Experiencing Antisemitism Firsthand in Scandinavia
I was born in Israel to a mother of Finnish-Jewish heritage whose first language was Swedish. Given my roots in Scandinavia, in 2015 I decided to move to Sweden to pursue my studies.
Though I was aware that antisemitism was an issue in Europe, I was not exactly sure what to expect when I decided to move. Yet what I found while living first in Sweden and then in Finland is that antisemitism has so pervaded these countries that they have become unlivable for Jews.
Not long after I moved to Sweden, I discovered the extent to which antisemitism had pervaded everyday discourse in Swedish society.
In Gothenburg, I found a job as a cashier at a candy shop in a good neighborhood. One summer day, a group of teenagers came to the store and started throwing and destroying things. When I asked them to leave the store, they began threatening me and calling me names such as “stinky Jew,” “Jewish seller,” and a “stingy Jew who does not let us buy.”
I’m not sure they even knew I was Jewish. I suddenly understood that in Sweden, the word “Jew” is commonly used as a derogatory term and a curse word.
On the first day at my Swedish high school, where the majority of students came from immigrant families, my teacher told me she did not want me to disclose my Israeli nationality. The reason, she said, was that there were many Palestinian students who would cause big issues or even threaten me physically. The teacher told me that the school would not be able to ensure my safety if I disclosed my Israeli background.
I will never forget when in history class, after a student mentioned Israel, the teacher told him that Israel is a racist country and made him leave the room. I was too afraid to say anything. After some time at the school, one of my classmates saw my Facebook profile with Hebrew posts. The same day, a couple of students from my class drew swastikas on my table and the corridor near my classroom. They also drew Palestinian flags on my chair. I felt I had no choice but to change schools.
A few days after the antisemitic attacks at school, I went to a shopping center. At the entrance, a salesman stopped to tell me that I had beautiful eyes. I thanked him and asked him where the nearest hairdresser was. The salesman recognized my accent as being Israeli, and called his friends who began chasing and kicking me and screaming, “Go away from here; you are Jewish.”
I was able to escape, but not before I heard the salesman shout that he would kill me if he ever saw me again. When I reported this antisemitic assault to the police, they told me I was right to report it. Yet they did nothing to find the perpetrators of the attack. When I followed up with the police six months later, I learned that they had closed the file because of lack of proof. As far as I know, the salesman is still there to this day.
After I finished high school, I enrolled in a pedagogical psychology program at a university in Finland. I thought I had left the worst of the antisemitism behind in Sweden, but as I later learned, I was very wrong.
In Finland, I realized that antisemitism stems not only from immigrants, as was mainly the case in Sweden, but also from the native Finnish population.
My next-door neighbor — who I later found out belonged to a far-right organization — ran after me with a hammer and knife when he heard me speaking Hebrew. Thankfully, some neighbors were able to restrain him. The police only arrived a half hour later. A few months later, my assailant came before a judge, who ordered him to pay 300 euros in compensation to me. It baffled and frightened me that the Finnish judicial system not only failed to protect me from the attacker, but also allowed him to walk free with practically no consequences.
The extreme right is deeply entrenched in Finnish society and government, and Jews suffer because of this. The Nordic Resistance Movement — a Neo-Nazi organization — marches in the streets, and is growing in popularity. That is why I was not surprised to learn in the news that the Israeli embassy in Helsinki has been attacked at least 15 times in the last 18 months.
I still live in Scandinavia because I believe that things can change for the better. But time is running out. The Finnish and Swedish governments must act immediately and forcefully to combat the terrible antisemitism plaguing those nations, and terrorizing the Jews living there.
Eric Rimon is an 22-year-old entrepreneur and psychosocial work MA student who lives in Scandinavia. This article was co-written and edited by Josh Eibelman.