Swedish Christianity. In his sources he has been able to expose agenda-setting, personal networks with roots in radical Christian student circles in the 1960s and ‘70s. Other opinion makers regarding the changed image of Israel are, according to Sundeen, “the Social Democrat center, like SSU, but especially the Muslim Brotherhood movement, and presently the Social Democrats for Faith and Solidarity. It would be beneficial to do in-depth research into this side organization (S), I mean so that the pattern is clarified for much of what has emerged from the Church and Free Church.”
Key persons in the swing in opinion against Israel are the Uppsala theologian Sigbert Axelson, a pastor in the Mission Association, and Carl-Henric Grenholm, a professor of ethics. Sundeen writes: “Generations of Swedish Church priests have been under the direct influence of university teachers with political sympathies far to the left and with a particularly negative view of the State of Israel.”
The fight for the Palestinians’ cause is one part of the Left’s conflict against the Western world, the USA, and capitalism. Israel is seen in the context of a USA in miniature, a racist state, now and then with comparisons between the Zionist state and Third Reich Nazis. In the progressive student publication Kristet Forum (Christian Forum), Per Eric Sandström takes Free Church pastors who led Israel trips in disguise, likening them to narcotic dealers.
It is not just the commitment to the militarily weaker party, the Palestinians, which explains the animosity to Jews and the State of Israel. Sundeen points to an anti-Semitic current within Marxism. The main source of historical ideas here is Karl Marx’ writing, “On Jewish Questions.”
At the dividing line between ideology and theology in Christian anti-Zionism, ideology weighs heaviest, claims Sundeen. It is in the political that man observes the greatest commitment. The following is a review of an article by Jim Walch in the anthology, “Israel — the lost country” (1970):
“His article is an ideal, typical example of a studied, anti-transcendent, secularized Christianity. In a Utopian spirit, he imagines images of God’s Kingdom on Earth, a Happyland, where righteousness dwells… For the good to win, the evil must be first removed.”
In summary, to first understand how a previous Israel-friendly compact in Swedish Christianity could be replaced by its opposite, Johan Sundeen’s study is of the greatest value.
Priest emeritus, Theologian
Author: Stream became a River: Network around 68-Church, and Inter Nos magazine in Lund.