In January 2009, during the Gaza war, a small, mostly Jewish group held a peace rally in Malmo, Sweden’s third-largest city (with a population of roughly 293,900, including 760 Jews).
During the peaceful march the demonstrators were attacked by a large screaming mob of Muslims and leftists who threw bottles and firecrackers at them.
The marchers were eventually evacuated to safety by the police who had seemed unable, or unwilling, to confront the attackers during the demonstration.
Ilmar Reepalu, Malmo’s mayor, stated the following during a subsequent interview, specifically addressing the January 2009 attack on Jews:
“We accept neither Zionism nor anti-Semitism. They are extremes that put themselves above other groups, and believe they have a lower value.”
He also criticized the Malmo’s Jewish community for its support for Israel, stating:
“I would wish for the Jewish community to denounce Israeli violations against the civilian population in Gaza. Instead it decides to hold a [pro-Israeli] demonstration in the Grand Square [of Malmö], which could send the wrong signals.”
Reepalu also claimed that Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigrant party with its roots in the Swedish neo-Nazi movement, had “infiltrated Malmö’s Jewish community in order to turn it against Muslims.”
But beyond the violence directed at Jews during the 2009 demonstration, and the insidious remarks of the city’s mayor, reports abound that Malmo’s Jews are often harassed on their way to the main synagogue, and “Jewish children are subjected to antisemitic taunts and attacks from schoolmates.”
Fredrik Sieradzki, spokesman for the Malmo Jewish community, estimated that the already small Jewish population is shrinking by 5% a year, citing anti-Semitism as the main reason.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a travel advisory for Sweden, and explicitly warned Jews not to travel in southern Sweden. The statement read, in part:
“We reluctantly are issuing this advisory because religious Jews and other members of the [Swedish] Jewish community have been subject to anti-Semitic taunts and harassment. There have been dozens of incidents reported to the authorities but have not resulted in arrests or convictions for hate crimes.”
More broadly, a Swedish government study in 2006 estimated that 5% of the entire adult population, and 39% of the Muslim population, harbor strong and consistent anti-Semitic views.
Sweden, with a population of 9 million, has about 18,000 Jews and roughly 300,000 Muslims.
Sweden has become “a center of anti-Semitism,” the president of the European Jewish Congress, Dr. Moshe Kantor told the Jerusalem Post in January.
Kantor said he had repeatedly contacted the office of Swedish Prime Minister Fredik Reinfeldt, but never received a reply. “It’s a conspiracy of silence. They apparently think that if they say nothing, the problem will go away but we know it persists,” Kantor said.
However, an interesting thing happened in Stockholm last week.
Jews refused to be silent.
Ynet reported that, in response to the departure of a flotilla to Gaza (‘Ship to Gaza‘, whose spokesperson, Dror Feiler, is a veteran flotilla ‘activist’ who was once honored by the terrorist group, IHH, for his ‘activism’) there was a small pro-Israel demonstration.
One protester was holding a sign saying: “Hundreds of rockets hitting Israel from Gaza while Israel is delivering supplies to Gaza. The blockade is legal. Are ship to Gaza’s activities legal? Humanitarian?”
Among the 20 or so Swedes who turned out was a pro-Israel blogger named Annika Hernroth-Rothstein.
Intrigued by the courage of a few brave souls standing alone against a tide of anti-Zionism, and antisemitism, I contacted Hernroth-Rothstein, who agreed to the following interview.
Adam Levick: A fellow pro-Israel Swedish blogger named Kim Milrell said: “To blog and to tweet positively about the Jewish state means you’ll get attacked from every angle imaginable. You’ll even lose a few friends along the way.” Can you tell us about your blog, what kind of response it’s gotten by your friends and colleagues, and, broadly, how you became a pro-Israel activist?
