Just as Raoul Wallenberg remains as an example of courage, Sweden's Mayor of Malmo, Ilmar Reepalu, a Social Democrat who has held the office for 17 years, does not.
Last October, around 300 people assembled in Raoul Wallenberg Square in Malmo, to join in solidarity the few Jews of Malmo, now numbering about 600, whose community center had just suffered an explosion, and whose cemetery had just been desecrated by antisemitic graffiti. At the same time as this demonstration, on the other side of Malmo, a celebration was taking place to commemorate the birth of Raoul Wallenberg, who, in Hungary in1944, saved thousands of Jews, from being sent to their death in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. From July 9, 1944 until his arrest by the Soviet army on January 17, 1945 at the age of 32, Wallenberg issued "protective passports" to thousands of Jews and rented 32 buildings, which he declared diplomatic facilities. He used diplomacy, bribery and blackmail to provide Jews with immunity from arrest. He persuaded General Schmidthuber, the Commander of the German Army in Hungary, to cancel Adolf Eichmann's plan to attack the Jewish ghetto and slaughter the 70,000 Jews there. About 120,000 Jews survived in Hungary alone as a result of Wallenberg's efforts.
The courage of Wallenberg is disappointingly absent in Sweden today. Once a moral superpower, Sweden cannot now claim to be seen as even an open or tolerant place. Instead, it has become a haven for antisemitic behavior, as well as anti-Israel activity, by both Muslim activists and various political groups. Members of the Swedish parliament have attended supposedly "anti-Israel" rallies, which quickly descended into occasions for competitive antisemitic rhetoric.
Jews are being "harassed and physically attacked," by "people from the Middle East," according to Malmo resident, Fredrik Sieradzik, in an interview with the Austrian paper, Die Presse. "Malmo," he said, "is a place to move away from."
Sweden is now a country where orthodox Jews are afraid to wear a skullcap, and where the largest tabloid paper, Aftonbladet, libelously claimed, in an August 2009 article, that Israeli soldiers were taking the organs of dead Palestinians. When the city of Malmo in 2009 hosted a tennis match between Sweden and Israel, no spectators were allowed for "reasons of security."
The individual most conspicuous in the denial of this reality is the mayor of Malmo, Ilmar Reepalu,. This reality consists of attacks on Jews in a city where the Jewish population has been reduced from 2,000 to about 600; where Molotov cocktails are thrown at Jewish funeral chapels, and antisemitic graffiti is scrawled throughout the town. The mayor nevertheless denies the increase in antisemitism there. When he does allude to the subject, he argues that the violence comes from right wing extremists, not from Muslims who now make up a considerable part of his Malmo population.
Reepalu asserts that "We accept neither Zionism nor antisemitism. They are extremes that put themselves above other groups, and believe they have a lower value." Of the small Malmo Jewish community, he says: "I would wish for the Jewish community to denounce Israeli violations against the civilian population of Gaza. Instead, it decides to hold a demonstration [in reality a pro-peace rally] which could send the wrong signals." Reepalu speaks of Israeli "genocide" in Gaza.
Reepalu, as is common with people in other countries in Europe in their fails to consider that government, laws and human rights partly exists to protect the minority from the majority. He blames the local Jews' use of free speech and freedom of assembly for attacks on them: If only the Jews would stop speaking and gathering peacefully, the distorted logic goes, no one would be attacking them. Historically, the opposite is true: even when Jews remained quiet, and spent years in hiding, as many often did, the only acceptable form of behavior, apparently, was not to exist.
After years of unremitting antisemitic activity in Malmo, many Jews have either left or are thinking of leaving, largely for Stockholm, England or Israel. Reepalu's comment was : "There have not been any attacks on Jewish people, and if Jews want to move to Israel that is not a matter for Malmo." From time to time the mayor has claimed that his views were misrepresented, but the full recordings, published on the website of the paper Skanska Dagbladet, make clear that they were not.
One can only hope that the memory of Raoul Wallenberg, the exemplification of Sweden's height as a moral superpower, may lead some of those exercising power in Sweden to deal with the forces of accelerating bigotry at their doorstep, and their own bigotry inside.
Michael Curtis is author of Should Israel Exist? A Sovereign Nation under Attack by the International Community.