Antisemitism in Sweden
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Part of Jewish history
Surveys show that antisemitism exists in Sweden. The study "Antisemitic images and attitudes in Sweden", conducted by Henrik Bachner and Jonas Ring, revealed that 1.4 percent of the population disagrees with the assertion that "Most Jews are probably decent folks".
Attention has been given to the situation in the city of Malmö, which has one of Sweden's largest Muslim communities. Following a pro-Israel rally during the Gaza War of 2008–09, organized by the city's Jewish community, there has been some discord between the local pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel communities.
Sweden has a Jewish community of around 20,000, which makes it the 7th largest in the European Union. Yiddish has legal status as one of the country's official minority languages. The first Jewish members of the Riksdag, Sweden's parliament, were elected in 1873.
History of Jews in Sweden
Jews have been permitted to immigrate to Sweden since the late 18th century. Prior to this, Jews were sought after as teachers of Hebrew in the universities, but the condition for being appointed to the teaching post was that they convert to Lutheranism. Lutheran Protestantism was the state religion since the 16th century and the only accepted religion. Opposition was strong against other faiths, especially Catholicism.
Jews were sought after to stimulate the Swedish economy, and were actively encouraged to settle. They required a capital of 2 000 riksdalers to obtain a letter of protection (skyddsbrev). The status of skyddsjude derived from German schutzjude and the legislation in the 18th century regulating Jews in Sweden was put together after the Parliamentary Constitutional Committee (Konstitutionsuttskottet) had obtained copies of the German laws regulating Jews in Saxony, Prussia and other German kingdoms and duchies. It was discussed in committee whether Jews should wear a distinguishing mark when walking in the street - perhaps a red or yellow hatband, but this idea was rejected. poor Jews were subject to deportation. A large number of restrictions were placed on Jews, including restriction to towns: Stockholm, Göteborg, Norrköping and Landskrona: Jews could not reside or own property in the countryside: this restriction was first removed in 1854. In 1870 Jews received full citizens' rights and the first Jewish members of the Riksdag, Aron Philipson and Moritz Rubenson, were elected in 1872. However Swedish non-Protestants, most of which were Catholics and Jews, were still not allowed to teach the subject of Christianity in public schools or to be cabinet ministers (statsråd); these restrictions were removed as from January 1, 1953.
A small number of Jews came to Sweden during the 1930s and the Second World War in order to escape Nazi persecution. Because Sweden was neutral during the war, the country was able to give asylum to Jews from neighbouring countries: in 1942, some 900 Norwegian Jews were given asylum from Nazi persecution in their home country, and, most importantly of all, in October 1943 almost the entire Danish Jewish community, some 8,000 people, was transported to Sweden (see Rescue of the Danish Jews). Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg was also active in assisting Jews.
During the pre-war years of Hitler's power (1933–39), some 3,000 Jews migrated to Sweden to escape Nazi persecution. Because Sweden was neutral during World War II, it helped facilitate the asylum of relatively many Jews from nearby countries: in 1942, 900 Norwegian Jews were given asylum from Nazi persecution in their home country, and, most importantly of all, almost the entire Danish Jewish community, some 8,000 people, was transported to Sweden in October 1943 (see Rescue of the Danish Jews).
Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg also saved thousands of Hungarian Jews in Budapest by providing them with "protective passports". He also rented 32 buildings, funded by the United States, and declared them Swedish diplomatic facilities, thus bringing them under protection of diplomatic immunity.
Development since 2000
After Germany and Austria, Sweden has the third highest rate of antisemitic incidents in Europe, although the Netherlands reports a higher rate of antisemitism in some years. A government study in 2006 estimated that 15% of Swedes agree with the statement: "The Jews have too much influence in the world today". 5% of the total adult population and 39% of adult Muslims "harbour systematic antisemitic views". The former prime minister Göran Persson described these results as "surprising and terrifying". However, the rabbi of Stockholm's Orthodox Jewish community, Meir Horden, said that "It's not true to say that the Swedes are anti-Semitic. Some of them are hostile to Israel because they support the weak side, which they perceive the Palestinians to be."
