In Memoriam: Per Ahlmark

By June 25, 2018

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Per Ahlmark (January 15, 1939-June 8, 2018), a poet and essayist, was former Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden, former President of the Swedish Liberal Party, and founder of the Swedish Committee against anti-Semitism. He was one of the greatest friends of Israel in years when very few European leaders – let alone Scandinavian ones – were willing to identify with the country.

This Swedish politician and writer was a member of the Swedish Parliament from 1967-1978 on behalf of the Liberal’s Peoples Party. He led the party from 1975-1978. Ahlmark was the Swedish Minister of Labor and Deputy Prime Minister from 1976 to 1978.

In 2004, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) instituted the Jan Karski Award in memory of this exceptionally brave Polish resistance fighter. The first recipient of this award was Ahlmark. When presenting the award, the Executive Director of the AJC, David Harris, said: “No one I know comes closer to embodying the spirit, the courage, and the commitment of Jan Karski than our honoree today.”

Harris added that Ahlmark had “devoted his life, his every waking moment to the very same values that defined Jan Karski.” He mentioned on that occasion that Ahlmark had visited Israel 70 times. When Israel was assaulted by missile attacks from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq during the Gulf Crisis of 1990-91, Ahlmark flew to the country and stayed for weeks. He said Israel was the only place in the world where he wanted to be.

Ahlmark was also active in the campaign for Soviet Jewry and many other pro-Israeli and pro-Jewish issues. One of his functions was as co-Chair of the NGO UN Watch.

In his 2004 Swedish book – the title of which (Det ar demokratin dumbom) translates to “It’s Democracy, Stupid!” – Ahlmark showed that he understood how anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism were linked. He wrote: “Anti-Zionism today has become very similar to anti-Semitism. Anti-Zionists accept the right of other peoples to national feelings and defensible state. But they reject the right of the Jewish people to have its national consciousness expressed in the state of Israel and to make that state secure. Thus, they
are not judging Israel with the values used to judge other countries. Such discrimination against Jews is called anti-Semitism.”

I interviewed Ahlmark in 2004 when he came to Israel to attend a conference at Yad Vashem. That interview is published here for the first time.

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Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld (Ph.D. Amsterdam University) is former Chairman of the Steering Committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He specializes in Israeli-Western Europe relations, anti-Semitism, and anti-Zionism. Email: [email protected]