Swedish minister resigns after comparing Israel to Nazi Germany

Sweden's minister of housing Mehmet Güner Kaplan. © Joakim Berndes
Sweden`s housing minister has resigned after footage of him comparing the treatment of Palestinians by Israel to that of the Jews by the Nazis surfaced in local media. The politician has recently come under fire for his alleged ties to Turkish neo-fascist groups.

Mehmet Kaplan, a high-profile Swedish politician of Turkish origin and member of the Green party, was serving as a minister of Housing and Urban Development from 2014 until his resignation on Monday amid mounting controversy over his rumored close ties to the radical Turkish Islamist groups and his video interview from 2009 in which he says that “Israelis treat Palestinians in a way that is very like that in which Jews were treated during Germany in the 1930s.”

Although the statement about Israel`s policies towards Palestinians was made before Kaplan took office, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, from the Social Democrats, said that "Mehmet Kaplan's overall assessment of the situation is that he will not be able to act as a minister and I share that assessment," while announcing his resignation from the government.

The publication of the extract from his interview to Somali Star TV by the Svenska Dagbladet daily was the last straw that forced him out of his office.

Kaplan himself, however, denied that he had crossed any ethical line and didn’t offer any apology. He admitted that he had “on several occasions criticized the actions of the state of Israel severely” but stressed that he was not “anti-Semitic.” Instead, he said that he had made decision to resign leave as the excessive media publicity would prevent him from doing his job as a minister.

Other Swedish officials were far more critical of Kaplan’s comments, however, with Foreign Minister Margot Wallström calling them “terrible,” the Guardian reported.

Earlier in April, the SVT Nyheter multimedia news outlet broke the news of Kaplan’s connections to Turkish Islamists. Despite Kaplan`s previous claims that any cases of him being noticed at the same events with Turkish nationalists were accidental, Nyheter proved that he had met for dinner with a number of Turkish hardline groups’ representatives. Among them were listed Milli Görüs, the Islamist movement advocating fundamentalist values, representatives of the ultra-nationalist “Gray Wolves” and Barbaros Leylani, who recently retired as the head of Turkish National Association of Sweden after calling on Turks to kill “the Armenian dogs.”

Responding to accusations of ties to extremists, Kaplan said that the groups were “a part of Turkish civil society,” adding that the only ‘signal’ his meeting with Milli Görüs sends is that “the Turkish civil society exists and is a reality in Sweden,” SVT Nyheter reported.

Kaplan is known as a passionate advocate of an independent Palestinian state. In 2010 he one of the several members of the European Parliament who joined the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, a set of six ships attempting to bring 10,000 tons of humanitarian cargo through Israel's blockade into Gaza. Israeli security services raided the ships, killing nine activists.

Relations between Sweden and Israel have deteriorated dramatically in recent years after the ruling coalition government officially recognized the Palestinian state in 2014, becoming the first EU member-state to do so.