Malmö: Hatred of Jews in a Swedish city (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By PAULINA NEUDING 04/08/12)
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Rabbi Shneur Kesselman is used to running. When I asked him about the
most serious anti-Semitic attack he has been victim of in his Swedish
home town of Malmö, he recalled an incident when a car began backing
into him and his wife as they were crossing the street.
How close was he when he stopped? I asked.
“I don’t know, we ran,” he said.
Another incident: The rabbi was walking to morning service at Malmö’s
Orthodox synagogue, when a car stopped and the driver asked him
aggressively to come closer. It was early Saturday morning and the
streets around them were empty. When Kesselman started to walk away,
the car turned and began to pursue him.
Again Rabbi Kesselman found himself running through the streets of
Malmö. “I have never been so frightened,” he told me.
Anti-Semitic hate crimes are on the rise in Sweden, and as in France
and Great Britain, the violence and harassment is increasingly a
consequence of immigration from the Muslim world. And just as in
other parts of Western Europe, there is no reciprocity between the
two groups: the war in Gaza caused a sharp rise in anti- Semitic hate
crime, while there were no reports of Jewish attacks on Muslims.
In the capital of Stockholm, such imported anti-Semitism has not yet
provoked any dramatic changes in Jewish life – mainly because of the
segregated nature of the city. Immigrants dominate housing projects
in the suburbs, while most Jewish activity is downtown. Stockholm’s
only kosher store, its main synagogue and the Jewish cultural center
are located in Stockholm’s business quarters.
In Malmö it is different. In 2004 the most common name for baby boys
in the city was Mohammed, and among 15-year-olds, ethnic Swedes are
now in minority.
Unlike in Stockholm, these demographic changes are immediately
reflected in city life, and for Malmö’s 1,500 Jews, life has changed
considerably. It is telling that the city’s Jews don’t use slogans or
carry signs during their recurring demonstrations against anti-
Semitism; they simply wear kippahs and Stars of David. It has become
a manifestation in itself to walk through town as a Jew.
According to the Malmö police, hate crimes in the city range from
anti-Semitic remarks (a crime according to Swedish penal law) to
violent assault. In late 2008, a peaceful Jewish demonstration was
run off the main square by an aggressive mob of immigrants of Arab
The police decided to evacuate the Jewish group when a homemade bomb
exploded in its midst.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center has issued a warning to Jews travelling
to Malmö, specifically pointing to remarks made by Malmö’s mayor of
17 years, Ilmar Reepalu of the Social Democratic party. In the spring
of 2009, the city decided not to allow an audience into an upcoming
Davis Cup match between Sweden and Israel. “This isn’t a match
against just anyone,” Mayor Ilmar Reepalu explained at the time, “It
is a match against the State of Israel.”
When asked about rising anti- Semitism, Mr. Reepalu replied that the
city of Malmö accepts neither anti-Semitism, nor Zionism. He has
accused “the Israeli lobby” of trying to portray him as an anti-
Semite, and his reaction to the warning issued by the Wiesenthal
Center was to tell the Malmö daily Sydsvenska Dagbladet: “I get an
uneasy feeling that the Simon Wiesenthal Center is not actually
interested in what is happening in Malmö, but to single out people
who dare to criticize the State of Israel. Are they yet again trying
to silence me?”
When we met in a debate on Swedish public radio at the end of March,
Ilmar Reepalu maintained that the attacks on Jews in Malmö are not
very serious, that other groups have been worse off and that “the
city of Malmö cannot discriminate in favor of one of its minorities” –
as if that was what Malmö’s Jews were asking for.
When I interviewed Mr. Reepalu recently, I asked him about the fact
that there is no reciprocity in violence and harassment between Arabs
and Jews. He replied by saying that the Jewish congregation in Malmö
has been “infiltrated” by the Sweden Democrats – a party with its
roots in the Swedish neo- Nazi movement. This statement caused an
outcry in the Swedish media, and Mr. Reepalu was forced to retract
it. “Ilmar is very outspoken,” a high ranking party official in Malmö
said to his defense.
It is unlikely that Malmö’s electorate will punish Ilmar Reepalu for
what has been called his “Tourette’s syndrome with respect to Jews.”
He did well in the election of 2010, just after a recent nation-wide
debate on his anti- Semitic remarks. His Social Democratic colleagues
could convince him to step down, but have shown no signs of taking
Hopefully this will change; his removal would send an important
signal against anti-Semitism.
Still, I doubt that firing Ilmar Reepalu will in itself improve the
situation for Malmö’s Jews. In Malmö, as elsewhere in Sweden, crime
among immigrant youths is constantly explained as a matter of social
inequality. Swedish mailmen, ambulance drivers and fire fighters have
at times not been able to perform their duties in immigrant
neighborhoods, something Swedish media and politicians on the Left
tend to describe as a consequence of discrimination and poverty – a
bold analysis in one of the world’s most generous welfare havens for
refugees. Also, hate crimes committed by members of the immigrant
community are rarely described as a matter of values; instead the
perpetrators are referred to as victims.
As long as this is the case, Rabbi Kesselman will have to keep
The writer is a lawyer and editor-in-chief of the Swedish center-
right journal Neo. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 04/08/12)
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