The Clear and Present Danger Facing Sweden's Jews

Who is really stirring up anti-Semitism to new heights in Sweden? It's not who you thought.

In 1945, my paternal grandparents were brought to the Swedish seaside industrial town of Malmö on buses organized by Count Folke Bernadotte’s Red Cross. Recently saved from the unspeakable horrors of Auschwitz, Frajda Rozental and Jankel Radomski did not know each other upon arrival in Sweden. They had both suffered dreadful losses - but they had survived.

For Jankel, his parents, siblings as well as his newly-founded young family had all been executed. Frajda lost her father, mother and all her siblings except one sister, a Zionist, who had left for Palestine before the war, and as a result was considered the black sheep of their small Hasidic village. As was often the case with survivors, Frajda and Jankel, in an act of perseverance and survival, formed a new bond upon their arrival. The first result of this union came already in 1946, in the shape of their firstborn - my father, Chaim.

My grandparents worked hard to integrate into Swedish society and to build a new life. The Sweden that offered a new beginning had chosen a self-proclaimed neutrality throughout the war, with the clear and pragmatic intention to protect the country against invasion at all costs. This included allowing the German troops of the Engelbrecht battalion free passage via railroad to Norway, enabling its occupation. Subsequently, over 1,000 Norwegian Jews perished in the concentration camps. Towards the end of the war the tide turned, and Sweden allowed allied bombers to refuel on its territory, acting as the destination for the extraordinary rescue of Danish Jews across the Straits of Öresund, and as the home for the White Buses that rescued my grandparents.

In 1969, my family again experienced the embrace of Swedish salvation. My mother Dora, a 19-year-old Polish student of chemistry, was given a way to escape from the new wave of anti-Semitism that engulfed Poland in the late 1960s. Sweden's provision of yet another new future for my family secured my everlasting gratitude. However, the country’s war-time history still soiled its virtue. When compiling a high school essay on Sweden during World War II, I encountered graphic photographs of students of my very own school demonstrating in Stockholm's Östermalmstorg Square in 1942. On their placards: “Stop the Import of Jews.”

As children of the post-war generation, we were taught to approach our Judaism as a distinctive but guarded bond. Non-Jews were commonly referred to as “Swedes” by my parents, and, even though I never knew any other homeland, for many years this paradox seemed natural to me. We took great pride in being part of a minority that united us and gave us strength as well as a sense of identity – unique features that willingly separated us from the Swedish mainstream. Although the Jews integrated after the war and subsequently excelled both in academia and in a wide array of professional pursuits, the internal will to retain the group’s separate and special standing was always present.

Many Jews who sought either a Zionist or Jewish religious lifestyle would seek it elsewhere, in Israel, the U.S. or the U.K. Leaving Sweden was and is a case of pull rather than push, as the established spectrum of pro-Israeli or religious activities here is not comprehensive and distinctive enough for some Swedish Jews. I know, as I was one of these Jews that left for Israel at the age of 18 to fulfill both Zionist and religious aspirations by volunteering at a kibbutz, studying at a yeshiva academy on Israel's northern border and by serving in the Israel Defense Forces. At no point was this due to prosecution or even the lack of acceptance of my religion by my fellow Swedes, but rather as the manifestation of my own convictions.

A similar choice is currently being made by many Jewish families in Malmö, a town now globally infamous for anti-Semitism. These families may leave Malmö, but rather than going to Israel they settle in the larger and more vibrant Jewish community of Stockholm. They have chosen an internal emigration rather than leaving Sweden's borders. Bearing in mind the reports, articles and surveys that detail the anti-Semitic atmosphere in Sweden, what is behind this choice? Why would the Jews of Malmö risk staying in Sweden instead of leaving the country? Why would any Jew? Are the Jews of Sweden wishful thinkers or just ignorant? Doesn’t the majority of Swedish Jewry see the clear and present danger that is being described, not least by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and other international anti-racist organizations?

