“The Communist Party in Sweden—we are the strongest supporters of Palestine [out] of all the other parties in Sweden,” says Jonas Hjelm Smith, Swedish-American human rights activist and member of the Swedish Communist Party, on board the 2023 Gaza Freedom Flotilla.
The Freedom Flotilla Coalition, a grassroots people-to-people solidarity movement working to end the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza, has launched numerous Freedom Flotilla voyages since 2008. TRNN contributor, lawyer, and freelance journalist Dimitri Lascaris reports from The Handala, the flagship vessel of the 2023 Gaza Freedom Flotilla, en route from Gothenburg, Sweden, to Oslo, Norway. On board The Handala, Lascaris speaks with Hjelm Smith about why he is traveling with the Flotilla, and about the Swedish Communist Party’s unwavering support for the Palestinian freedom struggle.
Studio-production: Dimitri Lascaris
Post-production: Cameron Granadino
Dimitri Lascaris: This is Dimitri Lascaris reporting from the Handala, the flagship vessel of the 2023 Gaza Freedom Flotilla. We are en route from Gothenburg, Sweden to Oslo, Norway. I’m here today with one of the passengers on the vessel, Jonas Hlem Smith. Thank you very much for joining me.
Jonas Hlem Smith: Thank you. And thank everyone for watching.
Dimitri Lascaris: Can you tell us a little bit about your background, where you’re from, and how you ended up on this vessel?
Jonas Hlem Smith: I’m from the northern town of Emil in Sweden and that’s where I started getting involved with political activism around seven or eight years ago. I’ve lived in Gothenburg for about four or five years now. I work as a dental technician, so I moved down here for a job. I’ve continued my political activism here, and for around a year now, I’ve done activism specifically for the freedom of Palestine.
Dimitri Lascaris: Mm-hmm. And what has motivated you to come on this vessel on this particular journey?
Jonas Hlem Smith: Well, I know enough about Gaza as I know the suffering that people are experiencing there. I have this sense of urge that I have to do something with my time that helps people and I want to help people. So it’s very important that we all come together and help the people of Palestine, specifically the people in Gaza as well.
Dimitri Lascaris: I understand you’re a member of the Swedish Communist Party, is that right?
Jonas Hlem Smith: That’s true, yeah.
Dimitri Lascaris: And what is the position of the Swedish Communist Party with respect to the Palestinian cause and specifically the question of BDS?
Jonas Hlem Smith: The Communist Party in Sweden, we are the strongest supporter of Palestine of all the other parties in Sweden, at least of all the other parties that have any sort of significance. There was recently, for example, a conference in Malmö where about 20,000 Palestinians gathered for an international meeting. People from all over Europe came to this conference and three major Swedish parties were supposed to give speeches at this meeting: the Left Party, the Social Democrats, and the Green Party in Sweden, or the Miljöpartiet, which is the Miljö. All of those three speakers, retracted their planned speeches – Or what do you call it? – They canceled their participation because there were rumors that one of the leading people at the conference had some ties to Hamas. So these three major Swedish parties started shaking in their boots and they chickened out and they canceled their participation which is sad because we in the Communist Party, we would not do that.
At this particular conference, we didn’t send a speaker, unfortunately, but we spent some time supporting the Palestinian politicians in Sweden that were being harassed and attacked in the media because of what happened at this event. So we did spend time and energy to support the Palestinians in this specific moment when they were being attacked by the Swedish press and all of these major parties pulling out. So we are 100% in support of Palestine, no matter what.
Dimitri Lascaris: It’s my understanding that the Swedish government’s position with respect to the Ukraine War is it supports the delivery of heavy weapons to the Ukrainian military. I’m interested to know in your opinion, the Swedish government’s position, with respect to Ukraine, can be reconciled with its position regarding the Palestinian people.
Jonas Hlem Smith: No. The Swedish government has sent a lot of money and weapons to Ukraine, and we, in the Communist Party, we’ve always been criticized for being against that. Which is crazy because we’re only against it because we are for peace. We don’t want to proliferate the spreading of arms and weapons throughout the world, specifically in Ukraine.
Yeah, a lot of people have drawn parallels to this situation in Ukraine and Palestine, of course, because in Palestine, the Zionists are the oppressors and aggressors and the ones that are overwhelmingly using violence against defenseless people. But our government seemingly doesn’t have any problems supporting the Zionists in Israel. They are allowed to have offices here. One of their arms manufacturers, Elbit, has an office in Gothenburg, for example. Which, by the way, with some other activists outside the Communist Party, we’re planning to have an act of protest outside those Israeli arms offices in Gothenburg.
But of course, yeah, we criticized the delivery of arms. We were very disappointed when we were one of the few only parties left in Sweden that were against arms deliveries to Ukraine. For example, the Left Party, they recently, the last delivery, they sent some armored — What do you call them? Not tanks, but armored vehicles, which are pretty heavy. They have pretty heavy guns. We were criticizing, from the very first arms deliveries, that even the Left Party supported, for example, the deliveries of the Swedish-made anti-tank weapons that are… What is it? The NLAW. It is made in the UK but it’s a Swedish design or something like that. Or there were some other anti-tank weapons that were sent as well.
Our newspaper, which is called Proletären, which is the Proletarian, had an article where we found evidence that these Swedish anti-tank weapons were being used by and trained by the infamous Azov Battalion, the Nazi battalion in Ukraine. They were putting out videos and showing how to use the Swedish arms and stuff like that. So we’re extremely disappointed that all of these other major parties in Sweden. And of course, the central government has sent money and arms to arm the most extreme right-wing people that are armed and dangerous and have military experience in the world today. Yeah.
Dimitri Lascaris: I take it the Swedish government is not sending any weapons to the Palestinians to –
Jonas Hlem Smith: Yeah. Yeah.
Dimitri Lascaris: – Fight against…
Jonas Hlem Smith: Of course. Yeah. Yeah. Which is very ironic.
Dimitri Lascaris: I understand you’re not only a Swedish citizen, but you’re also a citizen of the United States, is that correct?
Jonas Hlem Smith: Yeah. That’s correct.
Dimitri Lascaris: And you lived in Arizona during your teens for three years, is that right?
Jonas Hlem Smith: Yeah. I went to high school.
Dimitri Lascaris: Right. And this is a very big question, and summarily in brief terms, how would you compare your experiences of living in the United States with what it’s like living in Sweden today?
Jonas Hlem Smith: Overall, I would say Sweden, it’s a nicer place to live. There’s a little bit more solidarity between people and stuff like that. You can see in America, for example – I did move there in 2007, right before the 2008 financial crisis. I have to give that some thought because only one or two years after I moved there, I saw homeless people everywhere. 20-30% of all the homes in my area were for sale at the same time. At every intersection, under every bridge, there were homeless people asking for money. It was a very sad sight.
That, of course, did affect my view of America because these people were not taken care of. Of course, it’s also very important to know that if you visit America, you see all these homeless people, it’s important to know that most of them don’t even live on the street, they live in their cars. So you can’t see all the homeless people because they’re sleeping in their cars. A majority of them also work, but they don’t have homes, even if they have jobs.
That terrible situation is largely avoided here in Sweden, which is good because if you have a job here, generally you’re supposed to be able to get a home at least. Yeah. So the situation is slightly better here.
Dimitri Lascaris: Okay. Thank you very much for speaking to us today. It’s been a pleasure.
Jonas Hlem Smith: Thank you, Dimitri.
Dimitri Lascaris: Thank you. And this is Dimitri Lascaris reporting from the Handala. Thank you.