In our circles, Cordelia Edvardson was highly controversial

About Cordelia Edvardson/

In Israel, Holocaust survivors get discounts on certain fees, such as the TV license. The items that are, or aren’t included, are rather random, and don’t really make the survivors’ experiences any better, but they are a gesture and an acknowledgement of past suffering. So, my mother is really lucky, she gets to pay only half of the TV fee.

I went to primary school in the Jewish day-school in Stockholm. I won’t mention the name, since it is often threatened by extremist groups, but it’s easy to find, it’s the primary school with an armed guard in front. The Jewish day school was, and is, small, and all the kids know each other, more or less. Way back when, forty-something years ago, a large part of the pupils’ parents were Holocaust survivors. In my mind, all the parents were survivors, but when I go through the class-list, that isn’t in fact so. In any case, having survivor parents was the norm rather than the exception. Most of those parents spoke Swedish with an accent, and all of them carried unimaginable baggage.

Every Friday, before the sabbath, the whole school used to gather in the dining-room for a somewhat festive end-of-the-week activity. There was singing and story-telling and a snack. That was also the time for big announcements. I remember one Friday, when I was in fifth or sixth grade, it was announced that a pupil two grades below mine was leaving the school and moving to Israel.  I remember this because this kid was probably a bit of a celebrity in school. He was the son of journalist Cordelia Edvardson, the Middle East correspondent for Sweden’s second largest daily paper, and the un-challenged hegemon of ME reporting to Sweden and Scandinavia. Cordelia Edvardson died last week. About her amazing life you can read here. (Swedish) or here (English)

All the eulogies over Cordelia mention her personal style and engagement in her subject. What these aulogies barely mention is that in our circles, Cordelia was highly controversial, and in fact much opposed by large segments of the other parents. Cordelia was a Holocaust survivor. I don’t know if the ability to write is hereditary. In any case, Cordelia, the daughter of a journalist, could write. She wrote with burning moral conviction. And, as a journalist, she had a status unlike any other.

Other immigrant parents (for the record, not mine) were less fortunate. Several kids in my class would write notes to the teacher themselves and have the parent sign it (or not), because they were embarrassed that the older generation never learned passable Swedish.

Cordelias views on the Middle East were not necessarily representative of those of the Stockholm Jewish community. In my mind, she is one of the reasons I moved to Israel. My parents subscribed to the paper Ms. Edvardson worked for. The morning ritual in my home was to set the table for breakfast, and then open the paper with a fearful heart to see what Cordelia had written about Israel that day. In the long run, I couldn’t stand the heart-ache or the sense of profound injustice that stemmed from knowing that this is how Israel looks in the eyes of our landsmen. Even as a very young adult I wrote letters to Cordelias editor, as did many of my co-religionists who felt warmly for Israel, protesting Cordelia’s general and specific portrayal of the Middle East conflict. She never lied about the situation, she only chose very deliberately what to emphasise and what to ignore. And that, in the Middle East, means for instance that you write about Palestinian victims of Israeli military actions, but not about Israeli victims of Palestinian terror. Her choise of words was often emotionally tinged and slanted. Cordelia was forever outraged, and forever the former victim who now stood up for what she perceived as the underdog. However, the Middle East conflict is much more complex and nuanced then that, and even an underdog can bite, or even terrorise. My attempts to debate Cordelia in the Swedish daily press came to naught. One of the reasons I started to blog was to counter the frustration at never getting the chance to show a general readership another Israel perspective, focusing on realities beyond monolithic Israel bashing.

In my mind, Cordelia, for her own biografical reasons, needed to stand up for the weak. She didn’t move to Israel because she was working here, she moved to Israel because she loved Israel. Her often scathing critisism of Israel was given out of love and concern to keep this country on the right moral path. What Cordelia didn’t see was that her critisim was all that ever reached her readers. The readers didn’t have the wider picture, they didn’t know about all the good, normal and everyday stuff that goes on in Israel. The Swedish readers and editors evidently loved it. In Cordelia they had an insider, a person above suspicion of being Anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli, but relentlessly critical of Israel and highly sensitive to injustices.

Inevitably my missives to the paper would get the answer from the editor that it is impossible that Cordelia carries her own biases. She lives in Israel, her son serves in the Israeli army and she has been to Auschwitz. Cordelia could write whatever she thought, unopposed. She had all the credentials in the world to be the ultimate voice from Israel. She lived there, and she was a Holocaust survivor. No non-Jewish, non-Israeli, non-survivor journalist could possibly have a better understanding of Israel and the Middle East, and they all lined up and took their cues from how Cordelia described the situation. No senior Swedish journalist has deviated from Cordelias line in any Swedish media in the past forty years. One can still read a different type of description in the Christian press, but never in broadcast media or mainstream print media.

In one of my attempts to engage Cordelia in a discussion, I met with her in her home in Jerusalem. She was a very opinionated person, and she didn’t like me. There is no doubt in my mind that Cordelia was sincere. She was also knowlegeable to an extent (although I don’t think she spoke Hebrew very well) and hardworking. A set of circumstances allowed Cordelia to create a monopoly in Mid Eastern reporting which could not be questioned. This has had an enormous imact not only on journalism, but on Scandinavian politics toward Israel and the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Decision-makers largely base their understanding of the world on media. And Swedish ME reporting was, and remains, molded by Cordelia Edvardson.

May she, and we, rest in PEACE.


Noomi Stahl