To understand the answers to these questions, we need to look beyond the convenient and glib 'truth' that I hear too many times in Israel: “Europe - a continent of anti-Semites and Muslims - is lost. All sensible Jews should make aliyah and get the hell out of there!” As an advocate for Israel, I have grown accustomed to the sweeping generalizations made by our adversaries. These generalizations – whether directed at Israeli settlements, war-time conquests, Israeli public opinion and many other subjects – are usually based on ignorance or malice, and frequently both. We now risk making the same generalization regarding Sweden, without looking at the core issues at hand.

It is no coincidence that Malmö, with its large Muslim population, has seen a vast increase in anti-Semitic attacks. Let me explain why. First, a point of order: Swedes are sticklers for order and administration, even compared to its fellow EU countries, and this includes the proper registration of crimes. This goes some way into explaining the country’s disheartening statistics at the hand of recent EU surveys.

Secondly, and more importantly, the recent rise in anti-Semitic activity in Sweden originates largely from the Arab and Muslim communities. Here, many immigrants have backgrounds that are directly linked to the Israeli-Arab conflict and hail from countries where classic anti-Semitism is commonly accepted, encouraged by politicians and even taught in schools. Anti-Semitism in Sweden is commonly hidden under a very thin veil of anti-Zionism and anti-Israeli sentiments. Therefore it's relatively easy to see the direct correlation between certain events in the Middle East, such as the Second Lebanon War in 2006, and an increase in local anti-Semitic attacks.

Thirdly, most crucially and discouragingly, the current political climate in Sweden is a key enabler for the rise of anti-Semitic attacks. This is Swedish Jewry’s real clear and present danger; a fatal combination of political correctness, self-righteousness and obliviousness, as leading politicians and opinion makers participate in or blatantly ignore the correlation between a disproportionate demonization of Israel that frequently crosses the line into anti-Semitism. This has created a climate where it is acceptable and encouraged to support calls for Israel’s destruction, deliberately ignoring the effect such support has as a vehicle for the rise in Swedish anti-Semitism.

The ever so convenient distinction between hate for Israel and hate for Jews, although very popular with Swedish media and politicians, is not respected by the enemies of either Israel or the Jews. The public acceptance of this type of anti-Israel attitude, which directly harbors anti-Semitism, is compounded by - amongst others - the leading Social Democrat and former Malmö mayor Illmar Reepalu, who stated publicly that his city’s Jews were themselves to blame for the rise of anti-Semitic attacks as they did not distance themselves clearly enough from Israel. After the end of his term, Reepalu was promoted by his party, Sweden's largest, to a seat on its powerful executive committee.

We need to call a spade a spade: There is no general deterioration in the quality of life for Jews in Sweden because of anti-Jewish laws or a general prosecution of Jews. The recent debates regarding circumcision and kosher slaughter are symptoms of Swedish society unsuccessfully trying to come to grips with its colossal failure in integrating the recent waves of Muslim immigrants. As in many other countries, there are right-wing political parties that are more than ready to cross the common line of political correctness and pick up these issues in the populist pursuit of votes, such as the Sverigedemokraterna party which is widely expected to gain at least 10% of the popular vote in the upcoming 2014 general elections. Although it needed to depart from its overt neo-Nazi roots to have a chance at entering Parliament, the party remains vehemently against both circumcision and kosher slaughter, but is ironically enough pro-Israeli, as it 'values' how Israel deals with its Arab neighbors, for all the wrong reasons and motivations. A city like Malmö has vast social issues to be resolved, which is the reason for many inhabitants, including Jews, to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

However the problem is not Malmö or even the predictable hate against both Israel and Jews that is being displayed and acted upon by certain elements of its population. It is the eagerness, with a small number of outstanding exceptions, of the mainstream media, politicians and opinion makers to ignore and hide current anti-Semitism under the cover of disproportionate and unjustified criticism of Israel. These attitudes should not be tolerated in modern Swedish society and until they are recognized and openly discussed, the tide of anti-Semitism against Swedish Jews will continue to rise.

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 shares his time between Tel Aviv and Stockholm.  

AFP