Top Swedish Hospital to Make List of 10 Worst anti-Semitic Incidents of 2018

Karolinska University Hospital, affiliated with institute that awards Nobel Prize in Medicine, named on Simon Wiesenthan Center list for failing to respond adequately to alleged anti-Semitism toward three Jewish doctors

The Karolinska Institute's medical university in Stockholm. Its Nobel Assembly, which consists of 50 professors from various disciplines, selects the recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Bloomberg

STOCKHOLM - One of Sweden's most prestigious hospitals will be included in a high-profile list of the year's worst cases of anti-Semitism, in a grouping that has in the past included white supremacists and Muslim fundamentalists.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, recently informed Stockholm's Karolinska University Hospital that it will appear on its list of the 10 worst anti-Semitic incidents worldwide in 2018. The full list will be published on Thursday.

Cooper's letter to Iréne Svenonius, finance commissioner of Stockholm County, which owns the hospital, claims that the medical center's reaction to a series of anti-Semitic events that allegedly took place in one of its departments has "further inflicted suffering on innocent people, and only deepened and spread the stain of anti-Semitism."  

Last October, Swedish daily newspaper Aftonbladet reported that Jewish doctors working at the hospital were victims of anti-Semitic bullying by one of their superiors – who is both a department head and senior surgeon. The alleged abuse included verbal attacks, anti-Semitic posts on social media and professional decisions that affected their careers.

In November, one of the abused doctors told Haaretz he had been systematically discriminated against by the department head for years. He added that two of his Jewish colleagues had quit the department because of the abuse, leaving him as the only Jewish physician still working there.

He also said all three had to pay both a personal and professional price for the abuse, and suffered from an extremely hostile working environment.

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, which confronts anti-Semitism and promotes human rights worldwide, became involved in November when Cooper was approached by one of the Jewish doctors.

After an initial correspondence with the hospital's acting CEO, Annika Tibell, Cooper traveled to Stockholm last month and met the hospital’s leadership. He then told the local press that the matter "needs to be fully addressed. If it isn’t, there will be damage to the name of Karolinska."

Over a month after his visit to Stockholm, Cooper told Haaretz he is "extremely disappointed that Dr. Tibell has failed to take quick, decisive action.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.
MARK RALSTON / AFP

"The lack of action against anti-Semitic bias is a slap in the face to the Jewish doctors, to the Swedish Jewish community and to our center," he wrote to Svenonius.

His letter added that the hospital "ignored the cancer of anti-Semitism, and only reacted when the scandal went public." When the hospital finally decided to investigate, he said, the professor in charge of the investigation ignored "inconvenient truths" and found no anti-Semitism-related problem at the department.

"In America," Cooper concluded, "we call this a cover-up."

Karolinska is the name of both a major hospital and an affiliated medical institute that is one of the most respected in the world. The latter's Nobel Assembly awards the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Although the institute and adjacent hospital are two different legal entities, they are closely connected and all those who were involved in the alleged anti-Semitic behavior and subsequent investigation still work at both the hospital and institute.

Karolinska acting CEO Tibell told Haaretz that the hospital "continues to engage in ongoing efforts surrounding the report of anti-Semitism at one of our departments." She said an external investigation is ongoing and will be completed in January, which is when the hospital "will take all necessary actions based on the findings of an independent investigation and in accordance with Swedish legislation, including labor laws and regulations."

She continued: "In early 2019, the hospital is planning a number of lectures for employees on the theme of Everyone’s Equal Value, as well as a seminar based on the discussion of discrimination and victimization in health care."

Tibell also addressed the hospital's inclusion on the Wiesenthal Center list. "Clearly we see this as a very serious matter," she said. "Karolinska University Hospital has a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of discrimination, victimization and other offensive behavior – it goes without saying that this also includes all forms of anti-Semitism."

Svenonius responded to Cooper's letter, telling him: "I personally, and the whole political leadership in the County of Stockholm, have zero tolerance" to anti-Semitism. She sought Cooper's advice on the matter, welcomed a meeting with him, and suggested holding a conference promoting "work against discrimination and anti-Semitism" in the workplace.

Svenonius told Haaretz that "since Ms. Tibell was given the responsibility as acting CEO, the matter has been given top priority. I intend to immerse myself in the conclusions of the investigation and return with additional measures to the hospital unless adequate actions are taken by it.

"I take the list, as well as Rabbi Cooper's letter, extremely seriously," she continued. "I also find the growing anti-Semitism we have seen in Sweden recently totally unacceptable. Persons of Jewish descent should both feel welcome and secure in the Stockholm region and in Sweden. We need strong actions nationally and regionally to stop it," she said.

Cooper told Haaretz that while "lectures about cancer are important, action against the existing cancer of anti-Semitism is what's demanded first."

He added that the Swedish hospital "must ensure that those who have exhibited their bias never have any supervisory control over the Jewish doctors. That is a baseline for all other actions."