In 2010, alleged antisemitism among Muslims in Malmö received media attention after a controversial interview with the then city's mayor, Ilmar Reepalu. In March the same year, Fredrik Sieradzk of the Jewish community of Malmö told Die Presse, an Austrian newspaper, that Jews are being "harassed and physically attacked" by "people from the Middle East," although he added that only a small number of Malmö's 90,000 Muslims "exhibit hatred of Jews."
The population of Malmö began to decrease in the 1970s due to decline of the once-dominant shipbuilding and textile industries. This also led to a decrease in the Jewish population. Sieradzk has stated that approximately 30 Jewish families have emigrated from Malmö to Israel in the past year, specifically to escape from harassment estimating that the already small Jewish population is shrinking by 5% a year. “Malmö is a place to move away from, right now many Jews in Malmö are really concerned about the situation and don’t believe they have a future here” he said, citing antisemitism as the primary reason.
The Swedish newspaper Skånska Dagbladet reported that attacks on Jews in Malmö totaled 79 in 2009, about twice as many as the previous year, according to police statistics. In December 2010, the Jewish human rights organization Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a travel advisory concerning Sweden, advising Jews to express "extreme caution" when visiting the southern parts of the country due to an increase in verbal and physical harassment of Jewish citizens in the city of Malmö. However, the leader of the Jewish congregation would have liked the center to consult them before issuing the warning. Fred Khan, the congregation's chairman told Sydvenska Dagbladet suggested that the rise in the crime statistics might not reflect an actual increase in crimes endured by the community over the proceeding year. Members of the congregation do face harassment, but a substantial degree of the incidences remain unreported to the police. In the last year members of the community had been more strongly advised to report all abuse to the police. On June 8, 2012, antisemitic graffiti was spray-painted on the external wall of the old Jewish cemetery in Malmö. The graffiti reads "A PIG" in Swedish (en gris) and a swastika. On September 28, same year, an explosion occurred at a Malmö Jewish community building.
Contemporary acts of Antisemitism
According to CFCA (the Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism), antisemitism in Sweden nowadays focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A survey conducted by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights found out that in 2012, 40%-50% of Swedish Jews had frequently heard the accusation that "Israelis behave to the Palestinians like the Nazis to the Jews". Moreover, a series of proposed measures in Sweden banning kosher slaughter, ritual circumcision, and possibly even the importation of kosher meat, had caused a Swedish Jewish activist to file for asylum in her own country.
Also In 2012, the President of the European Jewish Congress, Moshe Kantor condemned the behavior of the Swedish Government which according to him is "the only European country that is refusing to discuss the problem of Anti-Semitism prevailing within its borders".
In 2013, a total of ten Antisemitic incidents were reported, including Antisemitic statements made publicly by Swedish politicians, swastikas which were draws on Jewish property and the Slogan "Burn Israel Burn" which was printed on T-shirts
On 2015 the journal Ethnic and Racial Studies published a research conducted between 2003-2009 in secondary school students in Sweden. Its goal was to examine changes in antisemitic attitudes among youngest. The results of the survey showed no significant change in the total level of antisemitism between the two groups of youths (the group of 2003 and the group of 2009). However, addition results imply other differences: In 2003, students living in the big cities of Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö have the highest levels of anti-Semitism, compared to 2009, when students living in smaller municipalities and the countryside have the highest significant levels of anti-Semitism. More findings showed that in both 2003 and 2009 students born outside of Sweden, or their parents were born outside Sweden- display higher levels of anti-Semitism compared to students born in Sweden.
Situation in Malmö
On 13 January 2009, Molotov cocktails were thrown inside and outside a funeral chapel at the old Jewish cemetery in the city of Malmö, south Sweden, in what seemed to be an antisemitic act. It was the third time the chapel had been attacked in the few weeks before this incident.
In March 2010, Fredrik Sieradzk of the Jewish community of Malmö told Die Presse, an Austrian newspaper, that Jews were being "harassed and physically attacked" by "people from the Middle East," although he added that only a small number of Malmö's 40,000 Muslims "exhibit hatred of Jews." Lea Gleitman, an Auschwitz survivor who had dedicated her life to teaching about the Holocaust, stated that she was being called a liar when teaching about the Holocaust at Muslim-majority schools. Sieradzk also stated that approximately thirty Jewish families had emigrated from Malmö to Israel in the previous year, specifically to escape from harassment, estimating that the already small Jewish population was shrinking by 5 per cent a year. “Malmo is a place to move away from, right now many Jews in Malmö are really concerned about the situation and don’t believe they have a future here” he said, citing antisemitism as the primary reason.
