In a major investigation into Antisemitism in Scandinavia in February, AntiSemitismWatch.com introduced the post by referring to the commonly perceived view of the region;
“Typically, the likes of Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland are often described in the media as some of the most content countries in the world. They are renowned for their generous social welfare programs, childcare and education provision. What is the reality for the long-established Jewish communities there?”
Sweden, in particular, with its proud and tolerant self-image came under scrutiny for its Antisemitic past. Well, this self-image is now coming under intense scrutiny for more recent troubling reasons.
When the terrorist stormed into the kosher supermarket in Paris shortly after cartoonists were massacred at the Charlie Hebdo publication, Swedish media described it as a ‘hostage situation at a food store’. There was no mention of an Antisemitic motive.
“Sweden has awoken from its fairy tale dream” of being a racism-free society, said Willy Silberstein, president of the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism, SKMA.
A defining moment was when a non-Jewish TV reporter put on a kippah and, with a hidden camera, walked around Muslim neighborhoods in Malmo, Sweden’s third-largest city. Viewers witnessed the reporter being insulted and threatened.
After the program, debate on the editorial pages intensified. The Swedish government allocated $25 million to an educational program against anti-Semitism and racism, while Prime Minister Stefan Lofven spoke at Stockholm’s Great Synagogue to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia sat in the front row.
After the Copenhagen cafe and synagogue terrorist attack security outside Jewish institutions and schools in Sweden was beefed up, with police carrying machine guns, scenes that were at odds with Sweden’s self-image as a safe and open society.
In a Huffingtonpost article, Petra Kahn Nord, whose three kids attend a Jewish day school in Stockholm., said, “The kids are not allowed to go outside at recess, because of security concerns. The school is like a bunker.”
Her oldest son’s spring break camp was canceled because of security concerns, and now she’s mulling a move to the U.S. or Israel. “Parents at the school are looking at the website of the U.S. Embassy and checking out work opportunities in America now. Many don’t feel safe in Sweden.”
Anti-Semitic stereotypes are not limited to immigrants. When Swedish Public Radio recently interviewed the Israeli ambassador to Sweden, Isaac Bachman, the reporter repeatedly asked him: “Are Jews responsible for the rise in anti-Semitism?” Bachman finally answered that the reporter’s question was like blaming a rape victim for being assaulted.
“It felt like such a betrayal to ask that question when a Jewish synagogue guard had just been murdered in Copenhagen,” said Negar Josephi, a Swedish Public Radio freelance contributor who wrote an op-ed in protest.
Swedish Public Radio apologized, saying the host was stressed out. “Right. As if someone would suddenly say the N-word on air, because they are stressed out,” said Josephi.
Self-realisation, or self-reflection, is always the essential first step in rectifying mistakes of the past. ASW does recognise that Sweden appears to be waking up to its Antisemitic reality and will be monitoring closely to ensure that it is an enduring and genuine attempt to achieve the contented and harmonious country that many believe it to be.