How to Survive as a Jew in Sweden? Shut up and fade into the woodwork.

Last year I had the pleasure of interviewing a Swedish Zionist activist named Annika Henroth-Rothstein, who recounted her experience advocating for Israel in a country whose tiny Jewish population continues to dwindle due largely to a dangerous increase in antisemitism.  

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Annika Henroth Rothstein

Recently Ms. Rothstein published a letter which she sent to a writer named Michel Gurfinkiel in response to his extremely important essay at Mosaic (published earlier this month) about the future of European Jewry.  Here it is:

Dear Mr. Gurfinkiel,

On April 26 of this year, I was on a train with my five-year-old son Charlie. We were on our way to spend shabbat with friends in the city. You see, our town, significant in the history of Swedish Jewry, shut its synagogue in the late 90s. All that remains now is a plaque stating that there was once Jewish life here, while we are left with an hour-long train ride every weekend to attend services.

 My son was wearing his kippah as we got on the train. He loves his kippah. He is not yet old enough to know the dangers entailed in wearing it, for this is a fact from which I have tried to protect him. But April 26 would change all that.

There was a gentleman sitting in our reserved seat. An Arab, maybe fifty years old, listening to music. Apologizing for the inconvenience, I asked him politely for our seat. He got up, inspected my son, and then leaned over me, saying: You people always take what you want. You need to learn.

He then walked straight into my son, causing him to fall over, and took the seat behind us.

We sat. Hiding my trembling hands from my son’s sight, I picked up Shabbes for Kids and started to review the week’s Torah portion with him. We hadn’t progressed as far as a page before the man stood up and screamed:  Quiet! I don’t want to hear that! You take what you want and never think of others! Shut up!

He stamped his feet, grunting and glaring at my son. Fighting tears of rage, I assured Charlie that the man was just grumpy and tried to turned the episode into a game, one that required us to remain super quiet for as long as possible. I even managed to coax a conspiratorial smile out of him.

But even this failed to appease our tormentor, who spent the rest of the trip repeatedly kicking the back of my son’s seat. At one point I glanced around our compartment: there were four other people there, four adults witnessing a single mother and her five-year-old child being attacked by a grown man. They did nothing. I tried forcing them to meet my gaze; but they just turned away, put on their headphones, stared at their screens, ignored what was happening in front of them.

I did not summon the railway police. I did not scream back at the man. I know better. I know that the only way to survive as a Jew in my country is not to be seen as one. Not to be exposed but to shut up and fade into the woodwork. I’ve known this for quite some time. Unfortunately, my son knows it now, too.

Read the rest of the letter here.

What Jonathan Freedland doesn’t get

Cross posted by SnoopyTheGoon at Simply Jews

I’ve stumbled on a (new to me) appearance of Jonathan Freedland under the auspices of Open Zion section of the Daily beast, edited by Peter Beinart. It was surprising, since I thought that being a columnist for the Guardian and the Jewish Chronicle makes him busy enough, without resorting to another venue. But the article, titled What U.S. Jews Don’t Get About European Anti-Semitism was interesting enough by itself.

The general purpose of the article (and the venue used), if I get it right, is to prove to American Jews that the fears displayed by some of them about the allegedly precarious situation of the European Jewry are just undue histrionics. 

The article is full of arguments in favor of this attitude: from the mistaken outcry by prof Rubin (6 years ago, what a memory!) through the finely nuanced analysis of different anti-Jewish sentiments in different European countries and the right wing extremists supporting Israel (proving what, exactly? – but let’s leave it alone) to the rosy perspective for the British Jews…

There even is an illustration of the idyllic life led by the British Jews in that article:

BritishJewsWith a capture: “Jewish men walk along the street in the Stamford Hill area of north London, Jan, 19, 2011.” Wow, man, you don’t say…  unfettered Jews working around Stamford. How cool. 

All this sounds like a serious and overwhelming tranquilizer attack, but more about it later. What really made me mad is the following: 

“Beneath these two headline cases are a hundred other lesser points of friction, often on campus, situations where Jews and Muslims have clashed, frequently over the politics of the Middle East. A consistent trend, noticed by those who monitor anti-Semitism, is a surge in anti-Jewish hatred whenever the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians escalates.”

One does his best, trying to ignore that “situations where Jews and Muslims have clashed”, as if European Jews are equally guilty in the “clashes”. Of course, one should be careful not to favor any side, especially when that “Islamophobia” label is circling the air, looking for another warm body to stick to – but imagine the folks like the ones in the picture above attacking innocent London Muslims…

But Freedland’s matter of fact acceptance of the inevitable “clashes” (read “European Muslims attacking European Jews”), whenever the Zionists perform their usual dastardly deed – this is what really gets my goat. Ten years ago that point of view was aired by one of the biggest stains on British journalism, one Seumas Milne, in his slimy Guardian piece ‘This slur of anti-Semitism is used to defend repression. Its lead sets the tone:

“Ending Israel’s occupation will benefit Jews and Muslims in Europe”

While it’s unclear how European Muslims will benefit, the benefit for the Jews, according to Milne, is obvious: stop the occupation and the attacks by Muslims stop.

Which, in effect, makes the European Jews into hostages for the Muslim rage, whenever and for whatever reason they become unhappy with Israel (or anything else, for that matter – after all blaming the Jooz is customary). And it’s quite painful to see how a “progressive” Jewish journalist repeats this deranged viewpoint as accepted and acceptable by using it as a side remark, without any comment.

Speaking of comments, it would be interesting to understand Freedland’s personal view of the other passage in that text:

“Others have long been alarmed by the case of Malmö, Sweden, a city whose 45,000 Muslims make up 15 percent of the population and where Jews have been on the receiving end of persistent anti-Semitic attacks—a fact denied by the town’s Social Democratic mayor, who instead criticized Malmo’s Jews for their failure to condemn Israel. As he put it, “We accept neither anti-Semitism nor Zionism in Malmö.””

Why didn’t Jonathan comment on this is unclear, and I would love to be certain he thinks what I do about that dreck of a mayor. But how could one be sure?

Very sad. And now about the general thrust of the article, the tranquilizer attack. It is hard to argue the fact that some responses, coming from US Jews to the shenanigans of the various antisemitic elements in Europe, could be over the top. But the sad tradition of European Jewry to stick its collective head into the sand and to ignore the signs of danger couldn’t be overlooked. And no matter how much Valium does Jonathan shove down our craw, a brief detour to a moment of European history could put it into perspective:

  • From hereBy the end of 1920, the Nazi Party had about 3,000 members.
  • From here: In the 1928 German elections, less than 3% of the people voted for the Nazi Party.

The humble results brought up above are easily dwarfed by current popularity of Front National in France, Jobbik in Hungary etc. One would say that there are very good reasons for the Jews (and other minorities) in Europe to feel somewhat shaky, especially as the economic crisis takes it toll. But no, Jonathan has an easy answer for that one too: 

“Episodes that Americans see as evidence of growing European hostility to Jews are often understood by European Jews to be criticism of Israel—in fact, not even criticism of Israel itself, but rather of a specific strain of Israeli policy: what we might call the Greater Israel project of continuing and expanding settlement of the West Bank.”

Clumsy. Very clumsy, Jonathan.

But probably heartily approved by Peter Beinart. So be it.