Sweden Can Run From Islamic Terrorism, but It Cannot Hide

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Police stand guard outside a synagogue in Krystalgade in Copenhagen, February 15, 2015. Credit: Reuters

Since Sunday's brutal attack on a synagogue in Copenhagen, the media and government in Denmark's neighbour across the straits, Sweden, have struggled to describe the horrendous event as a clear-cut "anti-Semitic" attack. Rather, it has been more fitting to the Swedish worldview to discuss a murdered security guard who happened to be Jewish and standing outside a synagogue, and to relate to this incident as part of a general terror threat against the Swedish nation.

The media and government officials have further diluted the anti-Semitic nature of the incident by wrapping into the discussion the risks of Islamophobia and the security needs of the Muslim community in Sweden.

The fact that we need to recognize, discuss and act upon a specific threat toward Jews is either unfathomable, marginalised or sought to be ignored by large parts of the Swedish political and media spectrum.

Part of the problem is that Sweden has trouble acknowledging the threat of Islamic extremism and its role in political violence. In response to the botched suicide bombings in central Stockholm by Taimour Abdulwahab during the Christmas rush hour of 2010, where hundreds of civilians could have been at risk, only the far-right Sverigedemokraterna (Sweden Democrats) party recognized that the main terrorism threat facing Sweden comes from Islamic extremism (and in so doing served their own political interests). The rest of the political establishment was quick to broaden the scope to include all right-wing and left-wing extremists as constituting threats of violent extremism. Thus, they implied, there was no need to create specific educational and security initiatives to fight Islamic extremism.

This effort to either avoid or ignore the threat of Islamic extremism was also recently expressed by Sweden's national coordinator against violent extremism, former chairwoman of the Social Democrat party, Mona Sahlin. After Swedish security forces determined that about 80 Swedish citizens had travelled to Syria to fight for Islamic State and that some 40 of which had returned to Sweden, Sahlin made a terrible mistake. Rather than considering steps to prevent trained terrorists from returning – like revoking their citizenship – and in so doing protect Swedish citizens, Jewish or otherwise, Sahlin advocated for providing them with psychological treatment and support in finding jobs. That is, she preferred to pursue a pipe dream of reintegrating fanatics into Swedish society.

Yet the problem goes beyond a failure to understand the threat of Islamic extremism. It also includes a failure to acknowledge the threat of anti-Semitism in the country. 

In an interview with state radio on Tuesday, the Israeli ambassador to Sweden was asked whether the Jews themselves were partly to blame for Sunday's attack. This was text book anti-Semitism. The ambassador dismissed the question and the radio station later issued an apology and retraction, including an extraordinary move to delete this segment from the Internet archive – the stated objective of which was to prevent proliferation.

There is a broad consensus in Sweden that the country’s Jews should be supported. Even avid Israel-haters, such as the Left Party chairman in the city of Malmö, Daniel Sestrajcic have joined local "kippah walks" to this effect. However, by carrying out these walks with the aim of generating as broad support for the Jewish community as possible, Swedish Jewry is fooling both itself and the rest of the world. It is not possible to genuinely support the Jews of Sweden from current threats whilst pointing fingers only against religious intolerance on the political right, as this ignores the rabid anti-Semitism that has found fertile soil within the Muslim elements of the governing red-green alliances. 

The standard-bearers of this environment are Mehmet Kaplan and Gustav Fridolin, newly minted government ministers for housing and education of the Green Party. Kaplan joined the flotilla to Gaza in 2010 and Fridolin participated in a violent protest of Israel's security barrier in 2004. They have neither the interest nor intention of recognizing or discussing the regular incidents where criticism of Israel crosses the line into hatred and modern-day anti-Semitism, for this stands in the way of their wish to demonise Israel.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löven of the Social Democrats experienced the existence and strength of these anti-Semitic currents in his own party when, during Operation Protective Edge, he published a balanced Facebook message regarding the crisis, urging both sides to cease hostilities. Within hours, the message was flooded with thousands of negative comments from members threatening to leave the party, describing Löven as a paid Jewish spy, comparing events to World War II concentration camps, and calling for Hitler’s return. The message was removed by Löven’s staff at the end of the day – presumably to avoid further embarrassment.

Swedish decision makers cannot claim to support Swedish Jewry and the values of a liberal democracy if they do not support the right of any Swede, especially a Jew, to voice his or her support for the State of Israel. Nevertheless, participants in "kippah walks" have been discouraged from waving Israeli flags – which are considered provocative and political, and would therefore prevent top ranking politicians from joining these manifestations of support. This policy unfortunately lives in symbiosis with the wishes of the Jewish community to distance itself from Israel, in order to contain the current security threat. Sadly, recent events have proved that this strategy is not working.

After the outrageous events in Copenhagen, and while we mourn the tragic loss of life, we need to be brutally clear about where the threat against Scandinavian Jews comes from and demand our governments and security officials identify it and deal with it – even if this is politically inconvenient and demands a true commitment to democratic values. The alternative option would be to wait for the next horrendous attack.

Daniel Radomski is the Chairman of the Zionist Federation of Sweden, a Steering Committee Member of the World Jewish Congress' Jewish Diplomatic Corps and a contributor to the American Jewish Committee's Global Voices Blog. He divides his time between Tel Aviv and Stockholm.  

Click the alert icon to follow topics: