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Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, January 19, 2004
 

Surely Swedes won't kow-tow on vandal 'Ambassador'?


Looks to me like a pre-planned stunt.

When, exactly, did un-diplomat Zvi Mazel learn of the exhibit he vandalised? In particular, did he know about its existence and what it represented before he saw it in person?

Because, though I've not done the proverbial Nexis dump, what I'm reading suggests that the meaning of the work - as is not uncommon with modern art - is not immediately apparent from afar.

From this photo (hard to be certain, obviously), all there is is - no more than a metre tall, probably less - a photo of the face of the terrorist Hanadi Jaradat stuck on the sail of a toy boat.

What one needs here is 5Ws work on the precise circumstances in which Mazel approached the work - was he on his own, for instance, or talking to colleagues? Did he walk directly to the exhibit, or pass by it? Was he facing the image on the sail as he approached?

There is, it seems a tape of Mazel's destructive activities, presumably from the Museum of National Antiquities security cameras. And, no doubt, a good many eye witnesses. Plenty of scope for actual journalism to figure out what happened.

The fact that the Israeli government seems to have been not at all fazed by this extraordinary action by one of its ambassadors - and was ready not only to leap to his defence, but to tell the Swedish government to remove the piece forthwith - rather suggests a planned operation.

Couple this with the fact that there is a conference Stockholm International Forum -- Preventing Genocide coming up later in the month. The Israelis have evidently ensured the exclusion of any Palestinian delegation, and are supposedly
saying that with the exhibit, Stockholm had broken a promise to Israel that the conflict in the Middle East would not be raised during the conference...the secretary general of the conference, Krister Kumlin, said no such agreement existed

The evidence - skimpy though it is, without the necessary 5Ws information - tends to suggest that the Mazel vandalism was a deliberate provocation by GOI - of a piece with its campaign against the EU for supposed laxness on anti-semitism - to place pressure on European governments to keep their own counsel on the Israel-Palestine question.

According to a Ha'aretz article, the Israeli Foreign Ministry is briefing that the Swedes are
considering issuing a conciliatory note to bring to an end the crisis
and the piece says that
Jerusalem, in any case, is as interested as Sweden in seeing the episode closed, and will be satisfied with an appropriately conciliatory statement by Sweden, to enable the Israeli delegation to attend the conference as planned

Already, the Swedish ambassador in Israel, is assuming the position - and not only on GOI say-so:
Rydberg expressed regret about the incident and hope that Israel does not boycott the event, and called the affair a "misunderstanding."

Is that on instructions from Stockholm? Is that from senior government ministers, or from Foreign Ministry bureaucrats worried about the brownie-points they'll lose if the Israelis pull out of their conference?

The truculence on the GOI side can be judged by this aperçu from Likud Public Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, who, according to the Ha'aretz piece,
said that the Israeli ambassador should be awarded a citation for intentionally damaging the artwork.

"If there is a situation in which an ambassador should act in an undiplomatic manner, this is it," the Likud minister said, adding that he was "proud of the ambassador."...This is the ambassador's duty, and in [Sunday's] government meeting I will call for him to be awarded a special citation for his actions, even if they were extreme," the minister said [1].


Where is Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson? A firm political response is clearly required, first and foremost, to investigate all aspects (the diplomacy as well as the yobbery): if, indeed, the facts of the Mazel vandalism and the surrounding circumstances show it most likely to have been a means of affecting the outcome of the upcoming conference, or more generally, wrong-footing European diplomacy on the Middle East, the Swedes surely have to ask GOI to recall Mazel forthwith.

That would be a proportionate response, both to the oafish behaviour of the man (oafish for a purpose, we're saying); and as an indication that there were limits to the toleration of Israeli exceptionalism in the international arena.

The sheer un-diplomacy of the stunt also gives cover to put USG on the spot: the State Department, I suspect, would be reluctant to echo Ariel Sharon's full-throated praise for the marauding Mazel. And the fact that it is a relative minnow - Sweden - and not one of the Axis of Weasels or (like, say, Belgium) a known Weasel camp-follower - makes it harder for USG to take reprisals for its discomfiture.

Not - perhaps - since the days of Gustavus Adolphus has Sweden had the chance for such a striking diplomatic coup. Not for a good long while, in any case.

At the very least, they should can that damned conciliatory statement...

  1. Older British readers may recall that the former leader of Likud, Menachem Begin, was one of those responsible for a little vigorous art criticism of his own over at Jerusalem's King David Hotel on July 22 1946. Placed in this perspective, Mazel was the consummate diplomat...


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