Wiesenthal Center tells Jews not to travel to Sweden
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Los Angeles-based human rights organization, has taken the unusual step of issuing a travel advisory about security concerns in Sweden because of growing anti-Jewish discrimination.
During a meeting on Tuesday with Sweden’s Justice Minister Beatrice Ask in Stockholm, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, and Dr. Shimon Samuels, who oversees the center’s International Relations department, outlined the reasons for the travel advisory.
“We reluctantly are issuing this advisory because religious Jews and other members of the Jewish community there have been subject to anti-Semitic taunts and harassment. There have been dozens of incidents reported to the authorities but have not resulted in arrests or convictions for hate crimes”, said the two Wiesenthal Center representatives in a statement.
Cooper and Samuels added that “a contributing factor to this decision has been the outrageous remarks of Malmö mayor Ilmar Reepalu, who blames the Jewish community for failing to denounce Israel.
The advisory aimed at Jewish travelers urges extreme caution when visiting southern Sweden.
It is not connected to this week’s terrorist bombing in the heart of Stockholm. Critics have accused Reepalu of failing to protect Malmö’s tiny Jewish population from anti-Semitic violence and stoking hatred of Israel.
Writing earlier this year in The Wall Street Journal Europe, Daniel Schwammenthal , an editorial writer for paper, noted that “faced with these attacks on the city’s Jewish population, Malmö’s mayor, Ilmar Reepalu, seems curiously unperturbed by, if not sympathetic to, the attackers.”
While screaming “Sieg Heil” and “Hitler, Hitler” in 2009, a violent mob of Swedish Muslims launched bottles and stones at a pro-Israel demonstration attended by a small number of Jews in the central square of Malmö. Media reports have documented widespread harassment of Jews and Jewish children have routinely been called “dirty Jews.”
Reepalu, a Social Democrat, blamed the city’s Jews for holding the pro-Israel demonstration, saying they refused to “distance” themselves from Israel’s Operation Cast Lead.
“The community chose to hold a pro-Israel demonstration” and that “may convey the wrong message,” said Reepalu.
He also termed Israel’s right to self-determination as a form of extremism by equating Zionism with anti-Semitism. “We accept neither Zionism nor anti-Semitism.
They are extremes that place themselves above other groups they think are less important,” said Reepalu.
Malmö attracted criticism during last year’s Davis Cup tennis match against Israel. The city authorities decided to segregate Israeli players from the competition because of a mass demonstration of roughly 6,000 leftwing and Muslim protesters against Israel. Amir Haddad and Andy Ram, Israel’s top tennis players, had to compete against their Swedish opponents in an empty stadium. Commentators said the authorities capitulated to anti-Israeli mob violence rather than defend the right of bias-free sport events.
It is unclear how long the travel advisory will apply to Sweden.
The Wiesenthal Center reviews its travel advisory every three months.
Many of Malmö’s Jews have fled the city because of the ubiquitous anti-Semitism. In 2009, there was a 50% increase of anti-Semitic attacks when compared to 2008. Approximately 20% of Malmö’s 290,000 residents are Muslims, most of whom are Swedish Arabs.
The Jewish community registered under 700 Jews earlier this year but the number has steadily decreased due to anti-Jewish hostility and a local government, which, according to critics, foments modern anti-Semitism.
Dr. Samuels, from the Wiesenthal Center, said “ It is unacceptable in a democracy committed to protecting its citizens, that the Swedish Jewish community is forced to pay for necessary upgraded security measures to safeguard their lives and property.”
Rabbi Schneur Kesselson, Chabad’s emissary to Malmö, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that he had been harassed dozens of times by locals since he moved there six years ago.
“The vast majority of the attacks have been verbal, usually carried out by people from the Middle Eastern background,” the Chabad rabbi said. “They say not nice things. Usually in Swedish, in English it would be translated as bad Jews. Not anything I’d like to repeat.”
Kesselson recalled one occasion which could have caused him serious injury when he had to dodge a vehicle driven by an individual he said would have run him over. At the same time, the rabbi urged moderation in how the Jewish community should respond to such events.
“I think when we in the Jewish community exaggerate it doesn’t play in our favor,” he said. “If a travel advisory says it’s dangerous for a Jew to travel to Malmö, then it’s an exaggeration.
But if it’s saying hate crime could happen here then it could, and that’s a sad reality.”