In 2010, The Forward reported on the current state of Jews and the level of antisemitism in Sweden. Henrik Bachner, a writer and professor of history at the University of Lund, claimed that members of the Swedish Parliament had attended anti-Israel rallies where the Israeli flag was burned while the flags of Hamas and Hezbollah were waved, and the rhetoric was often antisemitic—not just anti-Israel. But such public rhetoric had not been branded as hateful and denounced. Charles Small, director of the Yale University Initiative for the Study of Antisemitism, stated that “Sweden is a microcosm of contemporary anti-Semitism. It’s a form of acquiescence to radical Islam, which is diametrically opposed to everything Sweden stands for.” Per Gudmundson, chief editorial writer for Svenska Dagbladet, has sharply criticized politicians who he claims offer “weak excuses” for Muslims accused of antisemitic crimes. “Politicians say these kids are poor and oppressed, and we have made them hate. They are, in effect, saying the behavior of these kids is in some way our fault.”
As of 2010, the Jewish community of Malmö consisted of about 700 individuals, most of whom were descendants of refugees from Poland and Germany during the Second World War. The Swedish newspaper Skånska Dagbladet reported that there had been 79 attacks on Jews in Malmö in 2009, about twice as many as the previous year, according to police statistics. Judith Popinski, an 86-year-old Holocaust survivor, told The Daily Telegraph that she was no longer invited to schools with a large Muslim presence to tell her story of surviving the Holocaust. Popinski, who found refuge in Malmö in 1945, stated that, until recently, she had told her story in Malmö schools as part of their Holocaust studies program, but that now, many schools were no longer asking Holocaust survivors to tell their stories, because Muslim students treated them with such disrespect, either ignoring them or walking out of the class. She further stated that "Malmo reminds me of the anti-Semitism I felt as a child in Poland before the war. I am not safe as a Jew in Sweden any more.”
In December 2010, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization, issued a travel advisory concerning Sweden, advising Jews to express "extreme caution" when visiting the southern parts of the country due to an increase in verbal, physical, and violent harassment of Jews in the city of Malmö.
On September 6, 2012, the international United Nations Watch organization discussed the anti-Semitic attacks in Malmö and stated it considered the phenomenon extremely serious, given Sweden's candidacy for membership in the UN Human Rights Council. The organization called on Sweden to supply adequate protection for the Jewish community and to develop special initiatives aimed at educating against anti-Semitism. It also reprimanded Reepalu for what it viewed as his multiple defamatory and incendiary remarks concerning the Jewish community in Malmö and the anti-Semitism it faces. Moreover, recent articles over the looming attacks on Malmö's Jewish community were published in the Swedish media also during the year of 2012, in particular an attack on a Jewish center on 28 September 2012. In the wake of a report that marked Malmö as a hub for anti-semitic actions in Sweden, the discourse further dealt with the inquiry over the roots of that anti-Semitism, whether linked with classic Jewish-hatred or exacerbated by the prolonged Arab-Israeli conflict.
In 2013, Siavosh Derakhti, a Swedish-born son of Iranian immigrant parents and founder of Young People Against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia, received the first Raoul Wallenberg Award, an honor named after the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews from Nazi death camps during the Second World War. Because of his social activism focused on reducing anti-Semitism and xenophobia, the selection committee said Derakhti set a "positive example" in his hometown of Malmö and throughout Sweden. "He is a role model for others," the Wallenberg Award committee wrote, "showing through his actions and determination that one person can make a difference."On Nov. 8, 2012, the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism gave Derakhti its first Elsa Award, established by Committee member Henrik Frenkel in memory of his parents to encourage young people to incorporate social media into the battle against Swedish anti-Semitism.
