This is the story of how Ingmar Karlsson, a former top diplomat and a prominent member of Swedish society, has managed to get away with anti-Semitic forgeries - in a new book on Zionism - and his undemocratic attempts to silence critics. The story needs to be considered against the backdrop of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish prejudice in the country.
Readers may have heard of Malmö Mayor Ilmar Reepalu’s anti-Semitic statements and failure to control anti-Semitic sentiment within parts of town’s Muslim population. But extremist Muslims have little influence on society. Those involved directly or indirectly in this story, namely Karlsson’s publishers, the Foreign Ministry, the media, academia and leaders of public opinion do have a lot of influence.
When Reepalu falsely accused the Jewish community of being "infiltrated" by an ultranationalist party rooted in Nazism, or when his fellow Social Democrat in Malmö, Adrian Kaba, pens an op-ed professing his belief in a "Jewish-European right-wing extremist conspiracy," they do not endanger their positions.
Most of the time it is enough to replace "Jews" by "Israel" or "Zionism." The focus is on language rather than on the worldview that language communicates and which greatly influences political decisions as well as other types of action.
By contrast, it is practically impossible to publish analyses of how anti-Semitism is projected on the only country with a Jewish majority. Even one of Sweden’s most liberal editors felt the need to mention "Israel’s atrocities" in a piece on the French terrorist Mohamed Merah’s murderous anti-Semitism.
This atmosphere partly explains why the media has not pressured Karlsson, his publishers, the Foreign Ministry or his academic institution on the issues of his anti-Semitic forgery and his brazen attempts to silence critics.
Karlsson is a retired top diplomat who has twice received honorary doctorates. He is the author of several books, as well as senior fellow and board member of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the state University of Lund. The Center is partly sponsored by the Foreign Ministry, Karlsson’s former employer. His latest book supposedly covers the history of Zionism, including a “parallel state” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This solution is also promoted by the Center.
The book mysteriously lacks references. It is known that the title quote, "The bride is beautiful but she is married to another man," does not exist in any primary Zionist source. It is a plagiarism from Ghada Karmi’s book title "Married to another man." In 2010 Karmi admitted that the phrase, intended to imply that the Zionists were land thieves, was not based on facts. Despite obvious shortcomings, Karlsson’s book sells well and was well received by most critics, whereas others found it unbalanced, lacking in knowledge, historical context and malevolent. Exactly how scholarly Karlsson’s work is was not revealed in detail until recently by Torbjörn Jerlerup, a liberal anti-racist blogger.
Contrary to Karlsson’s work, Jerlerup’s findings are well documented. He shows beyond doubt that what Karlsson claims to be the actual words of leading Zionists are forgeries that anti-Semites spread across the internet. The forgeries point in the direction of Zionists being evil, so evil that they willingly sacrificed fellow Jews to anti-Semitism in order to reach their goal – a Jewish state.
For instance, Karlsson claims that Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, wrote the following in his diaries:
"It is essential that the sufferings of Jews become worse. This will assist in the realization of our plans. I have an excellent idea. I shall induce anti-Semites to liquidate Jewish wealth. The anti-Semites will assist us thereby in that they will strengthen the persecution and oppression of Jews. The anti-Semites shall be our best friends."
There is no such entry, neither in the German edition from 1922, nor in the complete English translation of Herzl’s diaries from 1960. The latter has an entry which shows that the first two sentences have been added and the rest of the alleged quote has been distorted so as to completely alter the message:
"It would be an excellent idea to call in respectable, accredited anti-Semites as liquidators of property. To the people they would vouch for the fact that we do not wish to bring about the impoverishment of the countries that we leave. At first they must not be given large fees for this; otherwise we shall spoil our instruments and make them despicable as 'stooges of the Jews'.
"Later their fees will increase, and in the end we shall have only Gentile officials in the countries from which we have emigrated. The anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies."
Herzl’s intention to handle the then present reality of anti-Semitism in order to avoid conflict is thus transformed into a vicious scheme. And so it goes on. The author’s purpose is clearly the elimination of the Jewish nation state, and his method is deceitful defamation of the Zionist mind and Zionist thinkers.
The reader who trusts him has to grapple with the anti-Jewish stereotype that the text invokes. There are plenty of other misquotes of Zionists such as Ben Gurion and Nahum Goldmann, usually found on anti-Semitic websites, that Karlsson uses liberally.
Furthermore, in two of his earlier books, Karlsson plagiarized other writers. His publishers, Wahlström & Widstrand, were informed of this at the time. Nevertheless, they published the book on Zionism without considering their own expert reviewer’s objections. The company trusted an unreliable author rather than a reliable reviewer - or they trusted the public to buy a lot of copies of an attractive (?) work of anti-Jewish fiction.
In addition to forgery and plagiarism, Karlsson has repeatedly used undemocratic methods to silence his critics, seemingly with “diplomatic immunity.”
Speaking on Radio Sweden about his book, Karlsson proposed "Arafat’s democracy" with "an Arab majority" as the preferable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Freelance journalist Anna Ekström mentioned that considering the level of anti-Semitism in the region, a Jewish minority in Palestine would be in danger of genocide.
Karlsson disapproved, accused her of defamation and asked for Ekström’s personal contact information. When her editors refused to share it, he spread the theory that she did not exist, but was a cover-name for a Zionist conspiracy.
A former Radio Sweden Middle East correspondent supported him, claiming that Karlsson’s critics were the marionettes of a leader of "the chosen people." In a follow-up interview by an ultranationalist racist publication, Karlsson said that he was looking for Ekström. Not unexpectedly, readers willingly assisted in the witch-hunt. The myth went viral on extremist sites and Ekström was threatened. Karlsson has not, however, sued Ekström for anything.
Karlsson accused several people, who defended her right not to be harassed by him, of being her or writing in her name. Ekström’s editors simply confirmed that she existed and used her own name. But otherwise the reaction in the media was feeble. The Swedish public had to go across the border to Norway for a proper analysis. In Dagens Naeringsliv, Bjoern Gabrielsen pointed out the danger that behavior like Karlsson’s poses to the freedom of the press, free speech and the right to personal security.
A few years ago, Karlsson tried another tactic. In 2004, when he was still Consul General in Istanbul, he demanded that Cecilia Malmström, now EU-commissioner, "eliminate" criticism of his book on Kurdistan by "ordering" her fellow liberals of Kurdish origin to issue a public apology. No such order was given.
One would think that Karlsson’s shadowy activities would be detrimental to his career. On the contrary, his most recent conspiracy theory earned him a seat on the board of The Swedish Writers’ Union. It had been reserved for another writer, Torbjörn Elensky. But a majority turned on Elensky when Karlsson implied that he was part of the "Ekström conspiracy,", the existence of which some members of the writers apparently found to be credible.
Now, more than a week after Jerlerup published his findings and sent his essay to Ingmar Karlsson, his publishers, Lund University, the Foreign Ministry and major Swedish newspapers, none of these key actors has reacted to what ought to be considered a scandal.
Lisa Abramowicz is the secretary general of the Swedish Israel Information Center