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.

Jonathan Freedland’s illusions about the nature of modern antisemitism

Jonathan Freedland is one of the more decent and reasonable Guardian journalists.

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It’s sad that, at the Guardian, being a Zionist who takes anti-Jewish racism seriously warrants such a tribute, but in contextualizing antisemitism and the assault on Israel’s legitimacy at the Guardian and Comment is Free, it’s important nonetheless to make moral distinctions. For sure, Freedland is not Chris McGreal, and he certainly is not an ‘as-a-Jew’.

His recent essay, however, published at Peter Beinart’s site, Open Zion, titled ‘What US Jews don’t get about European Antisemitism‘, Jan. 14, displays the characteristic intellectual ticks evident in self-styled progressives who comment on antipathy towards Jews.  Freedland sets the tone early by ridiculing a few of the widely discredited stories about antisemitism in Europe, such as the false report six years ago that British schools had banned the teaching of the Holocaust.

In fact, Freedland spends a remarkable amount of space – nearly 25% of his essay – providing examples of what isn’t antisemitism, and mocking those who, he alleges, exaggerate the threat to Jews in the UK and the rest of Europe. 

Freedland writes:

“We are getting used to the fact that U.S. Jews seem ready to believe the worst of this part of the world. In the two cases I’ve mentioned, many Americans were all too willing to accept that British Jews were about to become latter-day Marranos, driven underground by an anti-Semitic government and its jihadist allies, huddling together to teach their children about the Holocaust in Hebrew whispers.”

Finally, getting to “real” antisemitism, Freedland notes the importance of making distinctions “between Western Europe on the one hand and Eastern and Central Europe on the other.

Freedland correctly cites the rise of the Hungarian neo-fascist party Jobbik, as well as Greece’s Golden Dawn party as an ominous indication of a dangerous cultural lurch towards classic European right-wing antisemitism.

Interestingly, Freedland spends little time, however, discussing Islamist antisemitism in Western Europe, and not a word is mentioned about the Judeophobia of the European left.

He writes:

“The most extreme case is surely last year’s multiple homicide—the victims, three children and a rabbi—in Toulouse, apparently by a jihadist maniac. 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.”

Then Freedland engages in an egregious obfuscation, positing a stunning moral equivalence between victim and perpetrator, by adding the following:

“So, yes, in Western European countries the tension between established Jewish communities and emerging Muslim ones can be perilous.”

First, it’s important to establish that – based on a comprehensive study at Yale, on antisemitism in ten European countries, by Charles Small and Edward Kaplan – Muslims in Europe are dramatically more likely to harbor antisemitic views than non-Muslims.

While Freedland correctly notes that there “is a surge in anti-Jewish hatred whenever the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians escalates”, the implied cause and effect is erroneous.

The empirical data which Small and Kaplan analyzed strongly indicated that – contrary to what Freedland implies - anti-Israel sentiment consistently predicts the probability that an individual already harbors strong antisemitic views.

However, beyond the statistics, Freedland’s suggestion that there is anything resembling parity in attacks by Muslims against Jews and attacks by Jews against Muslims represents a staggering inversion.

Freedland only included two examples of Muslim antisemitism, but, of course, there are hundreds more he didn’t note. Here are a few plots to murder Jews by Muslim extremists in 2012.

  • In October, A former Portsmouth Football Club player was among a group of 11 alleged Islamic convert terrorists arrested in France for targeting Jews – 7 months after Mohammed Merah murdered Jewish children in Toulouse.
  • In July, Mohammed Sadiq Khan and his wife Shasta Khan were convicted of planning to bomb Jewish targets in north Manchester.
  • In March, Italian police arrested Mohamed Jarmoune, an Italian of Moroccan origin, who they suspected of planning an attack on a synagogue, at his home in Brescia.

Moreover, in the UK in 2011, 31 out of 92 total violent antisemitic attacks in the UK in 2011, according to the CST, were committed by Muslim/Islamist perpetrators – an extremely disproportionate number when you consider that Muslims make up roughly 4.8% of the population in England and Wales.

Would Freedland suggest that there are (evidently unreported) Jewish or Zionist terrorist cells engaged in similar plots and attacks against Muslim targets? Are there synagogue versions of the radical East London Mosque? Are there Jewish neighborhoods in London, such as Golders Green, understood to be no-go areas for religious Muslims? 

Of course, he certainly knows the answer to these questions.

However, there is a more important point which needs to be addressed.

Right-wing antisemitism in Europe  - certainly within the mainstream media, and at the Guardian – has been properly delegitimized in a way Islamist antisemitism has not.  When the BNP, EDL and other like-minded right-wing extremists march in London, there is something approaching moral unanimity on the racist, xenophobic danger they present.  However, such a moral consensus does not exist when demonstrations in the UK are held by sympathizers of Hamas, Hezbollah and other violently antisemitic movements.

Finally, sometimes CiF Watch is asked why we spend so much time condemning Islamist antisemtism and less amount of time condemning right-wing or neo-Nazi racism against Jews.  

The answer is simple.

White supremacists, and other extreme right-wing groups, don’t have a platform at ‘Comment is Free’, while Islamist extremists who are affiliated with groups openly calling for the murder of Jews (and, no, not merely Zionists) are routinely provided a platform by Guardian editors – evidently motivated by the risible belief that such violent radicals are giving voice to genuinely “progressive” values.

While I’d like to give Jonathan Freedland the benefit of the doubt that he sincerely is intolerant towards all forms of antisemitism, it’s difficult not to conclude that he lacks the fortitude necessary to confront the dangerous legitimization of Islamist inspired Judeophobia in the UK – particularly at the media institution where he’s currently employed.