A Political Ad in Sweden Causes a Stir and a Rift
by Charles Lemos, Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 04:43:38 AM EDT
Swedes will head to the polls on September 19 to elect an new Riksdag. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, leader of the governing four party coalition Alliance for Sweden, and his right-wing Moderate Party is facing a tough election battle against the opposing Red-Greens coalition led by Mona Sahlin, leader of the Swedish Social Democratic Party. Recent polling shows the current government leading narrowly, vying to become only the second centre-right government to win re-election. The Alliance for Sweden came to power in September 2006 after winning a seven-seat majority in the 349-seat Riksdag, Sweden's parliament. It is only the third right of centre government in Sweden since 1936.
Approximately 4 percent of the population of Sweden is Muslim but it is growing rapidly. In numbers that translates to 300,000 out of a total population of 9.2 million. Muslim migrants to Sweden hail from all over the Islamic world but predominately come from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Palestine. There are also large number of Somalis and Eritreans as well as a sizable pocket of Sri Lankan Muslim refugees.
The rise in Islamic immigration, however, has led to an unprecedented rise in crime in the country in particular against women. The number of rapes in Sweden has tripled in just twenty years with 85 percent of assailants being Muslims. On New Year's Eve in 2004, two Swedish girls were attacked and beaten by four Somali immigrants, a story that made worldwide news for the brutality of the attacks. In 2007, another Somali man slashed a woman at a discotheque as he yelled out that Swedish women were whores. Perhaps these are isolated incidents but the nature of the attacks left a deep impact on Sweden.
Earlier this year, racial tensions boiled over leading to two nights of rioting in the Rinkeby and Tensta suburbs of Stockhölm. In Malmö, Sweden's third largest city, perhaps 15 percent of the population is now Islamic. And over the past few years, Malmö has become the epicenter for anti-Semitic violence in Europe that has forced many in the once 800 strong members of one Scandinavia's oldest Jewish communities to leave.
From an August 15, 2010 story in the Hearst newspapers:
Finally, the shouts of "Heil Hitler" that frequently greeted Marcus Eilenberg as he walked to the synagogue were too much. Fearing for his family's safety, Eilenberg moved himself, his wife and two children to Israel. "I didn't want my small children to grow up in this environment," Eilenberg said. "It wouldn't be fair to them to stay in Malmö."
Sweden, a country long regarded as a model of tolerance, had been a refuge for Eilenberg's family. His paternal grandparents made a home in Malmö in 1945 after surviving the Holocaust. His wife's parents came to this port city from Poland in 1968 after the Communist government there launched an anti-Semitic purge.
But the combination of a rapidly growing Muslim population living in segregated conditions and widespread anger at Israeli policies and actions has been toxic for local Jews. As in many other European cities, Jews in Malmö report being subjected increasingly to threats, intimidation and actual violence as stand-in targets for Israel. Malmö, Sweden's third-largest city with a population of roughly 294,000, including fewer than 800 Jews, reached a turning point of sorts in January 2009 during Israel's military campaign in Gaza. A small, mostly Jewish group held a demonstration billed as a peace rally but seen as a sign of support for Israel.
The demonstrators were attacked by a much larger mob of Muslims and Swedish leftists. Police seemed unable to stop the violence.
"I was very scared," recalled Jehoshua Kaufman, a Jewish community leader. "Scared because there were a lot of angry people facing us, shouting insults and throwing bottles and firecrackers at the same time. The sound was very loud. And I was angry because we really wanted to go through with this demonstration, and we weren't allowed to finish it."
Alan Widman, a non-Jewish member of the Liberal Party who represents Malmö in Parliament, said simply: "I have never been so afraid in my life." The demonstrators were eventually evacuated by the police.
A bomb exploded on the steps of the Malmö synagogue shortly after 2 a.m. July 23. The police classified the explosion as an act of vandalism, crimes that receive low priority and are rarely solved, according to a Swedish police official. Anti-Semitism in Europe has historically been associated with the far right, but the Jews interviewed for this article say the threat in Sweden now comes from Muslims and from changing attitudes about Jews in the wider society. There are an estimated 45,000 Muslims in Malmö, about 15 percent of the city's population. Many of them are Palestinians, Iraqis and Somalis, while others came from the former Yugoslavia.
According to Bassam Tibi, professor emeritus of international relations at the University of Göttingen in Germany and author of several books on the growth of Islam in Europe, Muslims form a significant subset of this problem. "The growth of the Muslim diaspora in Europe is affecting the Jews," said Tibi. He said many European Muslims think "every Jew is responsible for what Israel is doing and can be a target."
