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Sweden: Muslims under attack —and Jews

An arsonist set fire to a mosque in the Swedish town of Eskilstuna Dec. 25, injuring five people. Some 20 worshippers were attending midday prayers when the fire broke out. Police said the blaze began when assailants hurled an incendiary device through a window of the mosque, on the ground floor of a residential building. The attack comes amid a fierce debate in Sweden over immigration policy. The far right wants to cut the number of asylum-seekers allowed into Sweden by 90%. On Dec. 3, the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats brought down the minority governing coalition after it had been in power for just 10 weeks, refusing to support its proposed budget and forcing a special election.  The new election is scheduled for March. (BBC NewsAl Jazeera, Dec. 15; EurActiv, Dec. 18; Daily Mail, Dec. 3)

In August, a rabbi from the Swedish city of Malmo was assaulted while walking with a member of his congregation. Assailants hurled objects from a car while shouting "Fucking Jews!" The most dangerous projectile, a glass bottle, hit the pavement and shattered. Dozens of anti-Semitic crimes are reported annually in Malmo. In July—amid the Gaza bombardment—a man was beaten there for displaying an Israeli flag in his window. On April 16, the district of Skane, where Malmo is located, declined the Jewish community’s request to increase the number of security cameras around Jewish buildings. (JTA, Aug. 4)

In November, a rabbi and his synagogue in Gothenburg were threatened in e-mails that called him an "accursed child murderer." Daniel Jonas, director of the city’s Jewish community, told the Gotheburgs-Posten newspaper that the unnamed rabbi received the threats via email from a person with a history of threatening the Jewish community of Gothenburg. The letter refers to the rabbi as a "swine" and warns him that his synagogue will be demolished. It also assures he will be "relegated to everlasting fire." (JTA, Nov. 21)

Sweden Democrats leader Björn Söder recently got in hot water when he stated that "most [people] of Jewish origin who have become Swedes leave their Jewish identity," and that it is important to distinguish between "citizenship and nationhood." After outrage from Jewish leaders, he said his remarks were taken "out of context." We read this as he was praising the Jews for being "good" immigrants who assimilate, as opposed to those bad Muslims. (JTA, Dec. 18; The Guardian, Dec. 17)

We have noted the wave of anti-Semitic attacks in Malmo, and the weak official response. We view the proliferation of security cameras as dystopian, but the pressures driving Jews to demand security cameras are part of the dystopia. We must again call out the twin errors that are nearly ubiquitous in commentary on such incidents. One is to deny the context of the Gaza bombardment and portray such outbursts as mere arbitrary anti-Semitism. The other is to deny the anti-Semitic element, as if fire-bombing a synagogue (or even beating up some random Israel-supporter) were a legitimate way to protest Israeli atrocities. 

We also don't know if the anti-Semitic threats and attacks have come from right-wing ethnic Swedes or Muslim immigrants. But, in either case, we don't think it is a coincidence that a mosque has been fire-bombed in the immediate wake of the threats and attacks against Jews. As we have had all too many opportunities to point out: anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are genetically linked phenomena.


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