The ugly face of Swedish anti-Semitism
By WILLY SILBERSTEIN
Unchallenged acts of anti-Semitism will harm my fellow Muslim countrymen who have no wish other than to other live in peace with their neighbors.
Recently, I had the honor to testify in my role as president of the Swedish Committee against anti-Semitism. I appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Human Rights in Washington.
To the 20,000 members of Sweden’s Jewish community, anti-Semitism has become a growing problem. Jews identifiable by dress or otherwise have suffered threats and violence.
The Jewish community center in the city of Malmo was fire-bombed and its cemetery desecrated.
This comes after worrying political signals. Malmo’s mayor stated that “[w]e accept neither anti-Semitism nor Zionism in Malmo” and openly advised the Jewish community that they would gain protection from violence and problems if they “distance themselves from Israel.”
Along with other European Jews, members of our community who have long been patriotic contributors to our country now feel ourselves increasingly targeted and vulnerable. And we note that the focus of American monitors on the issue of anti-Semitism is not met with the same commitment among European politicians. I call for an involvement by leaders in Europe.
I know many leaders in Europe have condemned anti-Semitic violence and the open hatred of Jews. I am also pleased by the steps taken by some leaders of the Swedish government in support of our community.
However, the question remains why anti-Semitism is still on the rise in Europe. Three separate factors seem to me to be in play.
First is the fact that many Europeans have never accepted Jews as fully integrated members of their societies. Any legitimacy given to the idea that Jews are separate and alien European communities encourages today’s anti- Semites to believe that they can prevail.
Added to this, efforts to ban circumcision and kosher slaughter create a further sense on the part of observant and non-observant European Jews alike that we are unwelcome strangers in our countries.
For these reasons, condemning anti-Semitic violence and the Holocaust misses the mark and is no substitute for what is clearly needed: coordinated, continent-wide action by Europe’s elected leaders that will make forever clear that Jewish communities are cherished contributors to Europe’s history, and needed contributors to its present challenges and future prospects. Such an initiative will also distinguish European leaders willing to pay mere lip service to the fight against anti-Semitism from those determined to eradicate it.
Next, Europe’s mounting economic problems have begun to cause resurgent cries against “wealthy Jews” and “Jewish bankers.” It should not be hard to imagine the anxiety that such scapegoating expressions create among Europe’s Jews, such a short time from the days of concentration camps like the one my mother barely survived.
Finally, there is the rhetoric and conduct of radical and avowedly anti- Semitic Islamist leaders – and the frequent appeasement of their conduct for politically expedient and politically correct reasons. From such leaders, and often from university faculty enclaves, calls for Israel’s destruction, rhetoric analogizing Israel to Hitler’s Germany and shrill condemnations of “Zionist pigs” provide cover for anti-Semitism.
For those and other reasons, European leaders also need to make clear that while debate over Middle East policies should be vigorous, and while Israel cannot be immune to criticism, its right to exist is clear and hateful rhetoric about its character and people is not to be tolerated.
Critical aspects of the hearing in Washington were its bipartisan nature and the fact that its American witnesses were leaders of US Christian, Muslim and human rights communities.
This was important for two reasons. First, it sends a message to Europe that failure to effectively confront anti-Semitism will be a matter of importance to an across-the-board range of America’s leaders. Next, and most of all, the hearing’s makeup should bring attention to a central fact of history that was movingly stated a few years ago by a group of US Christian leaders: Throughout history, calls to “blame the Jews” have always been signals of imminent disaster – not only for Jews, but for others as well. Likewise, complaints about “inconvenient Jews” who would make the world a better place if only they would step aside, if only their sacrifice were passively countenanced, have always cloaked the march of evil.
If only to make clear that unchallenged acts of anti-Semitism will harm my fellow Muslim countrymen who have no wish other than to other live in peace with their neighbors, I will be deeply honored to help convey that message.
The writer is president of the Swedish Committee against Anti-Semitism in Sweden.