Benjamin Birnbaum: The Stockholm Syndrome: When Free-Speech Laws Are Only Free for Some

(CBS)

(CBS/Aftonbladet)

Benjamin Birnbaum is a reporter-researcher for The New Republic.


When Zvi Mazel was summoned to the Swedish Foreign Ministry back in January 2004, he knew he was in trouble. As Israel’s top diplomat in Stockholm, the 64-year-old had just done something markedly undiplomatic–not exactly rare for Israeli envoys.

No, he hadn’t remarked upon the “yellow skin and slanted eyes” of Asians. No, he hadn’t taken part in a child-pornography ring. And no, he hadn’t been found wallowing in his backyard–drunk, naked, and strapped in sexual bondage gear.

Mazel’s offense was of a different order, the sort that would turn him into a national hero, not a national embarrassment. Attending a Stockholm art exhibit, he’d come across an unusual piece: “SNOW WHITE AND THE MADNESS OF TRUTH.” The Snow White in question was a 29-year-old Palestinian woman who’d recently blown up herself and 21 Israelis at a restaurant, and her smiling photo draped a mini sailboat drifting about a rectangular basin of blood with Bach’s Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut (“My Heart Swims in Blood”) playing in the background. An enraged Mazel unplugged the display’s power chords, toppled one of its spotlights, and was promptly escorted out of the museum.

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