As major Swedish cities such as Malmö have become known as places where Jews are threatened, anti-Semitism in Sweden has attracted international attention. Does Sweden, however, really deserve this bad reputation or is there some misunderstanding?
In December 2017, when US President Donald J. Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, demonstrations broke out in Malmö. Protesters, often people with an Arab background, shouted, "We want our freedom back and we're going to shoot the Jews", and a chapel at the Jewish cemetery was attacked with firebombs. In Gothenburg, the city's synagogue was also attacked with firebombs.
The synagogue in Gothenburg, Sweden was firebombed on December 9, 2017. (Image source: Lintoncat/Wikimedia Commons)
The local newspaper in Malmö, Kvällsposten, described how the Jewish congregation in Malmö -- not Israelis; Swedish Jews -- tries to protect itself:
"At the synagogue in Malmö, the Jewish congregation has set up poles to prevent attacks with vehicles. In addition, the building is protected by a high fence around the building. The area has been guarded for a long time by the police. As soon as the congregation holds a service, the premises are guarded by the police."
One could fairly say that the Jews in Malmö are under siege. Reports also note that Jews in Malmö cannot wear any Jewish symbols in public without the risk of being attacked.
Only the most brazen and explicit anti-Semitic acts are reported by the Swedish media. Many organizations that spread implicit anti-Semitism receive no attention from either the Swedish media or the so-called "anti-racist" movements. The group Youth Against Settlements (YAS), for example, which has its base in Hebron, visits high schools and holds lectures in Sweden, and is conducting a campaign against the Jewish residents of Hebron. One student described what was said when YAS visited the Glokala Folkhögskolan school in Malmö on February 28, 2018:
"They talked about there being checkpoints everywhere in the country [Israel] and that Arabs are constantly being stopped and beaten down, killed. They also said that the Palestinians lived in concentration camps, kind of like the Second World War. And that Israel sees and hears everything. Like they had cameras everywhere and observed everything. I mean there was a lot of bullshit that they said. Towards the end, everybody was forced to take pictures with their flag. I had to pretend to go to the bathroom to avoid it. Really sick!"
Another student said about the YAS visit:
"The most controversial thing that was mentioned was that Jews control the United States and the media."
These interviews with the students were conducted by a Swedish blogger, Tobias Petersson, who published them on his blog. That public high schools received visits from an organization that demonizes Israel and makes false and outrageous anti-Semitic statements should, at the very least, have been investigated by the media. But the Swedish media ignored the defamation and neither verified nor repudiated the information.
Instead, the two individuals who represented YAS and were touring in Sweden, Zleikha Al Muhtaseb and Anas Amro, were described as "peace activists". On their Facebook pages, however, knife attacks, martyrdom and intifada are celebrated. YAS also supported the recent riots at the border between Israel and Gaza, despite these riots having led to more Palestinians being killed, worsening the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and having been organized by Hamas, an anti-Semitic terrorist organization that outspokenly seeks to destroy Israel.
YAS was invited to hold lectures for public institutions in Sweden; and the foreign minister of Sweden, Margot Wallström, met with YAS when she visited Ramallah in December 2016. As such, YAS became an organization legitimized by the Swedish government. When organizations such as YAS visit Sweden and are received unquestioningly, with open arms, by high schools and other public institutions, this kind of welcome legitimizes the type of anti-Semitism that is presented, no matter how false, as a supposedly reliable view of Israel.
Another organization that clearly has anti-Semitic tendencies and is supported by public institutions in Sweden is Group 194. Its name, which derives from United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194, adopted on December 11, 1948, during the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli War that followed the founding of Israel. Resolution 194 says, among other things:
"...the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible..."
The resolution is used by many Palestinians to try to prove international recognition of a "right to return" to what is today the heartland of Israel, to erase Israel, as maps of "Palestine" openly display, and ostensibly to reclaim homes that 70 years later are likely no longer there.
Group 194, a pro-Palestinian political organization, has close ties with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), a terrorist group that has murdered at least 36 Israeli civilians, and which supports the Assad regime in Syria. That is why it seemed strange when the Labor and Social Services Board of the Municipality of Malmö, on October 27, 2017 granted 132,000 kronor (roughly $15,000) to Group 194 and two other organizations, so they could patrol the suburb of Rosengård at night, supposedly in order to make the area safe. For full disclosure, the author, as a member of this municipal board, and a few of his fellow party colleagues voted against this proposal; the majority of the board, however, supported it. Today, it is a fact that pro-Palestinian organizations are funded by the municipality of Malmö.
Group 194 supports violent extremism. On their Facebook page one can see pictures of minors holding Kalashnikov rifles. There also have been anti-Semitic images on Group 194's Facebook page, such as a defamatory cartoon portraying a Jew drinking blood and eating a child. Why does the municipality of Malmö support such an organization with taxpayers' money? The reason is that Malmö and Sweden have serious problems in dealing with imported, Middle Eastern anti-Semitism. When Swedish politicians -- because of ignorance or tolerance for intolerant behavior -- accept anti-Semitism in an important Swedish city as Malmö, that is an unacceptable problem. It is also unacceptable when a majority of local politicians in Sweden's third-largest city support taxpayer money going to a pro-Palestinian organization that has made anti-Semitic statements and promoted violence. It reveals that too many Swedish politicians apparently cannot even recognize what anti-Semitism looks like and when and how to take a stand against it. What are Swedish Jews to think?
Group 194 was also given an award by the municipality of Malmö at a gala it organized, and has received contributions from various municipalities in Sweden for several years, including Sundsvall and Landskrona, where the municipality has a close cooperation with Group 194. When Landskrona had its official summer party, one of its organizers was Group 194.