Annika Hernroth-Rothstein: My grandparents on my mother’s side were forced to hide the fact that they were jewish. The were named Rothstein when they moved to the northwest part of Sweden in the early 40’s, a part that openly let the germans pass on their way to Norway. The antisemitism was accepted, and everywhere. So they changed their name. They hid their jewish identity, but still: my mother was bullied for her big hair and strange nose…for being a Jew…for being weird. This led to a sense of shame in our family. The jewish identity withered, and it was never spoken about – sorrow and a grief for my grandmother and for my mother. It was a piece missing in our history. When i grew up i knew that we were Jewish, but it didn’t matter to me, except when the neo-Nazis in my small coastal town told me I did not deserve to live, that I was scum, less than them. At that point, I reflected on it. and felt out-of-place, just as my mother had, with my big nose and curly hair. But that changed when I had my kids at age 22. I decided that my boys would never have to hide who they are, and never be ashamed – but be proud and know their identity. So I studied and became more observant. I learned about Judaism, started celebrating Shabbat and found my identity. And since then, I’ve been proud of being Jewish. I tell anyone who wants to listen. I wear my big hair like a crown…
I have always been a political person. It’s my passion in life. And I feel very strongly about Israel, about our right to our land and to our freedom, our right to defend that freedom and our very existence. I started my political blog TRUTHANDFICTION 4 years ago. I wrote about a lot of things, among them Israel. And every time I did write about Israel, there was a backlash. People got furious. Hateful. Emails, messages. I lost friends. Even people within my family warned me not to pursue this path of being openly pro-Israel and defiantly not tell the world that I was Jewish.
But I did anyway. Because it made me so angry that Israel was portrayed as the devil in Swedish media. That it was so mindnumbingly one-sided. I am stubborn, and I persisted to tell the truth. I have gotten so many hateful emails, I get them every day. People call me a murderer, a Zionist whore, a bad mother and an awful human being for writing what I do. I now write as openly as I can about being Jewish, about Israel , and I have accepted the fact that I have lost “friends” through this, and will continue to. I also know that this has cost me job opportunities, that I have become persona non grata in some places because I am so openly pro-Israel. It pains me, but what scares me even more is the thought that this would keep me from writing what I write – and that people every day are silenced because of this terrible consensus-driven media and anti-Israeli society.
AL. What was the reaction by Swedes to the Aftonbladet blood libel story? Do you think many people in your country believed Israel was capable of such a crime? And, overall, how biased is Swedish media coverage of the Israel-Palestinian Conflict?
AHR: That story, as well as many others, plays in to the narrative that Israel and Israelis are crooks and murderers. People have read these lies for so long, that they believe it. It is very one-sided, because our media has for so long been dominated by a pro-Palestinian left-wing set of ideas. It is the accepted norm, the common truth to so many in Sweden. To outsiders, this must seem absurd. I know it is to me. Jews are treated with a no smoke without fire-type attitude and most people don’t seek out the truth, they accept what is presented to them as fact.
AL: Fredrik Sieradzki, spokesman for the Malmo Jewish community, estimated that the already small Jewish population (roughly 18,000) is shrinking by 5% a year. “Malmo is a place to move away from,” he said, citing anti-Semitism as the primary reason. Do you agree with this assessment and are reports that the bulk of antisemitism in Sweden is caused by the Muslim population accurate?
AHR: I agree. Fully. I do not see the situation in Malmö changing under the current political leadership. Quite the opposite.
AL: I noticed on Facebook that you’re reading ‘The Arab Lobby’ by Mitchell Bard. What are your thoughts on the book, and whose ideas (writer, journalist, etc.) have most influenced your views on the Middle East?
I just started reading the book last night, so I will refrain from commenting on that until I have gotten further …
I take a lot of influence from current events. And I make a point of not looking to one “leader” or source. I take in media from all over the world regarding the Middle East. Arab, Israeli, Swedish, American, French… I want to understand the world we live in. That is my goal, however pretentious and impossible. I write from the heart, sometimes too much so. It is personal, and with passion. And I thrive on taking in thoughts very different from my own. To be challenged on my views and see the “other side” as humans, not competitors for the truth.
AL: Any final thoughts?
Finally, I would like to include the invitation to an event for Israel that I am arranging. I want the people of Israel to know that they have our support, a support that is growing every day, and that we are working tirelessly to change this situation.
On the first Sunday of September we will gather in a joyful display of support for Israel. This is not a protest against anything; instead it is a way of highlighting all the wonderful aspects of this country that we know and love and protect its existence in a time of confusion and disinformation. Together, we will change the narrative. Innovation, democracy, freedom and culture is what this celebration is all about.
At 1 pm we will gather in Sergels Torg, the biggest meeting place in Sweden, bring flags and signs in support of Israel. There will be speeches by myself and others on this subject as well as wonderful Israeli music and food. Let’s have a great day and celebrate!
I would like to add that this rally for Israel is organized by me, and me alone. There are no ties to religious or political organizations. This is not about politics, or religion, nor am I acting as an instrument of the Israeli state. This is my initiative, out of love and support for Israel .
Naturally, I have coordinated with the police and gotten all of the necessary permits.