Malmö, Sweden's third-largest city, has become known for its vibrant anti-Semitism, and it is not clear if the ruling Social Democrats really have the political or moral will to counter it. Pictured: Malmö City Hall. (Image source: Hajotthu/Wikimedia Commons)
Malmö, the third-largest city in Sweden, has become known for its vibrant anti-Semitism. It should consequently not be surprising that many Jews there do not feel safe. Making anti-Semitism even more problematic, it is not clear if the ruling Social Democrats really have the political or moral will to counter it.
The former Mayor of Malmö, Ilmar Reepalu, has several times been accused of expressing anti-Semitic sentiments. Other leading Social Democrat politicians, such as Adrian Kaba, have also in the past spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. This year, when the Social Democrats' Youth League in Malmö demonstrated on International Worker's Day, May 1st, they chanted, "crush Zionism".
What distinguishes all these scandals is that nobody has had to pay a political price. So far, expressing anti-Semitic views as a Social Democrat politician in Malmö has apparently been acceptable. Even though the party has publicly said it regretted the incidents, no one has yet had to resign because of them.
The Social Democrats' coalition partners in Malmö, the Liberals, have also had problems regarding anti-Semitism and its normalization in the public life of Malmö. In August 2018, reports surfaced that one of the Liberals' politicians there, Muhammad Khorshid, who made anti-Semitic statements in the past, did, after the revelation, have to leave his political assignments. In June 2019, the news site Samnytt related that despite relinquishing his posts, Khorshid had a meeting with the Liberals' leader in Malmö, Deputy Mayor Roko Kursar, in the City Hall and posted a picture of the meeting on Facebook. The subject of the meeting was the integration of migrants, public safety and the future of Malmö. Having access to leading politicians after being forced to resign seemed yet another signal that one can openly express anti-Semitic views and continue to have a good relationship with the ruling parties in Malmö.
In May, the Jewish Community of Malmö, a religious and cultural organization founded in 1871, sent a memo to the city administration of Malmö. The memo, entitled "Action Plan for the Continued Survival of the Jewish Community of Malmö", states:
"The Jewish community will disappear in the very near future if nothing drastic is done. Malmö is already a 'no-go zone' for Jews around the world. When Malmö is mentioned in the media around the world, it is far too often linked to anti-Semitism. A Google search for anti-Semitism in Malmö yields 215,000 results. Current efforts are not enough. In 2021, the Jewish community will celebrate its 150th year. We have been part of Malmö's backbone since the 19th century. But now we are disappearing. We see that our members are leaving Malmö. The anti-Semitism in Malmö clearly plays a key role when our young people, and now also their parents, leave the city they grew up in." (Translated from Swedish by the author)
According to the memo, the number of active members of the Jewish Community of Malmö over the age of 18 has decreased from 842 people in 1999 to 387 people in 2019 (a 54% decrease), and is forecast to shrink to only 158 people by 2029.
In June 2019, business executives Dan Olofsson and Lennart Blecher pledged to give the Jewish Community of Malmö 40 million Swedish kronor ($4.16 million) over a 10-year period to encourage the Social Democrats to do more to counter anti-Semitism. The support from Olofsson and Blecher, however, led instead to a public conflict in which Olofsson argued that the Social Democrats' efforts against anti-Semitism were marginal. In a comment to the newspaper Kvällsposten, he wrote:
"I don't believe the Social Democrats are doing this because they are anti-Semites, but because they prioritize votes from other electoral groups. Passivity against the Jews becomes a bonus point with other voters."
The "other electoral groups" to which Olofsson refers appear to be Muslim migrants with backgrounds in the Middle East. In an attitude survey from 2010 conducted among Swedish high school students, it turned out that 18% of all high school students had a negative attitude towards Jews. Among high school students who identify themselves as Muslims, 55% had a negative attitude towards Jews.
In an earlier article, this author highlighted several factors behind the strengthening of anti-Semitic sentiments in Sweden, and especially in Malmö:
- Large-scale immigration from countries where anti-Semitism is "normal."
- A strong pro-Palestinian engagement among Swedish politicians. This has resulted in a totally untruthful debate about the Israel-Palestinian debate, in which Israel is unjustly demonized.
- A desire among political parties in Sweden to win the votes of migrants.
- 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, that legitimized, by endorsing it, the counter-factual and unabashedly anti-Semitic Kairos Palestine Document.
Under these circumstances, when the Jewish population of Malmö is disappearing and the Social Democrats' passivity is criticized from all directions, the Swedish government has chosen to make Malmö the host city for a conference against anti-Semitism and for the commemoration of the Holocaust. At the same time, Malmö's ruling politicians want a national museum of the Holocaust to be opened in Malmö.
The Holocaust should never be forgotten, but the memory of the Holocaust should not be reduced to a photo-op to whitewash Malmö's ruling politicians. Remembering the Holocaust is about clearly counteracting the conditions that created the Holocaust: the normalization of anti-Semitism. It is this normalization of the anti-Semitism to which Sweden's Social Democrats and other Social Democratic parties in Europe -- like Jeremy Corbyn's UK Labour Party -- have contributed.
Holding a conference to commemorate the Holocaust in the city of Malmö only diminishes the Holocaust and its many millions of victims. The hypocrisy is evident in that Malmö's ruling politicians have not done everything they can -- even anything they can -- to protect the Jews living in Malmö today. They cannot consistently distance themselves from anti-Semitism.
Remembering the Holocaust is about remembering the victims. It should not be a camouflage for Malmö's ruling politicians in which they can dust away the guilt they bear for putting Malmö's Jews in the vulnerable situation in which they now find themselves.
Nima Gholam Ali Pour is policy advisor for the Sweden Democrats in the city of Malmö.