Sweden’s Antisemitism Problem
by Manfred Gerstenfeld
Jews in Sweden account for less than 0.2% of the population, but issues concerning them vary between negative and highly negative. The naive observer may think that Sweden is a liberal democracy, as perfect as one can get. But if one starts to list major events concerning Jews, one gets a very different picture. In this century, only one Jewish community in Western Europe has decided to dissolve itself because of ongoing neo-Nazi threats: the one in the town of Umea, which is located in northeastern Sweden.
Other major antisemitic threats come from parts of the Muslim community. In 2017, a movie was shown on Bavarian television about the visit to Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city, by the German Jewish author Henryk Broder and the Egyptian writer Hamad Abdel Samad. They met several local Jews, including the town’s American rabbi. He told them that the shrinking community had inserted bulletproof windows at the synagogue — but even this didn’t help. A bomb went off in front of the synagogue and another was thrown into the chapel of the Jewish cemetery, which was totally destroyed. He believed both attacks were perpetrated by Muslims. The rabbi has also been harassed while walking on the street. Objects thrown at him include an apple, a lighter, a glass, and a bottle.
In December 2017, three Muslim perpetrators threw a Molotov cocktail at a synagogue in Sweden’s second largest city, Gothenburg. A Swedish appeals court overturned a criminal tribunal ruling that had decided that one of the perpetrators, a Gaza-born Palestinian, would be deported at the end of his two-year prison term. The court said that he should not be deported, because the antisemitic nature of this attack could put him in danger from Israel. The court apparently preferred the imagined interests of the perpetrator over those of his victims. It seemed to matter less to the judges that if he stayed in Sweden, he might commit other crimes.
In recent years, Sweden has taken in the highest number of refugees in Western Europe as a percentage of its population. Most immigrants come from Muslim countries where societies are permeated by antisemitic opinions, and the authorities there promote Jew-hatred as part of their policies.
Worse still, antisemitism in Sweden is not limited to Muslims and neo-Nazis. A recent scandal concerned the highly reputable hospital at Karolinska University, near Stockholm. This institution awards the Nobel Prize in medicine. The Simon Wiesenthal Center has written a complaint to the hospital’s dean, because the open antisemitism by senior physicians was ignored by the hospital’s management for almost a year. Two Jewish employees had already quit for this reason. Management finally acted only after Sweden’s largest paper, Aftonbladet, reported on the hate-mongering. Thereafter, one of the physicians in question left. He had also posted antisemitic comments on Facebook.
Sweden has also been a long-time critic of Israel. The country’s best known postwar prime minister, Olof Palme, a Social Democratic politician, was one of the very rare leaders of a democratic country who compared Israel’s acts to those of the Nazis. Current Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, also a Social Democratic leader, has asked for an investigation into the killing of terrorists by Israel. But she hasn’t made such requests from other democratic countries where terrorists have been killed after attacks. According to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, by singling out Israel, Wallström committed an antisemitic act.
The above is a tiny selection to illustrate the falseness of Sweden’s image as a near perfect liberal democracy. For whoever wants to see how ugly a Western European country can get, Sweden is the ideal place to study.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.