This past Saturday, a Hanukkah party at a synagogue in Goteborg, Sweden, was abruptly interrupted by Molotov cocktails. They were hurled by a gang of men in masks at the teenagers, Jews, mostly who had gathered to celebrate the holiday.
By – Paulina Neuding
Two days later, two fire bombs were discovered outside the Jewish burial chapel
in the southern Swedish city of Malmo. Who knows what tomorrow may bring?
For Sweden’s 18,000 Jews, sadly, none of this comes as a surprise. They are by
now used to anti-Semitic threats and attacks — especially during periods of unrest in
the Middle East, which provide cover to those whose actual goal has little to do with
Israel and much to do with harming Jews.
Both of these recent attacks followed days of incitement against Jews. Last
Friday, 200 people protested in Malmo against President Trump’s decision to
recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The protesters called for an intifada and
promised “we will shoot the Jews.” A day later, during a demonstration in
Stockholm, a speaker called Jews “apes and pigs.” There were promises of
Malmo’s sole Hasidic rabbi has reported being the victim of more than 100
incidents of hostility ranging from hate speech to physical assault. In response to
such attacks, the Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a travel warning in 2010 advising
“extreme caution when visiting southern Sweden” because of officials’ failure to act
against the “serial harassment” of Jews in Malmo
Today, entering a synagogue anywhere in Sweden usually requires going through
security checks, including airport-like questioning. At times of high alert, police
officers with machine guns guard Jewish schools. Children at the Jewish
kindergarten in Malmo play behind bulletproof glass. Not even funerals are safe
Jewish schoolteachers have reported hiding their identity. A teacher who
wouldn’t even share the city where she teaches for fear of her safety told a Swedish
news outlet: “I hear students shouting in the hallway about killing Jews.” Henryk
Grynfeld, a teacher at a high school in a mostly immigrant neighborhood in Malmo,
was told by a student: “We’re going to kill all Jews.” He said other students yell
“yahoud,” the Arabic word for Jew, at him
A spokesman for Malmo’s Jewish community put the situation starkly. You
“don’t want to display the Star of David around your neck,” he said. Or as spokesman
for the Goteborg synagogue put it, “It’s a constant battle to live a normal life, and not
to give in to the threats, but still be able to feel safe.”
The question that has dogged Jews throughout the centuries is now an urgent
one for Sweden’s Jewish community. Is it time to leave?
Some are answering yes. One reason is the nature of the current threat.
Historically, anti-Semitism in Sweden could mainly be attributed to right-wing
extremists. While this problem persists, a study from 2013 showed that 51 percent of
anti-Semitic incidents in Sweden were attributed to Muslim extremists. Only 5
percent were carried out by right-wing extremists; 25 percent were perpetrated by
Swedish politicians have no problem condemning anti-Semitism carried out by
right-wingers. When neo-Nazis planned a march that would go past the Goteborg
synagogue on Yom Kippur this September, for example, it stirred up outrage across
the political spectrum. A court ruled that the demonstrators had to change their
There is, however, tremendous hesitation to speak out against hate crimes
committed by members of another minority group in a country that prides itself on
welcoming minorities and immigrants. In 2015, Sweden was second only to
Germany in the number of Syrian refugees it welcomed. Yet the three men arrested
in the Molotov cocktail attack were newly arrived immigrants, two Syrians and a
The fear of being accused of intolerance has paralyzed Sweden’s leaders from
properly addressing deep-seated intolerance.
Some of the country’s leaders have even used Israel as a convenient boogeyman
to explain violence. After the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, Sweden’s
foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, explained radicalism among European Muslims
with reference to Israel: “Here, once again, we are brought back to situations like the
one in the Middle East, where not least, the Palestinians see that there isn’t a future.
We must either accept a desperate situation or resort to violence.”
In an interview in June, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven was asked whether
Sweden had been naïve about the link between immigration and anti-Semitism. His
response was typical of the way in which leading politicians have avoided giving
straight answers about the threat against the country’s Jews: “We have a problem in
Sweden with anti-Semitism, and it doesn’t matter who expresses it, it’s still as darn
But the problem has grown so dire that it finally forced Mr. Lofven to admit in
an interview this month: “We will not ignore the fact that many people have come
here from the Middle East, where anti-Semitism is a widespread idea, almost part of
the ideology. We must become even clearer, dare to talk more about it.”
He’s right. Unfortunately, the country’s news media is often unable to speak
plainly about the issue.
Two years ago, Sweden’s biggest newspaper, Aftonbladet, published a column
that ridiculed the notion that Jews were talking of leaving the country because of
anti-Semitism, dismissing it as “lying” and “hysteria,” and scoffing at the “especially
cool” machine guns that police officers use when protecting Jewish schools. The
same newspaper accused Israel of harvesting Palestinian organs in 2009 — the
modern equivalent of the blood libel.
On Dec. 6, Sweden’s state TV attributed President Trump’s announcement on
Jerusalem to the supposed extreme strength of the so-called Jewish lobby in the
United States. The channel later apologized. TT, Sweden’s leading news agency, cited
”influential Jewish donors” in its analysis of the move. “Attack against synagogue
linked to Trump,” was the headline chosen by Swedish Metro to explain the fire
bomb attack in Goteborg.
here are many areas in which Israel deserves criticism, but the Swedish press
often crosses the line into vilification of the Jewish state and regularly insinuates
that events in the Middle East are directed by powerful Jews in the West. This risks
stoking already dangerously high anti-Jewish sentiment.
What can be done?
For starters, there are growing demands from Sweden’s Jewish organizations
for the state to do more to protect them. These days, Jewish institutions rely heavily
on member fees and their own security organizations for protection. But keeping
citizens safe is a basic job of the government.
It is also vital for Sweden to adopt a coherent strategy to combat radical
Islamism. The country has become one of Europe’s richest recruiting grounds for
Islamic State fighters. Five people were killed in an Islamist attack in downtown
Stockholm in April, and Swedish Islamists have been involved in other deadly
attacks in Europe, including in Paris and Brussels.
One aspect of this strategy must be for the authorities to regain control over
immigrant neighborhoods, where organized crime is rampant. In addition, Sweden
has had a laissez-faire attitude toward religious schools, tax-funded through a
voucher system. This has allowed extremists to exert influence over the minds of
young people. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to fund radicalization.
The government should also do more to counter attempts by foreign clerics to
radicalize its Muslim community with a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam,
including the insidious idea that the Holocaust is a lie. In Sweden, as in other
European countries, radicalization of Muslims is often funded and organized by
None of these efforts can be successful, however, without openly acknowledging
the nature of modern anti-Semitism in Sweden.
During his state visit to Sweden in 2013, President Barack Obama didn’t
hesitate to call out the country’s anti-Semitism problem. Speaking at Stockholm’s
main synagogue, he included a subtle but unmistakable criticism of the attitude
among Swedish politicians: ”We will stand against anti-Semitism and hatred, in all
its forms.” Swedish leaders should heed his words.