March 23rd, 2015

Concern over hate in Malmö

Barack Obama’s antisemitism envoy has warned of the likelihood of “tragic incidents” unless Europe does more to protect Jewish communities.

Ira Forman made the comments this week while visiting Sweden to assess the country’s efforts to prevent attacks on Jews.

In Malmö, the southern Swedish city that has acquired an international reputation for antisemitism, Mr Forman said: “I think people have good intentions, but I’m also concerned about what will happen two or three months from now.

“Without a commitment to increase security for Jewish communities around Europe, we’re more likely to see tragic incidents.”

Petra Kahn Nord, president of Sweden’s Jewish Youth Association, said: “It’s fantastic that the US pays so much attention to this. I get the feeling that our own politicians are not taking antisemitism as seriously.”

Mr Forman said Malmö’s leaders were not making excuses for Jew-hatred and had not attempted to blame the Jewish community. “That’s a huge difference to the past,” he added.

News that over 1,000 Muslims formed a “peace circle” around an Oslo synagogue on Saturday has attracted both praise and scepticism.

Billed as an act of solidarity with Norway’s Jews after the Copenhagen attack, the initiative was celebrated on social media and by some Jewish leaders.

However, there have been claims that a vast majority of the crowd was made up of non-Muslims and that one of the organisers harbours antisemitic views.

A debate erupted on social media after someone who claimed to have attended the event said that there were only around 20 Muslims in the semi-circle and that the crowd of 1,300 consisted mainly of “ethnic Norwegians”.

Others have questioned the motivations of one of the organisers, Muhammed Ali Chishti, who gave a speech in 2009 titled, “Why I hate Jews and homosexuals”. However, speaking at the event on Saturday, Mr Chishti explained that he had come to reject antisemtism.

Mr Chishti delivered his speech wearing a keffiyeh and, before the event, he was asked by a reporter whether he disliked supporters of Israel. He replied: “Yes, I dislike those who support an occupier that has been condemned in several UN resolutions.”

Ervind Kohn, president of Oslo’s Jewish community, dismissed the critics, calling the event “a unique occasion where the Muslim community rose up against antisemitism… So what if the entire Muslim community wasn’t there?”

He added that there was no way of knowing how many Muslims were there. “How do you distinguish a Muslim from a non-Muslim? Should we have counted dark faces? That’s racist!”

Mr Kohn called Mr Chishti as a “fantastic role model”, saying: “In 2009, he was a self-declared antisemite. On Saturday, he stood on the podium and said he was wrong and that he was sorry… It’s better to take small steps than to take no steps at all.” Muslims are also planning to form “peace circles” around shuls in Stockholm and Malmö.

Assyrians living in Sweden are worried about relatives whom they say were kidnapped by IS when the terrorist group attacked 10 villages in Syria on Monday.

The exact number of people who were abducted in Syria is not known. In reports from human rights organisations and international media, the number varies from around 50 to around 200.

Many of the estimated 120,000 Assyrians living here in Sweden are directly affected, as several of the kidnapped Assyrians have relatives living here.

In Södertälje, south of Stockholm, the Assyrian Federation of Sweden is monitoring the situation closely. Radio Sweden spoke with the general director, Afram Yakoub, who criticises the Swedish government and international community for doing too little to help ensure the safety of minorities in Syria and Iraq.