Why Swedes feel the need to show their public support for Israel, the oldest – and so far only – democracy in the Middle East.
This article was first published in the Jerusalem Post on 3rd September 2012.
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Wear a kippa, but only with police protection
By ILYA MEYER 09/03/2012 22:05
Sweden is haunted by its uneasy relationship with Israel. Not just Israel, but everything Israeli, Zionist and Jewish.
Sweden is a remarkable country. In many ways the envy of Europe, not least for one of its most famous sons Raoul Wallenberg, its vaunted social welfare program and its industrial successes of the recent past, yet haunted by the murders of its prime minister Olof Palme and foreign minister Anna Lindh.
And by its uneasy relationship with Israel. Not just Israel, but everything Israeli, Zionist and Jewish.
Soon to arrive off the coast of Israel is the Estelle, a small Swedish vessel that is part of a publicly-funded “Ship to Gaza” propaganda exercise. Although it claims to be carrying “humanitarian aid” for the people of Gaza, what it is really carrying is a crew of human-rights saboteurs intent on vilifying the Jewish state and supporting Hamas.
While the Estelle is on its way from Sweden to the hotbed of terrorism that is the Hamas-led Gaza Strip, here in Sweden the nation continues to contend every day with the climate that spawns “Ship to Gaza”: widespread anti-Semitism in Sweden’s third-largest city, Malmö, media animosity toward Israel that easily spills over into tacit anti-Semitism, and political fear of a sizable Islamist minority following decades of immigration from strife-torn Middle East countries.
Sweden is a country whose Jews are largely invisible. Jews have been living here for more than 250 years and number about 20,000 souls. But showing one’s Jewishness in a public place is fraught with danger. Sweden is a society whose well-established, thoroughly integrated and officially recognized Jewish minority is cowed into invisibility.
No more. On Saturday, August 18, a dangerous and unusual demonstration took place simultaneously in Stockholm and Malmö: people walked the streets wearing kippot. Of course, they had to do so under massive police protection.
And this Sunday, September 2, there will be parallel manifestations in support of Israel, democracy and truth in Stockholm and Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city.
While the “Ship to Gaza” ferries its propaganda from Sweden toward the Mediterranean, it leaves behind its festering legacy of hatred. Hatred so virulent it is dangerous, even life-threatening, to walk the streets wearing a kippa.
You can wear a turban if you’re a Sikh, a hijab if you’re Muslim or a crucifix if you’re Christian and nobody will give you a second glance. But woe betide the Jew who wears a kippa or Magen David. That invites attack.
Not by neo-Nazis or white supremacists, but by immigrants from Muslim countries. Hence the recent kippa-wearing public demonstration – in which many non-Jews participated out of solidarity with traditionally strong Swedish notions of democracy, equality and an open society.
A qualification is necessary: by no means all, or even a significant proportion, of Sweden’s Muslims engage in or sympathize with anti-Jewish practice.
The problem, as always, is that the silent majority is just that – silent. For various reasons, fear and intimidation being the foremost. The fact is that most immigrants from Muslim countries have fled their homelands for the safe haven of Sweden in order to escape exactly this sort of religious persecution, only to have it follow them here while official Sweden disengages from the problem.
Sweden’s devotion to political correctness renders its politicians, cultural elite and media incapable of dealing with Islamist excesses for fear of offending Islam. The distinction between the political agenda of Islamism and the religion of Islam consistently escapes them.
Observers overseas may regard it as an indictment of a society when a country’s citizens feel the need to parade in the streets in order to assert their right to exist. It ought to prompt politicians and the media to do some serious soul-searching.
Instead, the anti-Semitic aura is so rife in parts of Sweden that the Simon Wiesenthal Center recently took the extraordinary measure of issuing an advisory against unnecessary travel to Malmö because Islamist sentiment stoked by its left-wing mayor Ilmar Reepalu is forcing the city’s Jews to flee en masse.
So worrying is the situation that US President Barack Obama’s special advisor on anti-Semitism, Hannah Rosenthal, was dispatched to Malmö for discussions with the city’s mayor, who remains steadfast in his view that “we accept neither anti-Semitism nor Zionism in Malmö.”
Speaking of a Davis Cup tennis tournament between Sweden and Israel hosted by Malmö in 2009, he declared “Don’t forget, this isn’t a match against just anyone. It’s a match against the state of Israel.” Reepalu is also noted for having said that despite repeated – and police-documented – attacks against Jews in his city, “there have been no attacks against Jews, and if Jews want to leave for Israel that is not a concern for Malmö.”
It is against this backdrop that demonstrations are being held in Stockholm and Gothenburg on Sunday, September 2. These are not demonstrations against anything or anyone, just manifestations of support for Israel, democracy and truth.
Sweden is a country where the Church’s politicized leadership – unlike most of its membership – is rabidly anti-Israel and often borderline anti- Semitic. A look at its Diakonia “aid” organization, which has a strong presence in the Palestinian territories, reveals no aid on behalf of the rapidly diminishing Christian communities of Bethlehem or Gaza, or the terrorized Coptic Christians of Egypt, or the beleaguered Christian minority of Pakistan – only an unhealthy obsession with anti-Israel actions.
With some notable exceptions, the Swedish media suffer from a herd mentality – they trail their colleagues, they are averse to doing the groundwork necessary for getting to the truth, they have developed in a professional climate rife with both anti-Semitism and virulent anti-Israel sentiment, and they have no qualms about letting professionalism play second fiddle to political propaganda against the Jewish state.
For instance, Sweden’s biggest tabloid, Aftonbladet, ran an unsubstantiated story that the IDF kills Palestinian Arabs and harvests their organs in a macabre but lucrative trade. It never issued a retraction or apology for this crude medieval blood-libel.
This is the climate of indoctrination in which naïve, well-meaning Swedes are nurtured. It is where “Ship to Gaza” gains its nourishment, finances and support. Swedes are by nature neither anti-Semitic nor inherently anti- Israel. A self-censoring media with an unhealthy devotion to consensus, a heavily politicized Church leadership and politicians dedicated to political correctness have all helped create a situation in which wearing a kippa in public is dangerous, in which waving the Israeli flag and speaking not against anyone or anything but in favor of democracy and truth, requires a massive presence by a highly praiseworthy but politically hamstrung police force.
Sweden, late summer 2012: hatred nurtured at home and exported to Gaza on the Estelle, while champions of democracy take to the streets wearing kippot under the protection of police. It’s a worrying contrast.
The writer is based in Gothenburg, Sweden.