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Why Sweden Has An Antisemitism Problem

Photo of policy cars and security personnel outside Malmö's synagogue before a visit by Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven for the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism, on Oct. 12, 2021

Security outside Malmö's synagogue

Carl-Johan Karlsson

In October 1943, nearly the entire Jewish population of Denmark made a perilous crossing from their Nazi-occupied country to neighboring Sweden. Setting out from ports and beaches along the coast, some 7,000 people arrived in rowboats and canoes to the safe shores of the port city of Malmö.

Now, 78 years later, in the same city, Jewish books in a storefront have to be covered up due to fears of vandalism.
It was the Malmö City Archives that last week was preparing a display of Jewish literature to be open to the public on Friday. But at the end of the day, the books and posters were covered with a blanket — with the archivist fearing damage to the windows over the weekend, Swedish daily Expressen reports.

While the news sparked some outrage in the national press, it's only one of many reports of increasing antisemitism in the last few years in the Scandinavian nation so often praised for its welcoming atmosphere.

A declining diaspora

A 2019 EU survey shows that 70% of Swedes believe that antisemitism has increased in the last five years — the highest percentage of all the member states. Meanwhile, according to the latest available statistics, between 2016 to 2018, anti-Semitic crimes in Sweden rose by more than 50%, reaching a record 280 hate crimes. A large portion of these come out of Malmö, Sweden's third-largest city and home to people from 179 different countries — including Iraqis, Poles, Bosnians, Syrians, Lebanese and Afghans — all huddled together in a city that takes just two hours to traverse end-to-end by foot.

Meanwhile, the Jewish population has decreased drastically over the last two decades, with members of Malmö synagogues having fallen from 2,500 to 500 today.

Historically, threats, intimidation and violence against the Jewish community have mainly been attributed to right-wing extremists. While this issue persists, especially in a place like Malmö that is a voter stronghold for the far-right Sweden Democrats, a 2020 report shows that antisemitism today is more widespread among Sweden's Muslim community than the general population.

According to daily Dagens Nyheter, hatred of Jews in Malmö is often intertwined with anger over Israel's policy toward Palestinians. That was the case in 2009 when a peace demonstration with Israeli flags on a central square in Malmö was bombarded with bottles, stones and eggs; or more lately in 2017 when people protesting US President Donald Trump move to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem sang antisemitic songs about killing Jews.

Photo of protesters denouncing nazism and antisemitism marching through central Gothenburg, Sweden, on Sept. 30, 2017.

Protesters denouncing nazism and antisemitism marching through central Gothenburg, Sweden, on Sept. 30, 2017.

Julia Reinhart/NurPhoto

Remembering the Holocaust 

The city's rise in antisemitism was at the center of discussion on Wednesday at the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism. The one-day event, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, brought together 400 delegates from religious organizations and dozens of countries, including heads of state from Finland, Latvia, Serbia, while Israeli President Isaac Herzog, French President Emmanuel Macron and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken addressed the event through video messages.

This year, the forum also hosted representatives from social media giants TikTok, Google and Facebook, as the event focused on the dangers of the online proliferation of hate speech, disinformation and Holocaust denial.

"The struggle for human dignity must never end with pretty words," Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said at the end of the conference. "It must be translated into practical action."

A continent-wide response 

Such actions will include the opening of a Holocaust museum in 2022, better education for active citizenship to prevent antisemitism, as well as the appointment of a parliamentary committee of inquiry to consider whether Holocaust denial should be more clearly criminalized.

Of course, Sweden is not alone in facing the renewed historical hatred of Jews. Last week, Europe took another step to address its particular responsibility in combatting the issue, with the European Commission releasing its first official strategy on fighting antisemitism, The Times Of Israel reports.

Among the keys to the 26-page program are funds set aside to secure Jewish sites around Europe. One place that could use some help right now is the Malmö City Archives.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Bibi Blinked: How The Ceasefire Deal Could Flip Israel's Whole Gaza War Logic

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pushed ahead a deal negotiated via Qatar, for a four-day truce and an exchange of 50 hostages for 150 Palestinian prisoners. Though the humanitarian and political pressure was mounting, Israel's all-out assault is suddenly halted, with unforeseen consequences for the future.

photo of someone holding a poster of a hostage

Families of Israeli hostages rally in Jerusalem

Nir Alon/ZUMA
Pierre Haski

Updated Nov. 22, 2023 at 8:55 p.m.


PARIS — It's the first piece of good news in 46 days of war. In the early hours of Wednesday, Israel agreed to a deal that included a four-day ceasefire and the release of some of the hostages held by Hamas — 30 children and 20 women — in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners, again women and children. The real question is what happens next.

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But first, this agreement, negotiated through the intermediary of Qatar, whose role is essential in this phase, must be implemented right away. This is a complex negotiation, because unlike the previous hostage-for-prisoner exchanges, it is taking place in the midst of a major war.

On the Palestinian side, although Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh is present in Doha, he does not make the decision alone — he must have the agreement of the leaders of the military wing, who are hiding somewhere in Gaza. It takes 24 hours to send a message back and forth. As you can imagine, it's not as simple as a phone call.

And on the Israeli side, a consensus had to be built around the agreement. Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right allies were opposed to the deal — in line with their eradication logic — even at the cost of Israeli lives. But the opposition of these discredited parties was ignored, and that will leave its mark.

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