AJC Executive Director
January 31, 2010
Last time I wrote about Sweden, it was in regard to a one-two punch.
First, it was Aftonbladet, Sweden's largest-circulation newspaper, devoting two full pages to accusing the Israeli military of killing Palestinians to harvest their organs. Then came the refusal of Sweden's foreign minister, Carl Bildt, to condemn this modern-day blood libel.
That the paper could produce no evidence of this libelous charge didn't seem to bother those making the decision to go with the story. Why should a little thing like truth get in the way of selling papers or smearing Israel?
And that Minister Bildt, seldom shy to express his views, suddenly went silent on an issue affecting Sweden's image abroad and bilateral ties with Israel – even ignoring a plea from some EU colleagues to say something – couldn't have been more telling.
Oops – a slight correction. He wasn't silent when it came to calling his own ambassador in Israel onto the carpet for speaking out. When asked for her reaction to the Aftonbladet article, she appropriately condemned it. That was too much for the minister. His high-minded principles applied to defending freedom of the press, but not to criticizing its abuse.
Now it's the turn of Ilmar Reepalu. He's the mayor of Malmo, Sweden's third largest city.
You might think that the mayor has his hands full with local issues. After all, Malmo has, shall we say, more than its share of challenges.
The city has the largest concentration of Muslim immigrants in Sweden. And things aren't exactly going according to plan. The Swedish model of integration, played out in Malmo, has not begun to live up to the expectations of the social engineers who cooked it up. Instead, there's trouble galore.
Seething resentment among immigrants about isolation in what are effectively ghettoes, as well as a staggeringly high unemployment rate, has spilled over into periodic protests, some violent.
Meanwhile, the city has seen a sharp rise in crime rates and gang activity. There are immigrant neighborhoods where police and fire officials are fearful of entering. Indeed, the fire department has asked for police protection when responding to alarms from these areas, not to mention requests for shatter-proof windows and surveillance cameras for their vehicles.
Those issues should be more than enough to keep Mayor Reepalu busy and trying to figure out how to fix, however late in the day, whatever went wrong.
But no, the mayor, it appears, has time to focus on other things. He was recently asked in an interview, "Would you say that Malmo does not accept anti-Semitism, or is it a controversial topic?" His response:
"We don't accept anti-Semitism or Zionism. They [referring to both anti-Semites and Zionists] are extremists who want to set themselves over other groups and believe those others are worth less."
He then called on Malmo's tiny Jewish community, which had shown support for Israel, to "distance itself from Israel's violations of the rights of the civilian population in Gaza." Otherwise, he implied, they could bring anti-Semitism on themselves.
By the way, this isn't the first time that Malmo has made the news on the Middle East. Last year, local politicians decided that a Davis Cup match between Sweden and Israel would be played without spectators. The official reason was that anti-Israel protests could disrupt the event. But the mayor indicated that he didn't think the game should be played at all, suggesting that a boycott of Israel was warranted.
The local decision prompted the International Tennis Federation to ban Malmo from hosting Davis Cup matches for the next five years.
Returning to the mayor's interview, it's hard to know where to begin.
The very notion of putting anti-Semitism and Zionism on the same moral plane is utterly preposterous and, of course, contradictory.
On the one hand, the mayor purportedly wants to fight hatred of Jews. Yet, he fuels that very hatred by vilifying the notion of Jews, as a people, expressing their right of self-determination in Israel, where nearly six million Jews live. Remember, the mayor said he doesn't "accept" Zionism.
Why, in the mayor's mind, are Jews to be denied the right of sovereignty? Why is their age-old quest for statehood deemed beyond the pale? Why are international endorsements of Israel's legitimacy, including from the UN, to be so blithely ignored?
Why are Jews to be singled out by the mayor, while he has never denigrated, much less denied, the right of others, including the Palestinians, to states of their own, though many blatantly support religious, racial, or ethnic discrimination?
In condemning Israel's actions in Gaza, doesn't the mayor know that they came about only after Israel had absorbed thousands of cross-border missile and mortar attacks from the Hamas-ruled land? Or doesn't he care?
Doesn't he know that Hamas calls for the annihilation of Israel and uses mosques, schools, hospitals and other elements of Gaza's civilian infrastructure for military purposes? And that the Hamas Charter is replete with anti-Semitism? Or doesn't he care?
And doesn't he know that Israel is a democratic country, where the rights of minorities are far more protected than anywhere else in the region? Or doesn't he care about the travails of others in the Middle East if no link to Israel and Zionism can be established?
And what are we to make of the mayor's statement that Jews in Sweden risk bringing anti-Semitism on themselves by their support for Israel? Do the Jews in a democratic land not have the right to express peacefully their connection to Israel, including during the Gaza crisis, just as others in Sweden voice their own positions?
Doesn't the mayor know that he's skating on thin ice? Or doesn't he care? By suggesting that if anti-Semitism comes – and his own remarks would invite it by justifying hatred against Israel and its supporters – he all but says that the Jews will have no one to blame but themselves.
Haven't we've seen this before? Jews as a group are to be held responsible for the acts of hatred directed at them, while the larger society is let off the hook.
The mayor has it wrong. In fact, he's playing with fire.
Ah, speaking of fire, surely the mayor would be better served by dealing with the safety of Malmo firemen and attacks on them by embittered ghetto youth instead of trolling for votes – or whatever else his motivation might be – at the expense of the small Malmo Jewish community, or of Israel, still seeking to defend its rightful place in the Middle East.
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