Eilenberg then told about the incident that convinced him to leave Sweden and make aliyah (immigration to Israel). “After there were demonstrations against Jews here [in Malmo], we held a quiet vigil in support of Israel and the children of Sderot [the bombarded city on the Gazan border] in the Jewish Center, and then dozens of Muslims attacked us, threw stones, and glass at us and tried to cut through the fence of the center.”
Instead of supporting the small persecuted community of 700 Jews, Malmo’s mayor blamed them for their own misfortune. According to Ynetnews, an interview with Mayor Ilmar Reepalu, by a Swedish newspaper, was published on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, saying that Reepalu felt local Jews invited the negative attitudes towards themselves by demonstrating in favor of Israel, whose military actions in Gaza have been strongly opposed by some in the European country. He also stated that both Zionism and anti-Semitism hold inappropriate attitudes towards others, displaying his historical ignorance by linking the two.
A Disturbing Trend
This report highlights a disturbing trend. Anti-Semitism spiked in 2009, especially in Europe, and the incident in Sweden in early 2010 raises questions about the lasting effects of the increase. As for 2009, the year’s anti-Semitic incident figures shattered those from 2008. According to Ynetnews, a report from the Coordination Forum for Countering Anti-Semitism said the first three months of 2009 alone accounted for more incidents worldwide than all of 2008.
Similarly, in France, 2009 nearly doubled 2008 in anti-Semitic incidents with 832 acts, versus 474 in 2008. One synagogue was firebombed. The UK found itself in record territory in just the first six months of 2009 for the number of acts in an entire year: 609 incidents occurred from January to June of last year in the UK, 65 more than in all of 2008. Also last year, a Swedish newspaper accused members of the Israel Defense Forces of harvesting Palestinian organs, bringing back memories of blood libel. A report from the Anti-Defamation League noted that two newspapers in Spain printed anti-Semitic cartoons during the Gaza war in January 2009, one showing “a Hasidic Jew with barbed wire sidelocks and plumes of smoke in the background.”
In addition to the spike in incidents, some violent acts in Western nations also snagged headlines. In the United States, a known anti-Semite shot and killed a security guard at the national Holocaust museum, and there was also an attempted bombing of a synagogue. Nicolas Stofenmacher, a spokesperson for the European Jewish Congress (EJC), told Bridges for Peace he believes that while the numbers will subside from 2009, there are fears they may not return to the lower numbers of several years ago.
Reasons for the Increase
The main reason for the increase in 2009 was Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip that dominated headlines in the first month of the year. Though the campaign was initiated in response to thousands of rocket attacks from Gaza fired at Israeli civilians over a number of years, Israel was often characterized as responding “disproportionately.” Much like the increased anti-Semitism stemming from Israel’s response to the Second Intifada terror war (starting in 2000) and the 2006 Second Lebanon War, violence in the Middle East became a catalyst for global anti-Semitism in 2009.
Stofenmacher believes the financial crisis also influenced the growth in anti-Semitism, as competition over dwindling economies only added fuel to prejudice flames, with egregious stereotypes of wealthy Jews playing a role. The scandal of Bernard Madoff, an American Jew who swindled millions, was also a factor. “It’s not the only reason why there was an increase in anti-Semitism,” said Stofenmacher of the financial situation. “I would say it’s more of a mood, sort of an indirect cause, of what happened.”
While the US and French governments tended to respond appropriately to violent acts, Stofenmacher said that they would have liked to have seen more from European institutions. He felt sometimes there was an attitude problem that considered the anti-Semitism from Muslims against Jews to simply be an extension of the Israel–Arab Middle East conflict, resulting in a shirking of responsibility.
Stofenmacher is concerned that this type of connection constitutes faulty thinking and allows governments to ignore the real issues. Rather than recognizing anti-Semitism as the hate crime that it is, incidents can be blamed on differences in political ideology. “The problem is that in Europe we’re dealing with citizens,” Stofenmacher said, “regardless of their faith or ethnic origin, who are being either attacked or threatened, so there is no excuse possible.”
Stofenmacher feels, in Europe, there is a need for additional monitoring of anti-Semitic incidents, increased education, and better enforcement of anti-racism and anti-discrimination legislation. As for the EJC, they haven’t been passive on the issue of anti-Semitism, instead actively lobbying European decision-makers. Such efforts could be a key part of keeping the anti-Semitism spike of the last year limited to just 2009.
By BFP Staff
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