Jewish communities under threat in Malmo, Sweden?

Last week an explosion struck a Jewish community centre in Malmo - the latest in a series of anti-Semitic attacks in the Swedish city

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Malmo residents take to the streets to demonstrate against Israel
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Ghaffar Hussain
On 1 October 2012 09:53

During my first, and only, visit to the southern Swedish city of Malmo in 2009, a vague realisation that things just weren’t right seemed to occupy my thoughts as I was shown around by a local community worker.

The town had a thriving urban centre, a trendy restaurant, and bar scene but it also had districts such as Rosengaard, in which large immigrant communities from the Middle East and Africa seemed to lead a completely detached and isolated existence.

I arrived in Malmo a few days after riots had erupted in Rosengaard when local Muslim youths, backed by assorted left-wing activists, clashed with the police over access to a makeshift mosque. The area was still tense and evidence of the riots was all around. As I surveyed the damage and observed the local mannerisms, I told my guide that it all seemed so familiar and she knew what I meant.

Last week an explosion struck a Jewish community centre in Malmo and caused some damage to the building but there were no injuries. Two local youths, who were seen racing away from the centre shortly after the attack, have been arrested by the police and are being questioned.

This, however, was no isolated incident. In fact, it is merely the latest in a series of anti-Semitic attacks in the Swedish city.

In Jan 2009, Molotov cocktails were thrown at a funeral chapel at the old Jewish cemetery, setting it ablaze. The cemetery has been attacked many times before and, more recently, offensive graffiti has been sprayed on the cemetery walls.

According to some eye-witness accounts, Jewish worshippers are often abused on the way home from prayer meetings and the word ‘Hitler’ is chanted by masked men. The local Rabbi was physically assaulted on his way home earlier this year.

In 2010, the police recorded 79 hate crimes in the city, most of which were directed at Jewish targets, whilst admitting far more go unrecorded. This is an increase of 100 percent from the previous year.

Anecdotal evidence does suggest that the city’s local Muslim population is getting increasingly radicalised.

Whilst I was there in 2009, I heard stories of Salafist preachers knocking on doors of Muslims who failed to attend mosque and abuse was being dished out to Muslim girls who refused to wear the hijab. In fact, I heard one story of a local Muslim girl of Lebanese origin who wore the hijab whilst in Malmo but took it off when she went back to Beirut.

There is no doubt in my mind that the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Malmo is attributable, in large part, to local radicalised youth. However, matters are certainly not helped by local leftist activists, possibly a few far-right extremists and, perhaps more surprisingly, local political leaders.

Sweden today is a country that really excels in producing leftists of the type that are normally only found at Vanessa Redgrave’s dinner parties. These are leftists who leave the principles of the old left at the door as they enter a world of cultural relativism and faux radicalism in which the only guiding principle is the desire for an easy life.

Malmo’s local mayor, the left-wing Ilmar Reepalu, has courted controversy by suggesting that attacks against Jews are understandable because of Israel’s policies in the Middle East. He also attacked Malmo’s Jewish community for staging a pro-peace rally in the city, which was attacked by counter-demonstrators, as well accusing them of not being critical enough of Israel’s policies.

He has gone on record saying “We accept neither Zionism nor anti-Semitism. They are extremes that put themselves above other groups, and believe they have a lower value."

At time when local politicians should be showing responsible leadership and taking measures to stem the flow of attacks, the city’s mayor pours petrol on the fire. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that more and more Jews from Malmo are leaving the city for Stockholm, England, and Israel.

Most of Malmo’s small Jewish community comprises holocaust survivors that came from Poland and Germany in the 1950s and 60s. They came to escape persecution and racism, to seek a new life in a land that would protect them and treat them as equal citizens.

Fredrik Sieradzk, a local Jewish leader, estimates that the Jewish population of the town is shrinking by 5 perecent each year. Young people are planning their futures elsewhere whereas the older people fear they will be the final generation of Jews in the city.

Mrs Popinsky, an 86-year old holocaust survivor, used to be invited to schools to share her story but that doesn’t happen anymore. At the last few schools she visited she was treated with disrespect by some Arab pupils whilst others walked out of her talk.

She claims Malmo today reminds her of the anti-Semitism she experienced as a child in Poland before the war. For her and many others, things have perversely come full circle. 

Ghaffar Hussain is a counter terrorism expert and Contributing Editor to The Commentator. Follow him on Twitter @GhaffarH

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