Ship To Gaza is an organization that usually gets a lot of media publicity. When one of its activists, Ferry Saarposhan, stated that Israel's treatment of Palestinians "is worse than the Holocaust," the Swedish media stayed silent. The video clip of his statement is posted on the official Facebook page of Ship to Gaza-Sweden, a page that has more than 35,000 "likes". But no one has yet responded to his slander.
Different factors end up reinforcing each other, as this author has already noted. They create an echo chamber that then leads to a situation where Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism becomes accepted by Swedish authorities. These factors include:
- Large-scale immigration from countries where anti-Semitism is normalized.
- A strong pro-Palestinian engagement among Swedish politicians that has resulted in a totally inaccurate and surreal debate about the Israel-Palestine conflict, in which Israel is unjustly demonized.
- A desire among political parties in Sweden to win the votes of immigrants.
- A Swedish multiculturalism that is so uncritical of foreign cultures that it cannot differentiate between culture and racism.
- A fear of sounding critical of immigration.
- Important Swedish institutions, such as the Church of Sweden, legitimizing anti-Semitism by endorsing the counter-factual Kairos Palestine document.
Today this process has gone so far that many in Sweden seem to have totally internalized this imported, Middle Eastern anti-Semitism and made it an integral part of their ideology.
Today in Sweden, supporting organizations that demonize Israel and spread anti-Semitism is considered completely normal. It is not even the subject of discussion -- unless an extreme statement is uttered. Oldoz Javidi, a parliamentary candidate for the feminist party, Feminist Initiative, for instance, said that all Israeli Jews should move to the United States so "the Palestinians can live in peace and rebuild the country that once was theirs". Only after the Times of Israel and other non-Swedish media outlets wrote articles about this incident did some Swedish mainstream media outlets start writing about the incident and describe the candidate's statements as anti-Semitic. The criticism from Swedish media outlets forced Javidi to withdraw her candidacy.
When it comes to confronting imported Middle Eastern anti-Semitism, there seems to be simply a fear of conflict, and especially of being called "racist" or "anti-immigrant." These fears seem to lead at best to a wish to try to paper over problems by holding "dialogues" to find "compromises."
In August 2017, Bassem Nasr, a representative for the Green Party in Malmö's municipal council, wrote an op-ed that criticized anti-Semitism within pro-Palestinian organizations. Strangely enough, Nasr was embraced by the Swedish establishment, which often brands anyone who criticizes Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism as racists.
Nasr, however, has a history that the media failed to mention. In 2006, he invited the anti-Semitic terrorist organization Hamas to Malmö. The visit never took place, only because one of the Hamas representatives was denied a visa to enter Europe. Nasr, however, never explained why he invited Hamas representatives in the first place; he never even apologized.
In 2008, Bassem Nasr wrote -- incorrectly -- in an op-ed:
"The fact is that there is no Israeli prime minister throughout history that has had so little blood on his hands as the Iranian president."
At the time Nasr made this statement, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who denied that the Holocaust ever happened, was president of Iran. The fact that Iran is an Islamist dictatorship and second only to China for most executions in the world -- and even executes minors -- makes Nasr's statement even more bizarre.
What seemed to have suited the Swedish establishment was that Nasr had no suggestions on how to counter anti-Semitism in Malmö and Sweden, except that it was "the task of the teachers". That Nasr had once invited Hamas to Malmö and been active in pro-Palestinian organizations for several years evidently created the feeling of comfortable, non-confrontational "dialogue" that many policy-makers in Sweden seem to imagine can fight anti-Semitism.
One source of Middle Eastern anti-Semitism is the messages that come from Sweden's mosques. In April 2017, a mosque in the Swedish city of Borås invited a speaker who had been convicted in Germany for calling for the murder of Jews. In July 2017, an imam at a mosque in the Swedish city of Helsingborg said that Jews were the descendants of apes and pigs.
When the government, after several scandals related to extremism in Muslim religious communities, wanted to investigate the criteria for financial support from the state, Ulf Bjereld, who has a history of defending Islamists in different contexts, was appointed to head the investigation. Bjereld is also chairman of the Religious Social Democrats of Sweden. This organization has been criticized several times for excusing and legitimizing anti-Semitism, and is part of the Social Democratic Party -- Sweden's governing party.
Appointing someone such as Bjereld for this investigation shows that the Sweden's national and local governments are not ready to confront Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism, but would much rather have a nice, quiet "dialogue" about it.
In Sweden, imported Middle Eastern anti-Semitism is funded by taxpayer money, so when scandals occur, they are often addressed by the same people who have participated in spreading its message.
No effective actions are currently being taken against the spread of anti-Semitism in Sweden.
In December 2017, this author submitted a motion to the Malmö municipal council to map and analyze anti-Semitism in the city. It is a measure that would give the politicians a clear picture of why anti-Semitism has increased there, so that corrective measures could be taken. But this proposal is unpopular, because such an analysis of anti-Semitism in Malmö would force the authorities to realize that Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism is a huge problem.
Just as European anti-Semitism was defeated by rejecting and condemning the ideology after World War II and isolating its proponents, so must Sweden's "new" anti-Semitism be defeated by isolating its advocates and marginalizing all organizations spreading its ideas. This means that all direct and indirect government funding of these organizations has to end. As long as this does not happen, Jews in Sweden will continue living in fear and insecurity.
Nima Gholam Ali Pour is a member of the board of education in the Swedish city of Malmö and is engaged in several Swedish think tanks concerned with the Middle East. He is also editor for the social conservative website Situation Malmö. He is the author of the books "Därför är mångkultur förtryck" ("Why Multiculturalism is Oppression") and "Allah bestämmer inte i Sverige" ("Allah Does Not Decide in Sweden").