Sweden Is a Perplexing Location for an International Antisemitism Conference
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has announced that his country will host an international antisemitism conference to commemorate the Holocaust. This gathering of heads of state and governments is planned to be held in Sweden’s third largest city, Malmo, on October 27-28, 2020.
This is a perplexing announcement. One would expect the initiative for such a conference to come from a country that has made serious efforts to fight antisemitism, and does not have a long history of unanswered antisemitic incidents.
Yes, Sweden technically voted in favor of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. But it does not accept the definition domestically, as the UK, Germany, Austria, Israel, and a number of other countries do.
Furthermore, some extreme manifestations of antisemitism have taken place in Sweden. The Jewish community of Umea felt forced to disband because it was threatened by neo-Nazis. No similar case is known elsewhere in Europe.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) is also fighting an ongoing battle against antisemitism at the internationally known Karolinska University Hospital in Solna, near Stockholm. The SWC lodged a complaint with the hospital’s CEO, when it became known that open antisemitism by a senior supervising physician was ignored by the hospital’s management for almost a year. Two Jewish physicians had already quit for that reason.
The hospital’s management reacted only after the media exposed the scandal — and the controversy still rages on. A Facebook-posting antisemite at the hospital should have been fired after his bigotry was exposed. Even diplomats from the US embassy in Sweden have looked into this scandal.
Also surprising is the location chosen for the conference. For a number of years, Malmo has been considered by many experts to be one of the capitals of antisemitism in Europe. But hundreds of complaints about antisemitism there have not led to any judicial action.
Even one of Löfven’s own ministers committed an antisemitic act. Foreign Minister Margot Wallström asked for an investigation into the killing of terrorists by Israel. She hasn’t made such requests of any other democratic country where terrorists have been killed. According to the IHRA definition, singling out Israel in this way is antisemitic. Wallström is persona non grata in Israel.
In January 2019, the European Commission published a report on the perception of antisemitism in the 28 countries of the EU. Sweden was found to be the country where the largest part of the general population, 80 percent, thinks that antisemitism is a problem.
There are also reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected requests for a meeting with Löfven at the UN, perhaps because of Sweden’s decision to recognize a Palestinian state in 2014. One wonders whether Israel will attend the planned conference in 2020. Its absence would undermine the conference’s credibility in a major way.
In the meantime, one should expect international Jewish organizations to provide all conference participants with a detailed overview of Sweden’s below-par record in fighting antisemitism. This would serve two purposes: It might force the Swedish government to finally accept the IHRA definition for domestic use and start acting against antisemitism — and it may prevent the Swedish government from abusing the conference for public relations purposes.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs think tank.