In Malmö, this population's role is seen as especially significant. Most of Malmö's Muslims live in Rosengard, the eastern part of the city, where the jobless rate is 80 percent. Satellite dishes dot the high-rise apartments to receive programming from Al Jazeera and other Arabic-language cable networks that keep Malmö's Muslims in constant touch with Arab-Israeli developments.
Sylvia Morfradakis, a European Union official who works with the chronically unemployed, those who have been without work for 10 to 15 years, said the main reason why 80 percent to 90 percent of Muslims between the ages of 18 and 34 can't find jobs is because they can't speak Swedish.
The plight of the Jews worries Annelie Enochson, a Christian Democrat member of Parliament. "If the Jews feel threatened in Sweden, then I am very frightened about the future of my country," she said in an interview. Because he is the most visible Jew in Malmö, with his black fedora and long beard, Malmö's only rabbi, Shneur Kesselman, 31, is a prime target for Muslim anti-Jewish sentiment. In his six years in the city, the Orthodox Chabad rabbi, an American, has been the victim of more than 50 anti-Semitic incidents. He is a gentle man with a steely determination to stay in Malmö in spite of the danger.
The rabbi recalled the day he was crossing a street near his house with his wife when a car suddenly went into reverse and sped backward toward them. They dodged the vehicle and barely made it to the other side of the street. Newspapers report the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Malmö doubled from 2008 to 2009. Meanwhile, Fredrik Sieradzki, spokesman for the Malmö Jewish community, estimates that the small Jewish population is shrinking by 5 percent a year. "Malmö is a place to move away from," he said, citing anti-Semitism as the primary reason. "The community was twice as large two decades ago."
The synagogue has elaborate security. Its glass is not just bullet-proof, say Jewish communal officials; it's rocket-proof. Guards check strangers seeking to enter the building. Some Jewish parents try to protect their children by moving to neighborhoods where there are fewer Muslims in the schools to minimize confrontations.
Six Jewish teenagers interviewed reported anti-Semitic abuse from Muslim classmates. According to the victims, none of the perpetrators were arrested, much less punished. Many Jews fault Swedish police for not cracking down on anti-Semitism. Most hate crimes in Malmö are acts of vandalism, said Susanne Gosenius, head of the police department's newly created hate crime unit. These include painted swastikas on buildings. According to Gosenius, police do not give priority to this type of crime. "It's very rare that police find the perpetrators," she said.
Members of Parliament have attended anti-Israel rallies where the Israeli flag was burned while the flags of Hamas and Hezbollah were waved and the rhetoric was often anti-Semitic, not just anti-Israel. But such public rhetoric is not branded hateful and denounced, said Henrik Bachner, a professor of history at the University of Lund, near Malmö.
"Sweden is a microcosm of contemporary anti-Semitism," said Charles Small, director of the Yale University Initiative for the Study of Anti-Semitism. "It's a form of acquiescence to radical Islam, which is diametrically opposed to everything Sweden stands for."
Founded in 1988, Sverigedemokratern, or Sweden Democrats, is a Swedish political party that describes itself as a nationalist movement. Recent polling suggest the party may break the four percent threshold required and claim representation in the Riksdag for the first time as anti-Muslim sentiment grows.
The ad, shown above, was rejected as hate speech by a Swedish TV station and that has sparked tension between Sweden and neighboring Denmark. That story from Der Spiegel.
Danish politicians are in an uproar over democratic freedoms across the water in Sweden, ever since a Swedish TV station rejected a political ad on Friday because of alleged hate speech.
The ad by the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats (SD) party shows a retiree hobbling forward while Muslim women in burqas charge past to win money from the national budget. "On Sept. 19," their ad declares, referring to the date of upcoming national elections, "you can choose to cut money from immigration budgets, or from pensions."
The Swedish commercial television network TV4 decided not to air the spot because of concerns it would break the country's hate-speech laws. A private radio station banned an audio version of the same ad on Monday.
Now leading politicians in Denmark -- where immigration controversies over the last 10 years have sharpened the tone of political debate -- are crying censorship. Some prominent Danes even want the Council of Europe to send election observers to Sweden.
The likelihood is that Islamic immigration and the role of Islam in Western society is going to remain a contentious political issue in Europe. In the United States that debate is now beginning to take shape. Judging by the venom spewed by likes of Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, it's a debate that we are ill-prepared for.