Sunday, November 11, 2007

Debating Antisemitism in Sweden 

Anti-Semitism, in Sweden? Depends who you're asking

By Cnaan Liphshiz
Fri., November 09, 2007 Cheshvan 28, 5768

The Swedes are not anti-Semitic, the Rabbi of Stockholm's Orthodox Jewish community, Meir Horden, told AngloFile on a visit here this week. According to Horden, Swedish Jews have only hostility from local Muslims to fear.

But Zvi Mazel, a controversial figure in Sweden ever since he served there as Israel's ambassador in 2004, strongly disagrees.

"It's not true to say that the Swedes are anti-Semitic. Some of them are hostile to Israel because they support the weak side, which they perceive the Palestinians to be," Horden said. The capital's Orthodox community numbers 4,500.

In an interview on one of his frequent trips here, Horden went on to say that "generally speaking," Swedish support for the Palestinians comes from the same place that led the Swedes to help Holocaust survivors.

"Of course you can't compare the two things, but that's their way of thinking," Horden explained at his Modi'in home after delivering a lecture on Swedish Jewry at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. "It's frustrating because the Swedes don't look too much into historical facts."

Mazel, however, speaks of a deep-rooted anti-Semitic sentiment that he says is inherent to Swedish culture. "If it weren't for this lingering anti-Semitism, the incident would arguably never have happened," Mazel said in reference to his interference with a work of art at a Stockholm museum in early 2004, during his term as ambassador.

Believing that an art exhibit celebrated Palestinian suicide bombers, Mazel caused the installation to short-circuit, and was forcibly removed from the museum as a result.

Blind hatred

Some days later, Mazel told a Swedish newspaper that "Sweden is among the most severely anti-Semitic places" with "daily agitations in the media to kill Jews."

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon supported Mazel's actions. Mazel retired several weeks later.

"I'm very surprised by Rabbi Horden's statements," Mazel said. "Anti-Semitism is prevalent in Swedish society as it has always been, and is apparent in cases of blind hatred of all things Israeli."

Mazel denied that his perspective on Sweden is warped because of the museum incident, and points to the first-ever systematic study on anti-Semitic images and attitudes in Sweden, released in 2005.

The poll of 5,000 adults in Sweden on their attitude to Israel and Jews found that over a third had "somewhat ambivalent attitude towards Jews," with 5 percent admitting to strong anti-Semitism.

Horden clearly disagrees with the assessment of the former ambassador. "Mazel does speak of anti-Semitism in Sweden," the rabbi said, but I don't think that's a problem," Horden says.

"Six percent of the population is Muslim and this causes problems, like attacks in graveyards, but you don't feel an anti-Israel situation."

Horden, an Israeli-American who was trained to serve in Sweden by the Rothschild Foundation, says that regardless of anti-Semitism, being a religious Jew in Sweden is tough. "Shabbat starts at noon at summer, and kosher food is hard to get."

Other problems are rooted in Sweden's ultra-liberal atmosphere, Horden says. When he, together with Muslim and Christian leaders, signed a petition in 2004 against same-sex marriage, the Reform Jewish community told the media that Horden's action did not represent the Jewish community as a whole.

"It was just important for the Reform stream to show Swedish society that they were indeed liberal and not extremists or fanatics," Horden claims.

Smiling, he adds: "I was surprised to see gay Jewish couples who wanted to get married in synagogue. In Israel the homosexual community is so anti-religious."

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