Threats and harassment are becoming increasingly commonplace for Jewish residents in Malmö in southern Sweden, leading many Jews to leave the city out of fear for their safety.
“Threats against Jews have increased steadily in Malmö in recent years and many young Jewish families are choosing to leave the city,” Fredrik Sieradzki of the Jewish Community of Malmö (Judiska Församlingen i Malmö) told The Local.
“Many feel that the community and local politicians have shown a lack of understanding for how the city’s Jewish residents have been marginalized.”
Last year there were 79 crimes against Jewish residents reported to the police in Malmö, roughly double the number reported in 2008, according to the Skånska Dagbladet newspaper.
“That probably doesn’t tell the whole story because not everyone chose to make a report. Perhaps they fear they will add to an already infected situation,” Susanne Gosenius, a hate crimes coordinator with the Skåne police, told the newspaper, which has published series of articles about the growing anti-Semitism
In addition, Jewish cemeteries and synagogues have repeatedly been defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti, and a chapel at another Jewish burial site in Malmö was firebombed in January of last year.
There are currently an estimated 3,000 Jews living in the south of Sweden, with most residing in Malmö, Helsingborg, and Lund.
About 700 currently belong to the Jewish Community of Malmö, but the group's membership rolls have been dropping steadily in recent years.
“It’s sort of a downward spiral,” Sieradzki told The Local.
“People want to maintain their Jewish traditions, but when they see others leave after being threatened, they begin to question whether or not they want to stay here.”
Skånska Dagbladet highlighted the case of Marcus Eilenberg, a 32-year-old father of two who has decided to move to Israel
“My children aren’t safe here. It’s going to get worse,” he told the newspaper
Eilenberg’s family on his mother’s side has roots in Malmö that date back to the 1800s, while his father’s parents came to Sweden in 1945 after surviving Auschwitz.
He describes for the newspaper how people call him “damn Jew” (‘jävla jude’) when he walks to synagogue and that his friends are frequently harassed and threatened.
“Imagine that my family can’t feel safe in fantastic Sweden. It’s really terrible,” Eilenberg told Skånskan.
He blamed part of the problem on passive local politicians who he believes have failed to openly distance themselves from anti-Semitism and refuse to act when members of the Jewish community find themselves under constant threat.
Sieradzki agrees that the attitudes of Malmö politicians, especially Social Democrat city council chair Ilmar Reepalu
, have allowed anti-Semitism to fester.
“He’s demonstrated extreme ignorance when it comes to our problems,” Sieradzki explained.
Speaking with Skånskan, Reepalu is quick to point out that “every type of threat and oppression directed at a particular ethnic group is totally unacceptable”.
“Obviously children with a Jewish background shouldn’t be subject to harassment. Nor it is okay to shoot an imam at a mosque,” he told the newspaper.
When asked to explain why Jewish religious services often require security guards and even police protection, Reepalu said much of the violence directed toward Malmö’s Jewish community come from members of extremist right-wing groups, a theory which baffles Sieradzki.
“I’m not saying we don’t have problems with neo-Nazis, but the threats aren’t as concrete,” he explained.
“More often it’s the far-left that commonly use Jews as a punching bag for their disdain toward the policies of Israel, even if Jews in Malmö have nothing to do with Israeli politics.
“It’s shameful and regrettable that such a powerful politician could be so ignorant about the threats we face.”
In addition to the far-left, Sieradzki said that a “very small segment” of the city’s growing population of Muslim immigrants from Arab countries in the Middle East are also responsible for growing anti-Semitism.
“This is a small group of extremists who have decided to go after Jews wherever they are in the world and regardless of their relationship to Israel,” he said.
One of the things that bothers Sieradzki most, however, are Reepalu’s statements about a pro-peace rally arranged by the Jewish Community in Malmö in response to the December 2008 Israeli incursions, which came under attack from members of a violent counter demonstration.
According to Reepalu, the organization “sent the wrong signals” by holding the demonstration instead of distancing itself from Israel’s actions.
“If you read between the lines, he seems to be suggesting that the violence directed toward us is our own fault simply because we didn’t speak out against Israel,” Sieradzki explained.
“We’re a non-political, cultural and religious organization, and there are all kinds of Jews in Malmö.
Sieradzki admitted he is currently “pessimistic” about the future of the Jewish community in Malmö, saying that there needs to be a “complete change in attitude” among the city’s politicians if the situation is going to improve.
“These issues need to be taken seriously,” he said, arguing that there needs to be a dialogue involving politicians, Islamic groups, and the Jewish community.
“But right now many Jews in Malmö are really concerned about the situation here and don’t believe they have a future here.”