The European Palestinians Conference, held in Malmö, Sweden on May 27, had clear and strong connections with Hamas, including through conference chairman Amin Abu Rashid. Before the conference, it was reported that several members of parliament (MPs) from Sweden's Green Party, Left Party and Social Democratic Party would be participating in the conference.
When the Swedish media wrote about the connection between the European Palestinians Conference and Hamas, however, MPs, one by one, began withdrawing from the conference -- although, notably, without distancing themselves from Hamas.
Jakob Risberg, MP for the Green Party, who had planned to participate in the conference, wrote on social media that his refusal was due to the fact that "a number of Palestinian organizations and agencies have criticized the conference and there is too much obscurity in who is participating and whom they represent."
Håkan Svenneling, foreign policy spokesperson for the Left Party, who had planned to attend the conference, wrote on Twitter that "the intra-Palestinian division in the view of the conference and uncertainty about personal connections got in the way. We continue to work for peace, a free Palestine, for an end to the occupation."
As Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization within the European Union and therefore also within Sweden, it would of course be embarrassing for these gentlemen to admit that they were prepared to participate in a conference with connections to Hamas, and that they only refrained because of negative media attention.
The MP who did not withdraw, and through his participation in the conference created headlines both in Sweden and abroad, was Social Democratic Party MP Jamal El-Haj, who represents Malmö in parliament. El-Haj, who has Palestinian roots, has sat in parliament since 2016, and has a history of repulsive statements and activism concerning the Israel-Palestine issue.
In 2018, El-Haj said in an interview, totally incorrectly, that Israel is an apartheid state that engages in ethnic cleansing. Despite this statement, the Social Democrats placed him on the parliament's foreign affairs committee, where he has sat since 2018. Even after El-Haj's participation in the Hamas conference, he has been allowed to remain on the foreign affairs committee, which shows just how high the Social Democrats' tolerance level for extremists is.
El-Haj has not made the situation easier for his party after this scandal. He actually defended his participation. In a social media post, he wrote:
"This conference is about my mother's right to return to her home in Palestine. There is nothing in the world that can make me give up such a dream".
What was left out, of course, is that the Arabs who stayed in Israel in 1948, and now number nearly two million, are still in their homes, with Israeli citizenship and equal rights. What took place was that five Arab armies attacked Israel on the day of its birth — and lost. The Arabs who fled during the conflict were perceived by the people in Israel who had not fled as disloyal fifth columnists, who had declined to stay and protect the country alongside them. Therefore, after the war, those Arabs were not allowed back. These are now known as Palestinians.
It is important to be aware, in this context, that El-Haj is a vote-magnet for the Social Democrats in Malmö. That advantage is due to the large Arab population there, as well as to his anti-Israel commitment. Some of the most common countries of origin for immigrants in Malmö are Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. The city also holds an annual Arab film festival that is financed by the municipality. In the 2022 parliamentary election, El-Haj received the second-most votes among Social Democrat candidates in Malmö. In the election before that, in 2018, El-Haj had most votes among Social Democrat candidates in Malmö.
The Social Democrats' close relationship with Islamists has long been criticized in Sweden. There has been justification for the criticism. An agreement between the Social Democrats and Sweden's Muslim Council, written in 1999 but only revealed in 2014, showed that the Social Democrats had promised the council that Muslims would have greater influence in politics through more seats at local, regional and national levels. Sweden's Muslim Council is an umbrella organization for several organizations that have connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, such as Islamic Relief in Sweden.
This criticism of the Social Democrats, which has long existed against, is now fueled by the fact that they are not distancing themselves from their MP who legitimizes the Islamist terrorist organization Hamas.
This also cements the image of the patron-client relationship that the Social Democrats in Malmö have with large parts of the Arab population, where the party set aside taxpayer funds for various events such as the Arab film festival, Islamic Eid celebrations and promoting politicians from an Arab background, in order to then collect votes from the Arab population and maintain power in the city, which the Social Democrats have now done for almost 30 years. An example of this is how the Social Democrats in the Arab-dominated Malmö district of Rosengård get more than 40% of the vote. Despite the area's major social problems and widespread unemployment, the Arab residents largely continue to vote for the party that has governed the city for almost 30 years.
This dependency, which the Social Democrats have cultivated from the Arab and Muslim population, has been eroding general confidence in the party. If the Social Democrats prioritize their patron-client relationship with Arabs and Muslims at all costs, then in the eyes of the non-Arab public, the Social Democrats become a party for Arabs and Muslims. This is a view that exists among many people in Sweden and pervades at least part of the criticism against the Social Democrats. Many in Sweden believe that the party is prepared to do anything for power.
Considering the problems Malmö has with anti-Semitism -- the city's Jews are slowly but surely leaving the city -- it is remarkable that the Social Democrats tolerate one of their most prominent representatives from Malmö taking part in a conference with connections to Hamas. It clearly shows that the Social Democrats are prepared to sacrifice the Jewish minority in Sweden to maintain their patron-client relationship with Arabs and Muslims.
Nima Gholam Ali Pour is a Member of the Swedish Parliament.