Attack on Jewish community in Sweden follows surge of hate crimes
Malmo’s 600-strong Jewish community has endured attacks ranging from verbal abuse to desecration of a synagogue and a Jewish cemetery in recent months.
A Jewish community building in Malmo, Sweden, was attacked overnight between Thursday and Friday with explosives and bricks.
"I was shocked that this happened now," Fred Kahn, president of the Jewish Community in Malmo told the TT news agency. "Jewish institutions in Sweden are under constant threat, but we have not noticed anything out of the ordinary recently."
The community building houses a kindergarten, meeting halls and apartments. Nobody was injured in the explosion, which, according to witnesses, could be heard several blocks away.
According to local police, witnesses saw two speeding cars leaving the scene of the explosion. The police managed to stop one of the vehicles and arrested two 18-year-old men on suspicion of causing severe damage. The police suspect more people were involved in planning and executing the attack.
President of the Council of Jewish Communities in Sweden, Lena Posner-Korosi, believes those who carried out last night's had anti-Semitic motives.
Malmo has seen a surge in hate crimes against its 600-strong Jewish community. The assaults have ranged from verbal abuse to desecration of a synagogue and a Jewish cemetery.
The local Chabad rabbi, Shneur Kesselman, claims to have personally experienced around 90 anti-Semitic incidents since moving to Malmo seven years ago. Earlier this month the word "Palestine" was scratched onto the side of his car. Many of Malmo's Jews, especially younger ones, have left the city for Stockholm, Israel, London and the U.S.
Most attacks are believed to have been committed by Muslims, who make up a fifth of Malmo’s population of 300,000. A dialogue forum has been set up to encourage improved relations between the Malmo's religious and ethnic groups. Its manager, Bjorn Lagerback, condemned last night's attack but said it did not surprise him: "There are tensions and ethnic and religious antagonism between different groups in Malmo."
Fred Kahn said the Jewish community in Malmo needs to raise its security levels but do not have sufficient funds. "We don't have any hidden stashes. We have to take money from members' fees, money which ought to be used for social, cultural and other purposes," said Kahn.
In December 2009 the Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a travel advisory encouraging Jews to avoid travelling to Malmo. The motivation was the surge in anti-Semitic hate crimes as well as a series of controversial statements by Malmo mayor Ilmar Reepalu of the Social Democrat party.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center accused Reepalu and local authorities of not doing enough to protect Jewish citizens. They said the community had been forced to pay a “Jewish tax” since they have to cover the cost of most security measures put in place after a surge in assaults.
A 2009 Israel solidarity demonstration in central Malmo ended in violence as participants were pelted with eggs, bottles and fire crackers. Reepalu suggested Malmo’s Jews could avoid anti-Semitism by condemning Israeli policy. In March this year he told a Swedish magazine that the far-right Sweden Democrat party had "infiltrated the Jewish community in order to push its hatred of Muslims."
In April, Hannah Rosenthal, Barack Obama’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, travelled to Malmö, for a closed-doors meeting with Reepalu and to talk to representatives of the Jewish community. The visit followed criticism from the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden, Mark Brzezinski, over Reepalu's actions.
Reepalu told the TT news agency today that he plans to contact the Jewish community on account of last night's attack, which he labeled a "criminal deed.” He added that "every shooting and every explosion" hurts Malmo's reputation. Crimes directed at congregations are very serious, he said.
Reepalu said he hopes the police have caught the offenders and that the details of the crime will quickly be cleared up. In that case, he said, the event will not necessarily lead to escalating tensions in the city.
In an effort to stand up against anti-Semitism, Malmo Jews began to stage "kippa marches" around the city, openly wearing kippot and other Jewish symbols. Last month, 400 people, including Sweden’s minister for European affairs, Birgitta Ohlsson, participated in such a march.
Ohlsson said that the event represented a “refusal to be indifferent to anti-Semitism, prejudices and intolerance." She added that the government had recently invested 4 million Swedish Kronor (around $600,000) to increase security for the Jewish minority in Sweden. The Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities was tasked with distributing the funds.
Lena Posner-Korosi said that local authorities have twice deniedrequests to install security cameras outside the Jewish communitybuilding in Malmo because it is a "quiet street."