It will not be long before the true anti-Semitic nature of the far-right anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats (SD) party - which won an unprecedented number of seats in Sunday’s elections, is revealed - a leader of the local Jewish community there warned on Monday.
“This is a neo-Nazi party… articulate, and talented…but very dangerous,” said Lena Posner, President of the Official Council of Jewish communities in Sweden, an umbrella organization of Jewish groups in the country. “We know where these people are coming from. They are Nazi sympathizers who, under their jackets, are still wearing their brown shirts.”
Sunday’s elections showed Frederik Reinfeldt's Moderate-led alliance winning 173 seats in the 349-seat parliament and the Social Democrat led Left-Green coalition with 156 seats, which means there will probably be weeks of coalition talks before a new government, most likely a minority one, is formed.
But the big news in these elections - for a country which has long prided itself as being one of the most tolerant, liberal and progressive in Europe - was that SD won 20 seats, their first entry to the national parliament and a sure sign of changing times.
The previously marginal party, which just a few years ago was considered nothing more than a motley collection of racists and fascists on the fringe of society, ran a campaign focused on the need to cut immigration and featured ominous ads showing burka-clad Muslim women shoving aside white Swedish pensioners in order to take away their benefits.
The party’s leader, a clean-cut 31-year-old named Jimmie Åkesson, described Islam as Sweden’s biggest national security threat since the Second World War, and presented skewed statistics ostensibly to prove that immigrants were five times more likely than native Swedes to be convicted of rape.
Both of the bigger political blocs have ruled out working with the SD, which means it is highly unlikely Akesson will play any role as “kingmaker” or be part of any future government – but the party’s success is indicative of the growing resentment of immigration here, as elsewhere in Europe. One in seven residents in this once homogenous Scandinavian country are today immigrants.
In Holland, the Party of Freedom of Geert Wilders has held the balance of power since an election in June, while in Hungary the Jobbik party - alleged to be both anti-Roma and anti-Semitic by its opponents - won parliamentary seats last spring. Austria, France and Britain have also seen varying degrees of increased popularity for their far-right anti-immigrant national parties.
The SD did not include any anti-Semitic messages in its platform. On the contrary, it has two Jewish members among its top ranks and has actually come out in support of Israel at times. However, according to Posner, the vast majority of the approximately 20,000-strong Jewish community is nonetheless “devastated” by the results.
“Ninety-nine percent of the community are absolutely against everything this party is for. To be Jewish is to have values of humanism. We know what it means to have to flee and to survive and we strive to protect those who are persecuted,” she says. “But Sweden is now joining other Europeans in being xenophobic.”
Posner claims that the SD’s pro-Israel stance emanates from nothing more than a way to further battle the Muslim community, and has nothing to do with an affinity with the Jews or the Jewish homeland per se. “They love Israel because that sort of rhetoric is in tune with their hatred for Muslims. That’s it,” she says.
Posner points to two of the party’s platforms which, she argues, while calculated to be against Muslims, also show their “true colors,” as regards the Jewish community. The SD opposes male circumcision and would have it banned and also stand for the continuation of the 1940s ban on Schita in the country.
Sweden today is one of very few European countries to maintain a ban on ritual slaughter - necessitating the import of kosher or hallal meat from outside the country. The far-right party proposes not only to continue the ban, but also to ban importation of such meat.
David Landes, editor of the daily English language Stockholm online paper The Local has written about anti-Semitism in Sweden in the past and says the situation is a little more complicated as regards the far right and the Jews. He agrees with Posner that SD, “without a doubt” has its roots in the Swedish neo-Nazi movement, but argues that there is little indication they will ever turn their sights on the Jews.
“I do not equate this reformed Nazi party…with anti-Semitism per se,” he says. “It’s that Swedish brand of Nazism which is more about preserving the traditions and strength of the white Nordic race than about wanting to crack the skulls of Jews.”
And, while there have been an increasing number of anti-Semitic events in Sweden this past year – everything from desecration of a synagogue and a cemetery in the town of Malmo, to taunting of children with “Hitler” chants in Uppsala - Landes attributes these more to a growing anti-Israel sentiment, often coming from the Muslim community and the far left.
In fact, of the 79 anti-Semitic incidents which were reported to the police in 2009- twice as many as the previous year - more than half were blamed on radical elements from among the country’s Muslim population as well as extreme members of the far left, not far right.
Indeed, one member of the Jewish community - who did not want to be identified - said the reaction of the Jews to the SD was more nuanced than Posner would admit.
The Jewish community in Sweden, he said, has long been a liberal one, and so there is indeed disgust with the SD’s xenophobia and precious few voted for them. But on the other hand, he admitted, there are Jews also concerned with the rising number of Muslims in the country and some of the more extremist views expressed by some of them, and are thus conflicted.
“It’s a lose–lose situation” he said.
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