2009 Davis Cup
In 2009, Malmö hosted a tennis match between Israel and Sweden during the Davis Cup. For security reasons, no spectators were allowed to enter the stadium and watch the tennis game. However, numerous Swedish politicians had called for the match to be cancelled due to their pro-Palestinian views and the aftermath of the Gaza War, with this idea being discarded because the Swedish side would have had an automatic forfeit loss, and therefore the team's elimination, from the Cup tournament. A plan to move the match from Malmö to Stockholm failed due to logistical issues and a lack of time. In the end, Israel defeated and eliminated the Swedish team by a 3–2 score. The match drew more than 6,000 pro-Palestinian protesters, making it one of the largest demonstrations against Israel in Swedish history. More than 100 protesters were detained as several hundred Arab nationalists and supporters of the far-left clashed with more than 1,000 policemen that were guarding the stadium. Malmö was banned from hosting any further Davis Cup matches in the aftermath of the riots. The city was also fined $25,000 by the International Tennis Federation (lowered to $5,000 on appeal) and forced to pay an additional $15,000 to recoup revenues lost when spectators were barred from the match.
When confronted with the issue during an interview in 2010 with Andreas Lovén, a journalist in Skånska Dagbladet, Reepalu stated: “We accept neither Zionism nor anti-Semitism. They are extremes that put themselves above other groups, and believe they have a lower value." He also criticized the Malmö's Jewish community for its support for Israel, stating that “I would wish for the Jewish community to denounce Israeli violations against the civilian population in Gaza. Instead it decides to hold a [pro-Israeli] demonstration in the Grand Square [of Malmö], which could send the wrong signals.”
Jewish leaders responded that the demonstration Reepalu was referring to was "pro-peace rally" arranged by the Jewish Community in Malmö "which came under attack from members of a violent counter demonstration" and accused Reepalu of "suggesting that the violence directed towards us is our own fault simply because we didn’t speak out against Israel."
Reepalu has stated that apart from at the infamous demonstration, there had not been any violent attacks on Jews in the city, by claiming to cite police figures. However, the same police figures show that hate crimes against Jews have doubled over the last year. In January,when asked to explain why Jewish religious services often require security guards and even police protection, Reepalu claimed that the violence directed toward Malmö’s Jewish community is from right-wing extremists, and not Muslims.
In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph in February 2010, Reepalu was asked about reports that antisemitism in Malmö has increased to the point that some of its Jewish residents are (or are considering) moving to Israel. Reepalu again denied that there has been any violence directed at Jews in Malmö, stating that:
|“||There haven't been any attacks on Jewish people, and if Jews from the city want to move to Israel that is not a matter for Malmö.||”|
Reepalu added on Danish television that the criticism against his statement were a product of pro-Israeli lobbyism.
The then leader of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, Mona Sahlin, described Reepalu's comments as "unfortunate." Reepalu's statements have been sharply criticized by Sieradzk, who argued that “More often it’s the far-left that commonly use Jews as a punching bag for their disdain toward the policies of Israel, even if Jews in Malmö have nothing to do with Israeli politics."
Reepalu later conceded that he has not been sufficiently informed about the vulnerable situation faced by Jews after meeting with community leaders. Reepalu then claimed that Skånska Dagbladet, the newspaper that initially reported many Reepalu's controversial statements, had misrepresented him as antisemitic; the newspaper was subsequently banned from a press conference at City Hall, reportedly at Reepalu's request. In response, Skånska Dagbladet published on its website the full tapes of its interview with Reepalu, as well as all the texts published in its article series on threats and harassment faced by Malmö Jews, and the exchange of emails between the newspaper and the mayor's office.
In March 2012, Reepalu again came under criticism from the Jewish community when he told a Swedish magazine that the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim party [Swedish Democrats] had "infiltrated" the city's Jewish community in order to turn it against Muslims. Reepalu later said he had no basis for his remarks and that he "shouldn't have put it that way." Jewish community officials subsequently sent a letter to the Social Democratic leader Stefan Löfven condemning what Reepalu had said. The letter stated that "Regardless of what he says and does from now on, we don't trust him." Lofven and Social Democratic secretary Carin Jämtin subsequently agreed to meet with Jewish community leaders to discuss the comments and actions of Reepalu, who was being criticized by members of his own party.
Reepalu responded to this controversy by stating in an interview with Haaretz that "I've never been an anti-Semite and never will be."
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