The Corner


Sweden and the Politics of Denial

Paulina Neuding, writing in the New York Times:

This past Saturday, a Hanukkah party at a synagogue in Goteborg [Gothenburg], Sweden, was abruptly interrupted by Molotov cocktails. They were hurled by a gang of men in masks at the Jews, mostly teenagers, who had gathered to celebrate the holiday.

Two days later, two fire bombs were discovered outside the Jewish burial chapel in the southern Swedish city of Malmo.

Who knows what tomorrow may bring?

…Today, entering a synagogue anywhere in Sweden usually requires going through security checks, including airport-like questioning. At times of high alert, police officers with machine guns guard Jewish schools. Children at the Jewish kindergarten in Malmo play behind bulletproof glass. Not even funerals are safe from harassment.

Jewish schoolteachers have reported hiding their identity. A teacher who wouldn’t even share the city where she teaches for fear of her safety told a Swedish news outlet: “I hear students shouting in the hallway about killing Jews.” Henryk Grynfeld, a teacher at a high school in a mostly immigrant neighborhood in Malmo, was told by a student: “We’re going to kill all Jews.” He said other students yell “yahoud,” the Arabic word for Jew, at him.

A spokesman for Malmo’s Jewish community put the situation starkly. You “don’t want to display the Star of David around your neck,” he said. Or as spokesman for the Goteborg synagogue put it, “It’s a constant battle to live a normal life, and not to give in to the threats, but still be able to feel safe.”

Historically, anti-Semitism in Sweden could mainly be attributed to right-wing extremists. While this problem persists, a study from 2013 showed that 51 percent of anti-Semitic incidents in Sweden were attributed to Muslim extremists. Only 5 percent were carried out by right-wing extremists; 25 percent were perpetrated by left-wing extremists.

Yes, left-wing extremists. Note that too. 


Swedish politicians have no problem condemning anti-Semitism carried out by right-wingers. When neo-Nazis planned a march that would go past the Goteborg synagogue on Yom Kippur this September, for example, it stirred up outrage across the political spectrum. A court ruled that the demonstrators had to change their route.

There is, however, tremendous hesitation to speak out against hate crimes committed by members of another minority group in a country that prides itself on welcoming minorities and immigrants. In 2015, Sweden was second only to Germany in the number of Syrian refugees it welcomed. Yet the three men arrested in the Molotov cocktail attack were newly arrived immigrants, two Syrians and a Palestinian.

The fear of being accused of intolerance has paralyzed Sweden’s leaders from properly addressing deep-seated intolerance.

That’s true enough. Sweden is deservedly notorious for its åsiktskorridor—its ‘opinion corridor’. Breaking outside its still narrow (if buckling) confines is frowned  upon (and more) by the ‘respectable’ political and media class.

And there is, I think, something else at play, an unwillingness to admit that this same political class, cheered on by the media, might have made a very big mistake indeed by flinging open Sweden’s doors as wide as they did (something that preceded 2015) in a display of naivete, recklessness and self-righteousness which made for a remarkable, if  occasionally repellent, spectacle.

Visiting Södertälje, a city just outside Stockholm long known for its large immigrant population, in 2006, Sweden’s then prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, leader of the vapidly-named center-right Moderaterna had  this  to say:

Ursvenskt är bara barbariet. Resten av utvecklingen har kommit utifrån.”

Translated (very roughly) into English, Reinfeldt was claiming that Sweden’s indigenous culture was simple barbarism. Civilization had come from outside.

Reinfeldt’s government was eventually thrown out of office in 2014, partly as a result of the reaction against his catastrophic immigration policies, but the left-of-center coalition that replaced it was no better.


After the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, explained radicalism among European Muslims with reference to Israel: “Here, once again, we are brought back to situations like the one in the Middle East, where not least, the Palestinians see that there isn’t a future. We must either accept a desperate situation or resort to violence.”

This is the same Wallström, who, as an EU Commissioner, exploited a 2005 visit to the site of the Nazi concentration camp at Theresienstadt (today’s Terezín) to smear critics of the proposed  EU constitution for allegedly risking a return to the nightmares of Europe’s past:

Yet there are those today who want to scrap the supranational idea. They want the European Union to go back to the old purely inter-governmental way of doing things. I say those people should come to Terezin and see where that old road leads.”

That was (I’ll be kind) fantasy. Yet when confronted with the reality of Islamist horror in Paris, Wallström, turned her attention towards…Israel.

Odd that.

However her boss, prime minister Stefan Löfven, may be beginning to wise up.


In an interview in June, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven was asked whether Sweden had been naïve about the link between immigration and anti-Semitism. His response was typical of the way in which leading politicians have avoided giving straight answers about the threat against the country’s Jews: “We have a problem in Sweden with anti-Semitism, and it doesn’t matter who expresses it, it’s still as darn wrong.”

But the problem has grown so dire that it finally forced Mr. Lofven to admit in an interview this month: “We will not ignore the fact that many people have come here from the Middle East, where anti-Semitism is a widespread idea, almost part of the ideology. We must become even clearer, dare to talk more about it.”

That’s easier said  than done. As Neuding reports, the headline chosen by one newspaper to explain the firebomb attack in Gothenburg was “attack against synagogue linked to Trump”, a  reference to the President’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Sweden has, however, started to toughen up its  immigration policies, a welcome development after the dangerous irresponsibility of earlier years, but that still leaves the consequences  of that irresponsibility to contend with.


It is also vital for Sweden to adopt a coherent strategy to combat radical Islamism. The country has become one of Europe’s richest recruiting grounds for Islamic State fighters. Five people were killed in an Islamist attack in downtown Stockholm in April, and Swedish Islamists have been involved in other deadly attacks in Europe, including in Paris and Brussels.

‘Barbarism’, it seems, can be imported too.

Read the whole thing.


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