The Danish left abandons the Palestinians

Rafik Rifai

Mondoweiss  /  April 22, 2023

Robust opposition derailed a deal between Denmark and Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit in 2015, but a revived deal is currently facing little resistance.

Israel’s largest military company, Elbit Systems, has been accused of a plethora of questionable actions relating to its provision of surveillance equipment and drones to the Israeli military for repressive use against Palestinians in the occupied territory, as well as shady business deals and corruption. With such a controversial background, why is the “social democratic” Danish government led by Mette Frederiksen so keen to sign a new arms deal to replace French artillery systems that have been sent to Ukraine? Where are the dissenting voices? 

Back in 2015, the Danish government, led by Lars Lokke Rasmussen and his center-right Liberal Party (Parti Venstre), were forced to back out of a deal with Elbit for a shipment of ATMOS artillery systems following widespread public pressure and political opposition. Although financial reasons were cited for the breakdown of negotiations, many commentators suggested that public pressure played a key part.  

Members of the government’s political opposition were quick to condemn the deal, many citing Elbit’s links to Israeli crimes against Palestinians: If the accusation is correct, I do not believe that Elbit Systems can be awarded the contract. I have made it clear to the other parties in the compromise group that we do not want a company that violates (or contributes to) international law to supply Danish defense,” said Martin Lidegaard for example, former Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) Foreign Minister under Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s government (2014-2015) and still a sitting MP in the Danish Parliament, the Folketing, today.  

Lidegaard was not alone. Key voices of the Danish left were enthusiastic in their opposition to dealing with Israeli firms for geopolitical reasons or human rights concerns. “It’s a bad idea to buy weapons from Israel. Not because I am in favor of a boycott of Israel. But given that Denmark is involved in wars and conflicts in the region and that Israel is such a controversial player in the Arab world, it would be a bad decision. I wonder if all the members of the defense conciliation circle are keeping their fingers crossed that Elbit Systems is not awarded the contract,” proclaimed Holger K. Nielsen, former President of the popular socialist party (SF) and former Foreign Minister from December 2013-January 2014 under the coalition government.  

Opposition to the deal was robust, strongly mobilized, and well publicized. Leading political figures of the left did not shy away from their deep-rooted convictions that the suffering of the Palestinian people at the hands of an Apartheid state should not be sponsored through shady arms deals and that Denmark should have no part in indirectly funding an illegal occupation.  

“It is very worrying that Denmark is buying arms from the Israeli defense industry. Israel is a very brutal occupying power, accused of serious war crimes, and I just don’t think Denmark should buy arms from them,” exclaimed Nikolaj Villumsen MEP, member of Enhedslisten and the European United Left/Nordic Green Left Group.  

If resistance to the deal in 2015 was energetic and united, at least on the left, the same could not be said this year. The deal for ATMOS howitzers from Elbit has been shockingly revived following the transfer of the Danish military’s French-made CAESAR cannons to Ukraine. But the silence from the left is deafening. 

Few voices have raised concerns about the unusual speed this deal has gone through without due process or vigorous political scrutiny from the opposition. Is the Danish left happy to support a deal for weapons tested on the Palestinian civilians in the West Bank? Has the priority of the war in Ukraine meant all debate regarding arms procurement from Israel is frozen? Are Palestinians to remain second-class citizens in the eyes of the international community, only to be exploited for political capital as a means to express one’s ‘humanism’? 

The silence from the dissenting voices from 2015 is startling. We are yet to hear from Martin Lidegaard, Holger K. Nielsen, or Nikolaj Villumsen, whose admirable resolution eight years ago went some way to derail the deal. What has changed? 

Christian Juhl, former member of the Red-Green Alliance in the Folketing seems to be an outspoken lone voice of opposition: “Of course we must help the Ukrainians after the brutal and unacceptable attacks by Russia. But that certainly does not mean that we should ignore Israel’s war crimes and Elbit’s role in them when we buy weapons. In the same article, he says: “Elbit claims that its weapons have been tested in the real world, on Palestinians in Gaza and on Iraqis and Afghans. Elbit is the main supplier of weapons to the Israeli army, and its drones were notably used in Israeli massacres in Gaza in 2014, where 2,200 Palestinians lost their lives, including 551 children,” he said in February 2023.

In the meantime, signing the deal with Elbit will only reinforce the aura of impunity surrounding the far-right Israeli government, whose actions aggravate tensions in the occupied territory, intensifying the suffering of innocent Palestinians.  

With the international community, including Denmark, seemingly giving a blank check to the Israeli government to continue as it sees fit, incendiary rhetoric has been on the rise. The far-right Israeli finance minister, Bezel Smotrich, has gone so far as to call for the Palestinian town of Huwwara “to be wiped out” and ludicrously stated that “there is no such thing as the Palestinian people.” 

The Danish left, meanwhile, continues to twiddle its thumbs in an impressive act of self-deprecating withdrawal. The Palestinians are left to suffer in their wake.   

Rafik Rifai was born in Lebanon and now spends his time between the Middle East and Europe