By Stefano Cisternino
In 2019, the European Commission published the results of the largest survey done continent-wide on anti-Semitism: 27,634 people were interviewed in the 28 member countries. The most obvious result is that 89% of the participating Jews believe that anti-Semitism has grown significantly in the last five years (and its growth does not seem to stop even today, in 2021). When considering the non-Jewish sample, only 36% of respondents felt that this was the case. Sweden and France were the countries whose citizens felt that hatred of Jews was an urgent problem.
The fact remains, however, that only 3% of Europeans consider themselves “very well informed” about Jewish history, while 68% say they “know nothing”. As misinformation increases, so does the incidents of anti-Semitism: most scholars in the field believe that the rising parabola of the phenomenon in Europe can be traced back to the 2000s. In 2015, it was the United States Department of Religious Liberty that publicly declared that “European anti-Israeli sentiment has crossed the border into pure anti-Semitism”.
Anti-Semitism in Europe has become a cultural and social emergency.
Sweden: anti-Semitism on the rise
On 6 April 2021, the first evening of Pesach , rag dolls were found hanging by their necks and smeared with red paint near the synagogue in Norrköping.
The dolls were accompanied by an eloquent message against the Jews: “The Jewish holiday of the killing of thousands of Egyptian children”, in reference to the tenth plague of Egypt with the death of Egyptian firstborn children. The incident caused great concern to the local Jewish community, who called for police intervention to shed light on what had happened.
The police issued a statement, which was entrusted to spokeswoman Angelica Israelsson Silfver, who told Expressen that she had no doubts about the anti-Semitic matrix: “This classifies as a hate crime, which intends to spread messages that threaten or oppress certain ethnic groups.” The episode is not an isolated one, but part of a growing phenomenon in Sweden.
The Swedish Jewish community has its roots in the 17th century. With 20, 000 people, mostly distributed among the country’s largest cities (Stockholm, Malmö and Göteborg), it is among the largest in Europe. In recent years, members of the diaspora have reported witnessing increasing harassment, bullying, attacks and persecution. Figures published by the Swedish Prevention Council, BRA, show that the number of anti-Semitic crimes has increased from 182 in 2016, 278 in 2018, to more than 300 in 2020, showing a worrying growth.
On this issue, there are many opinions, very often conflicting.
Some believe that this contemporary anti-Semitism is largely a product of the mass migration of Muslims, who have brought anti-Jewish attitudes from their home countries to Sweden. While, historically, anti-Semitism in Sweden was largely associated with far-right and neo-Nazi groups, a 2013 study found that 51% of anti-Semitic incidents in Sweden were linked with Muslim extremists. One in four were perpetrated by left-wing extremists and only 5% were perpetrated by right-wing extremists or neo-Nazis.
Different scholars point out that the growing influence of extreme right-wing groups and parties should by no means be underestimated. Particularly today, with the present COVID-19 pandemic, radical and populist rhetorics have a very strong hold on the population, leading to the resurgence of forms of extremism that were hoped to have disappeared.
Others accuse the Jewish community in Sweden of having maintained ethnic boundaries since settling there, to protect the community from a process of ethnic-cultural assimilation. This gradually made the integration of Swedish Jews into society more and more difficult, contributing to growing alienation and subsequent verbal and physical violence.
Finally, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven himself has attributed the increasing anti-semitism partly to the memory of the Holocaust “falling into oblivion”, and partly to mass immigration from the Middle East.
From this brief overview of the different opinions on the Jewish community and the growing anti-Semitism in Sweden, it is clear that a problem exists but the solution is yet to be found, causing further socio-political division and extremism.
Online and IRL anti-Semitism
The data represents an underestimation of the actual amount of hate crimes against Jews as hatred and violence tends to be more pronounced on social media platforms. Indeed, the recent report by the Swedish Defence Research Agency, FOI, showed that more than 35 % of posts about Jews are not only negative but contain stereotypes about Jewish power, with clear connections between Judaism and COVID-19.The Central Jewish Council of Sweden has asked the various social media outlets to remove the posts and stop the spread of these messages, but it is crucial to be alert to these manifestations of extremism, as they can give rise to a ripple effect leading to increasingly frequent acts of online violence and IRL.
Cover photo: Willian Justen de Vasconcellos
Stefano Cisternino has a BSc in International Studies (University of Trento) and an MSc in Peace and Conflict Research (University of Uppsala). He is a story-driven researcher with expertise on ethno-social dynamics of migration phenomena but also on the psychophysical effects of violent conflicts. His current research focuses on the impact of new technologies on the global social construct.