Denmark’s Political Establishment Is Cozying Up to Israel

Denmark’s grand coalition government has potentially misled parliament to push through a deal to purchase billions in arms from Israel. The deal marks a high point in Danish-Israeli relations and is a sign that the Left has been marginalized on foreign policy.

Danish minister of defense Jakob Ellemann-Jensen potentially misled parliament over a weapons purchase order from Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit Systems. (Ida Marie Odgaard / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP via Getty Images)

When the Danish government announced a weapons purchase order from Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit Systems worth over €200 million in January 2023, it marked a high point in Danish-Israeli relations. Now brand new revelations lay bare just how close Denmark is to the Israeli military complex.

Elbit is a central part of that complex. The company produces 85 percent of the drones used for lethal drone strikes in Gaza, which killed over 2,200 Palestinians, including 551 children, in 2014 alone. It is also a central provider of monitoring and surveillance technology used for Israel’s apartheid wall, its system of checkpoints, and the settlements beyond it.

In 2015, socialists from the Red-Green Alliance forced the government to reveal that it was collaborating militarily with the Israel’s armed forces by hosting twenty soldiers in the an-Naqab desert testing Elbit’s artillery equipment. Since then, critical voices have pushed back against plans to strike a deal with Elbit. Most vocal was the socialist Red-Green Alliance, followed by the Social Liberals and the Socialist People’s Party, which refused to support purchasing weapons from companies violating international law and refused to purchase Israeli weapons, respectively.

Shortly before the general election campaign of 2015, the Social Democratic–led government postponed the Elbit deal and ultimately called off plans made by the center-right Liberal government following their election victory. Although the official justification was financial, the broad pushback from the Left appears to have been the underlying cause of the shuttering of these plans. Presciently, then MP Christian Juhl from the Red-Green Alliance observed: “I think the purchase has been postponed for tactical electoral reasons. It will possibly be resumed later.”

Fast forward to January 2023, and the new grand coalition government of Social Democrats, Moderates, and center-right Liberals pushed for an urgent approval of a new Elbit deal worth 1.7 billion kroner ($240 million). Shortly before, Denmark had donated its major artillery capacity to Ukraine and chose Elbit to supply its replacement.

The center-right minister of defense, Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, declared that the defense committee of spokespeople from all parties except the Red-Green Alliance and the left-wing Alternativet had to approve the deal within mere hours, as Elbit’s offer would expire imminently. This made any political scrutiny or debate impossible, as the government pressed hard for an urgent decision. Having forced the hand of the parties that previously opposed striking a deal with Elbit, the way was paved for the government to confirm the arms purchase.

Yet brand new documents obtained by political news site Altinget prove that the deadline was not a few hours or days but several months away — from January to June. Not only does this show that Ellemann-Jensen has potentially misled parliament; it also suggests that the controversial nature of dealing with a company involved in the mass killing of Palestinians, upholding of the apartheid regime, and serious violations of international law was secondary to the government’s ambition to forge closer links with Israel.

In response to the revelations, Red-Green Alliance MP Pelle Dragsted said that he feels “misinformed,” calling the case “very serious.” He elaborated: “I cannot avoid the thought that they deliberately rushed through this deal to avoid a public debate which could have led to a different outcome.” The party now demands urgent and strong sanctions against Ellemann-Jensen.

Whatever the political consequences for the government, this revelation points to a pattern of ever-closer relations between Denmark and Israel, and a gradual disappearance of support for the Palestinian struggle for justice and self-determination. Historically, the Danish political establishment has been unconditionally supportive of Israel, with a close connection in particular between the Danish Social Democrats and the Israeli Labor Party. In 2021, PM Mette Frederiksen traveled to Tel Aviv alongside right-wing Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz to conclude new economic partnerships with Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government.

Yet briefly in 2000, this hegemony broke. The ascent of Social Democrat Mogens Lykketoft to the post of minister of foreign affairs dramatically reoriented the Danish position much closer to solidarity with Palestine. This ended post-9/11 with the election of a right-wing government notoriously loyal to George W. Bush’s war machine and an enthusiastic participant in the war in Afghanistan and the occupation of Iraq. Ever since, successive Danish governments. whether center-right or center-left, have been uncritically supportive of Israel.

Socialists can take several lessons from the new revelations that the government potentially misled parliament. The grand coalition between Social Democrats, Liberals, and Moderates has succeeded by continually managing to side-line and isolate the left-wing parties in parliament. The Social Democrats have chosen to ally with the right-wing Liberals, who pursued a decade of austerity and war, over left-wing parties that long ago abandoned any revolutionary ambitions and now fully participate in processes for merely modest socialist reforms. This fits in a long line of contentious decisions by social democrats to ignore even the most moderate demands of the socialist parties, preferring the politics of austerity and to parrot far-right lines against migrants than defending and expanding the welfare state for all.

In addition, the war in Ukraine serves as a convenient pretext for ramming through a raft of otherwise too controversial political decisions. Curiously, Liberal acting minister of defense Troels Lund Poulsen now concedes that the rush was not due to the offer from Elbit expiring but because the war in Ukraine necessitated urgent action to replace the artillery systems.

Given the 2015 breakdown of the proposed Elbit deal, it is safe to say that successive Danish governments deemed the company a political no-go. Yet with the politics of necessity and the wartime rhetoric emerging from the war in Ukraine, it appears that the urgent need to dismantle the Israeli apartheid state was cast aside. This is of course particularly ironic, since many establishment arguments for defending Ukraine could and should apply to arming and defending the Palestinians in their almost century-long struggle against the Israeli occupation.