A curious question for the amateur historian: Why did the countries of
Scandinavia, a democratic region whose people share close ethnic and cultural
ties, have such conflicting attitudes toward the Jews during World War II? While
Denmark later earned a place card at the table of the “Righteous Among Nations”
for saving nearly all its Jews, Sweden prioritized its interests over
righteousness, upholding strict immigration policies that prevented Jews from
readily entering the country as they sought to escape Nazi
Meanwhile, Norway witnessed a moral lapse among its people and
its police, as Norwegian citizens actively helped the Nazi occupiers to gather
and to deport their Jews.
One would expect to find greater affinity among
the attitudes of Scandinavia’s people.
And indeed, regardless of what the
answer to this question might be, that is precisely what we are witnessing today
as anti- Semitic and anti-Zionist sentiments spread across the
Two separate trends are at play. First, for quite some time,
Scandinavia has witnessed anti-Semitic sentiment emanating from its political
Left, which frequently voices anti- Zionist views and questions Israel’s right
to exist. This is nothing new for Europe, as our researchers have dated this
trend back to the early 1960s.
Second, anti-Semitic sentiment has been
widely observed among specific groups of Muslims residing in Europe and
Scandinavia, which is mixed with, or hidden by anti-Zionism.
trends are a dangerous mix for Scandinavian Jews – a veritable Molotov cocktail
that threatens their well-being and their livelihood, and presents a threat to
greater European tolerance.
Recently, we witnessed yet another incident
of anti-Semitism in Scandinavia – now in Swedish politics, and just a year since
the last such controversy.
Few have forgotten the scandals surrounding
former Malmo mayor Ilmar Reepalu, a member of the Social Democrats party. His
anti-Semitic diatribes were an annual occurrence before his resignation this
His repertoire came to include denials of hostile attacks against
Malmo Jews, calls for local Jews to leave for Israel, and demands for the local
Jewish community to renounce Israel’s actions in Gaza. These statements resulted
in only brief public outcries.
And now today, Sweden is once again
embroiled in an anti- Semitism scandal.
The latest scandal ensued after
Omar Mustafa, the chairman of the Islamic Association in Sweden, was elected to
the governing board of the Social Democrat party – the country’s largest party
and the leader of the opposition. As the media accused him and his association
of anti-Semitism, misogyny and homophobia, he was forced to
Interestingly, though, it wasn’t his anti-Semitism that lost him
his seat, pundits say.
Rather, it seems it took his backward views on
homosexuality and women’s rights to do the trick.
According to the media,
during Mustafa’s tenure with the Islamic association, he invited two
anti-Semites, Salah Sultan and Ragheb al-Serjany, to speak at a Stockholm
While the first told a pro-Palestinian television channel
that Jews regularly kill Christians and use their blood for unleavened bread
during Passover, the second accused Jews of controlling all international
Instead of fessing up to his misguided beliefs, apologizing and
hoping the public’s short-term memory would live up to its reputation, Mustafa
said he would still invite the men to speak if he had to do it all over again.
He also lambasted his critics, declaring that they are “looking to hand down a
life sentence of anti-Semitism to anyone who utters a word of criticism against
the state of Israel.”
Asinine, but this statement demonstrates a failure
to discern between legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies and a hatred of
Sparking further controversy, Mustafa has also expressed fierce
anti-Israel rhetoric. At the time of the Israeli-led operation in Gaza in 2011,
he advocated a Swedish military attack against Israel, writing on his Twitter
page: “Send Swedish JAS (fighter) planes against Israel now!” As such radical
views are not broadly supported within the Social Democrats, the question must
be asked as to why the party turned a blind eye to Mustafa’s misguided views.
Such statements should have been a serious cause for concern.
Lisa Abramowicz, the secretary-general of the Swedish-Israeli Information
Center, told The Jerusalem Post, his anti-Semitism did not suffice to have him
removed from the governing board. Rather, it was most probably his misogyny and
After Mustafa’s forcible resignation, several influential
politicians spoke out in support of his cause.
Peter Weiderud, a fellow
party member who heads the Christian Association of Social Democrats, declared
that Mustafa was forced to resign for being a Muslim. Moreover, he said, Mustafa
should have been allowed to remain at the helm of the board because the Islamic
Association in Sweden has not “come as far as we have in its political agenda or
In short, according to Weiderud, Sweden must readily accept
views that are less progressive if they are voiced by politicians hailing from
“less politically mature” organizations.
Thus, in a desperate attempt to
appear progressive and as having an inclusive, multicultural agenda, the Social
Democrats have insulted both Swedish Muslims and Swedish Jews.
because he is a Muslim, Mustafa should be expected to have less progressive
views and Swedes should start to get used to them because, like it or not, they
will soon feature more frequently in the public arena.
disconcerting is the fact that Mustafa is not the only elected official
affiliated with the Islamic Association in Sweden. Former chairman Abdirizak
Waberi is now a member of parliament representing the Swedish ruling party, the
Moderates. But somehow, despite his fiercely misogynist views and his dream to
live in a country ruled by Sharia law, he has escaped the public’s
What we are witnessing today in Sweden is worrying, but even
more so in the broader Scandinavian context. Journalists have for years reported
on the increasingly threatening situation for Jews across the region. In Sweden,
the government has proved unable to control anti-Zionist rallies, resulting in
violence against Jews.
In Norway, the media is marked by an anti-Israeli
climate, occasionally spilling over at times into feelings of hatred toward
Jews. And in Denmark, the Copenhagen municipality refused to let a Zionist
organization partake in an international food festival, claiming the Israeli
flag was provocative.
Through these actions, we are seeing how
Scandinavian governments themselves are partially to blame for the increasing
anti-Semitism across the region. According to Liam Hore of The Tower monthly
magazine, these governments “encourage radicalism and irrationality through
their foreign and domestic policies, and fail to address anti-Jewish hate crimes
when they occur.”
Scandinavia’s vibrant civil society needs to address
the growing anti-Semitism in the region now. We must point out injustices
exactly when they occur and we must do so without paying mind to the type of
political correctness that benefits one community at the expense of
When a member of the government openly decries the Jewish people
and the state of Israel in the most vulgar terms, Jewish commentators should not
be the only voices raised against such anti-Semitism.
greatest responsibility to tackle this issue lies with our officials, they too
frequently neglect their obligations, thus creating an increasingly hostile
environment – yes, for Jews, but more so for Europe’s hard-won tradition of
The author is a researcher at the Institute of Security and
Development Policy, Stockholm.