‘I was demoted for defending Israel’

A Swedish Migration Board employee with 20 years' experience is charging that he was demoted due to his pro-Israel political views.

Lennart Eriksson, 51, has had what he describes as a long and relatively happy career with the Migration Board (Migrationsverket).

In his spare time he also operates a personal blog in which he expresses his support of democratic freedoms and espouses support for the cause of Israel in particular.

“I want to defend freedom and democracy. I try to be humble and just. Therefore I must—as every good democrat must—defend Israel,” reads a passage describing the content of Eriksson’s blog, Sapere aude!.

Eriksson’s career hit a bump late last summer when he returned from a one-year sabbatical only to learn that he was to be demoted from his job as the head of an asylum assessment unit, a position he had held for six years.

He claims that when his new supervisor, Eugene Palmer, learned of his blog, he decided to do what he could to force Eriksson out of the agency.

Eriksson was given a lower ranking position with a different salary scale, a move which he sees as the equivalent of dismissal.

He continues to work at the Migration Board, but is suing to have the demotion decision overturned.

Palmer, who assumed responsibilities as head of of the Migration Board’s Division for Asylum Examination last summer, recalls being notified of the blog’s controversial contents by other employees at the Migration Board just prior to Eriksson’s return in August.

He says he was not alone in his questioning whether it was appropriate for someone with Eriksson’s position at the Board to publicly express opinions about such a sensitive topic.

“Of course everyone has a right to any opinion. However, when holding an upper-level management position at the Migration Board, one must be careful about how one chooses to express private opinions in a public fashion,” Palmer told The Local.

In documents filed with the district court in Mölndal, Eriksson’s lawyer argues that the Migration Board has known about the blog since 2004 and the sudden decision to demote him stems from the fact that Eriksson’s political views clash with those of Palmer.

In addition to postings describing Eriksson’s support for Israel, his blog also contained references to Sweden’s centre-right Moderate political party, prompting “insulting” comments by Palmer about Eriksson’s politics.

“You are also a Moderate; you’re also a bit of an oddball,” said Palmer, according to Eriksson’s account of events as described in court papers.

Palmer flatly denies ever making such comments, and stresses that had Eriksson instead operated a pro-Palestinian blog, the same actions would have occurred.

“It’s important that the public have confidence in the Migration Board’s commitment to objectivity and feel reassured that we remain impartial in cases that can stir a lot of emotion,” he said.

Lawyers from the Migration Board contend that the reassignment came about due to poor performance and a lack of confidence in Eriksson’s management abilities, and that Eriksson’s political views had nothing to do with his reassignment.

“According to a report completed by the Migration Board in 2003, it was revealed that the working environment in Lennart Eriksson’s division was poor and that more than half of the personnel were dissatisfied with him as a manager,” state Migration Board lawyers in court documents.

“It is a lack of confidence in Lennart Eriksson that has caused him to be reassigned.”

While Palmer admits that there are no reports of Eriksson letting his opinions affect his job performance, lawyers for the Board do cite concerns about Eriksson’s blog and how it may have affected his ability to carry out his asylum adjudication responsibilities.

“Lennart Eriksson’s website does give support to Israel and is considered disturbing to Palestinians seeking asylum. Those who seek asylum are especially vulnerable and it is important that they can have confidence in the Board’s personnel,” said Migration Board lawyers.

Eriksson dismisses any assertion that the Migration Board had an anti-Israeli bias, calling his situation an isolated case.

“This is the action of one person,” Eriksson told The Local.

Nevertheless, he feels his reassignment lacks justification and hopes that the court will force the Migration Board to nullify the decision.

He is also seeking damages of 100,000 kronor ($15,850) plus interest.

The case is to be decided by a three-judge panel in mid-March, although the exact date of the hearing has yet to be scheduled.