The Israeli Emigre Who Opened Sweden's Eyes to anti-Semitism

Shirley Tsubarah left her life in Malmo, a Swedish city that has 75,000 Muslims and is known as one of the most anti-Semitic cities in Europe, to move to Israel; life is easier there in some ways, she says, but she'll never go back.

Shirley Tsubarah
Shirley Tsubarah, who immigrated to Israel from Sweden, July 2015. Eliran Rubin

For some Swedes, it was a rude awakening: the newspaper Sydsvenskan’s interview with Swedish Israeli Shirley Tsubarah. “I’m hated in Malmo,” the 25-year-old said.

Tsubarah, who has an Israeli father, says that after she and her family fell victim to hate crimes, she left Sweden a few years ago and moved to Israel.

In the interview, she said the Swedish authorities consciously ignored the situation — 134 complaints last year to the Malmo police, including claims of violence and property damage. But all those files were closed without investigations, she says.

“In Israel you live under security threats with a lot of tension and uncertainty, but you can be whoever you want to be,” she says. “In Malmo, Jews hide their identity or they suffer.”

The southern Swedish city with its 75,000 Muslims is known as one of the most anti-Semitic cities in Europe. In 2012, the European Jewish Congress warned that the city’s Jewish community was at grave risk and that hate crimes were designed to make the lives of Swedish Jews unbearable.

Tsubarah was born in Malmo to a Swedish mother and an Israeli father. Her father Amnon came to Sweden in 1980 and opened the country’s first falafel restaurant to great enthusiasm. Back then the Jewish community numbered more than 2,000 people, compared with 400 now.

“Jews here know that as soon as their identity is known they’ll suffer insults, threats and violence,” Tsubarah says.

In her family’s first anti-Semitic experience, someone sprayed the family car with the slogan “Go home Jew pigs.” Then she and her six brothers were cursed in school hallways or in their neighborhood.

“In my high school 80 percent of the students were Muslim, and they would say: ‘Wait and see what happens when we catch you,’” she says. “My brother was severely beaten because he was Jewish. When he complained to the police nothing happened.”

Tsubarah now works at a high-tech company in Tel Aviv after joining the army when she immigrated.

“I don’t regret the move, but before I enlisted I had to work at two jobs and could hardly pay the rent,” she says. “I had to move to my grandfather’s house.”

Her two brothers have served in the army as combat soldiers. After their years in the Israel Defense Forces they realized that life in Israel was financially difficult, so they returned to Sweden.

“It’s easier in Sweden and we’re used to a certain standard of living, which is difficult to attain in Israel. In Sweden, for 500 shekels ($130) I can come out of the supermarket with two full carts — here I fill half a cart for that amount at best,” Tsubarah says.

“When my parents visited they were shocked at how expensive it is here. And there’s a lot more social assistance from the state, while you earn enough to live well without the pressure of running an overdraft or needing loans to survive.”

On their website earlier this year, the Swedish police said they did all they could to protect minorities. In any case, Tsubarah hopes her family won’t be persecuted following her interview. “The police talk a lot but do little,” she says.