Being Jewish in ‘Swedistan’

By Yael W.

Shortly after moving to Sweden I was in touch with a relative who emailed with hopes for my safety, living in Malmö with the “Muslim problem.” Having no idea what she was referring to, I went online and did some research. I couldn’t seem to find evidence backing up her concerns. Much of what I came across were articles from obvious right-wing sources with inflammatory allegations of widespread sexual assault perpetrated by Muslims, yet little substantive journalism or reports to back up these claims. Around the world Islamophobes like to point to Sweden’s “liberal” refugee policy as proof of what happens when you let in too many Muslims: Terrorism, rape, crime, “no go zones,” (fake facts). Donald Trump made headlines when he said: “Look at what’s happening last night in Sweden – Sweden! Who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.” Nothing actually happened in Sweden.

A well-known US organisation that fights antisemitism – the Simon Wiesenthal Center, issued a warning to Jews to exercise “extreme caution when visiting southern Sweden.” Cemeteries had been desecrated, the synagogue vandalised, and there was a high reported incidence of Jews being assaulted and threatened. A common perception I encountered was the location of antisemitism coming predominantly from Muslim Arab/Middle Eastern communities, and Sweden being the left leaning pleasant country enabling this through its support of Palestine.   Is there antisemitism in these migrant communities? Absolutely. To what extent is hard to discern. However, what I was most shocked by was the prevalence of articles on the problem of Muslim antisemitism which were taken straight from far right and neo Nazi websites. Antisemitic networks provided a platform for blaming antisemitism on the Muslim population. And of course, fabricated facts were abundant. On a number of occasions, I read English articles which would conveniently insert the word Muslim before details of various perpetrators of crime where the original Swedish source made no mention of ethnicity or religion.

While distracted by these allegations of antisemitism amongst Muslim/Arab communities, the far right in recent years has grown in a seemingly welcoming political environment, and with it virulent and violent antisemitism. Violence which resulted in the Jewish association in Umeå, Northern Sweden, closing its office space after threats from the Nazi group Nordic Resistance Movement (NMR). This same Nazi organisation was given a permit by the police to march on Yom Kippur this year in Sweden’s second largest city, Gothenburg. Despite police briefings that the rally would be considered a threat against an ethnic or minority group (a crime in Sweden) should it use insignia, uniforms, banners or tactics reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 30’s and 40’s, the rally went ahead. The fact that the rally was planned for Yom Kippur, something that was a frequent occurrence in Nazi Germany, and that the symbol of the Nordic resistance movement is taken straight from the
Nazis, should be reason enough to have banned this hateful procession.

Images courtesy of the author.

This article has been published in the AJDS magazine Just Voices, Issue 14, Nov. 2017: Antisemitism.