Scandinavia: No one bid anti-Semitism farewell

Denmark, Norway, Sweden have differing attitudes toward Jews during Second World War; official responsible for tackling anti-Semitism.

Norwegian flag 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Norwegian flag 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 terror.
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 region.
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.
These two 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 spring.
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 resign.
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 conference.
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 media.
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 Jews.
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.
However, as 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 homophobia.
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 maturity.”
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.
In short, 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.
Even more 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 attention.
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 another.
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.
Although the 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 tolerance.The author is a researcher at the Institute of Security and Development Policy, Stockholm.