Last Friday afternoon, a beautiful just-before-summer day in Israel: the setting: the delightful ambassadorial residence of His Excellency Carl Magnus Nesser, Ambassador of Sweden to the State of Israel. The purpose: to celebrate Sweden’s National Day (which is actually on the 6th June – the next day). The guests: decked out in summer finery and representing the Diplomatic Corps and the cream of Israeli society and commerce. A recipe for a wonderful meeting, and so it turned out.
Ambassador and Mrs. Nesser welcomed their guests with charm and warmth, accompanied on the receiving line by Col. Björn Blomberg, Sweden’s defense attaché in Israel. Guests mingled easily as drinks were served and an attractive buffet lunch invited them to partake. As I chatted pleasantly with Michael Storm and Marie Ericson, both working in Ramallah and representing Sweden on EUPOLCOPPS (a united effort to raise the Palestinian police to western standards), Michael suggested that I try “the typically Swedish herrings” from the buffet. “Comfort food” comes in surprising places. The pickled herring, the herring in mustard, the tomato herring, herring in cream sauce, marinated herring – it all reminded me of my family’s delicious Jewish traditional delicacies, and I am not Swedish. For non-herring fans, the generous buffet included many salads, smoked salmon, beef, fresh and roasted vegetables, sushi and more. Nobody went hungry, especially after the tables were cleared and desserts (including summer ice lollipops) appeared.
In his welcome address to the gathering, Ambassador Nesser explained the significance of the day and some of Sweden’s history, remaking that: “… those of us who studied and remember a bit of history are thankful that peace has reigned in our land for so long. And that our erstwhile rivals are now our closest friends”. He followed his comments concerning rivalry and friends with mention of the conflicts in the Middle East and Sweden’s grand efforts to bring peace to still-antagonistic foes in so many M.E. areas, including the Palestinian Authority and Israel. “As Europeans, neighbors and friends, supporting peace here remains a priority.”
Ambassador Nesser touched on the economic ties between Sweden and Israel, noting that Israel is listed as one of Sweden’s priority markets for trade promotion.
The Ambassador paid tribute – with an engaging touch of humor – to the Swedish commercial companies that provided generous support to the embassy, including SKF, ABB, SSAB, H&M, Volvo, AstraZeneca, Swedish Orient Line, Ericsson and SAS, the Scandinavian airline, which also donated airline tickets to Sweden as the prize in an ingenious competition – guests were invited to answer 8 questions about Sweden to win the prize.
Invitees were pleasantly surprised to hear Ambassador Nesser add a brief word of thanks – in Hebrew – to the government of Israel. Back in English he made special mention of, and thanked, the staff of the embassy for their efforts at making the reception such a success.
Responding on behalf of the State of Israel, Deputy Minister of Education, MK Rabbi Meir Porush congratulated the King of Sweden on the occasion of the country’s National Day, and also congratulated Sweden on its success in the very recent Eurovision contest (first place).
The Minister referred to Sweden’s peaceful past 200 years but also to Raoul Wallenberg, Sweden’s special envoy in Budapest in 1944. “I would like to take a moment to praise his heroic actions. Raoul did much to save the Jews of Hungary from the Germans and the fascist Hungarian regime. He was responsible for the rescue of more than 100,000 Jews, granting them Swedish travel documents or housing them in extraterritorial Swedish buildings in Budapest. In this way, he prevented the deportation of thousands to Auschwitz.
“The State of Israel has honored Raoul Wallenberg with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. He will forever be remembered as a man who tied his fate to the Jewish people, and his name is engrained in the collective memory of Jews
across Israel and throughout the world”.
Rabbi Porush made mention of the excellent economic ties between the two countries, and of Sweden’s popularity in Israel. “Sweden’s successful health and education policies, which ensure the wellbeing of its citizens, serve as a model for the world”. However, The Israeli MK did not omit to mention the unfortunate aspects of Swedish-Israel bilateral relations: “In Israel’s early years, we shared many common visions for the future, while lately, Sweden has taken steps that have cast a shadow over the relations between us and caused some discomfort in Israel. Despite this, there exists – on both sides – the will to keep our bilateral relations normal, to continue strengthening the economic and trade cooperation between us, and to further promote exchanges in the fields of culture and science”.
In conclusion he wished his Majesty the King of Sweden, the government, and the Swedish people good health and long life, prosperity and success in the coming years.
The formalities ended with a rendition of the Swedish national anthem, followed by the anthem of Israel, presented beautifully by Ms. Keren Eilenberg.
Amongst the distinguished guests were: David Castel, Consul of Sweden in Haifa and President of the Chamber of Commerce of Haifa and the North, Eva Taylor, the Ambassador’s personal assistant, Susanne Millner, Special Adviser for Culture and Public Diplomacy of the Finnish Embassy, Meir Shai of ABB Technologies Ltd, Prof. Michael Levitt, (Nobel Prize laureate, chemistry 2013), Silvia Golan, Executive Director of www.diplomacy.co.il and Eva Yaron, tour guide/emergency evacuation expert for the Swedish Embassy in Israel.
Another special guest was Israeli author Dror Mishani who has published several works based on Swedish crime fiction. “I read Swedish crime novels as my inspiration”, he told your Diplomacy correspondent. Ambassador Nesser presented Mishani with a special award from the Swedish Academy of Detective Fiction, for his novel “The Missing File”. Not bad for an Israeli author.
Sweden and Israel are poles apart, but you couldn’t tell from the way guests mingled. Diplomacy? Yes. But not without the genuine feeling of warmth and friendship engendered by Ambassador Nesser and his charming wife Maria.
Photos Silvia Golan