STOCKHOLM – A decision by the Church of Sweden last week calling on ecumenical organizations to investigate Israel as an apartheid state has been condemned by the country’s leading Jewish body and members of the church itself.
According to the formal decision, the General Synod (the church’s decision-making body) has commissioned its Central Board to “raise the issue of scrutinizing the implementation of international law in Israel and Palestine, also from the perspective of the United Nations convention on apartheid and the definitions of apartheid in the Rome Statute.”
The church’s director of international affairs, Erik Lysén, told Haaretz that “the addendum suggests that the Central Board raise the issue with ecumenical organizations such as the Lutheran World Federation and the World Council of Churches. How the task is handled will be a matter for the Central Board to decide. There is no specific time frame for this.”
The latest decision, which was supported by members of the Synod who are part of Sweden’s Social Democratic and Center parties, has been criticized both within and outside the church.
Aron Verständig, president of the Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, said his organization found the decision unacceptable. He said the Church of Sweden “repeatedly chooses to criticize the only Jewish state, without criticizing any of Israel’s neighbors for the persecution that Christians are subjected to.” Verständig added that “the result of this decision is unfortunately that the image of the Church of Sweden having a strong anti-Israel approach is cemented.”
When asked if the decision was a result of the church’s will to protect Christians in the region or due to a more general political agenda, Lysén responded: “The members of the Synod who proposed the addendum argued in the debate that they were doing so out of a belief that the deteriorating human rights situation on the ground requires an investigation based on human rights and international law, and echoed voices of Palestinian Christians, as well as Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights groups who call for international action.”
The Church of Sweden, which has been active in the Middle East region for many years, publicly supports a two-state solution based on the armistice demarcation line before the 1967 Six-Day War. It calls for an end to “Israel’s occupation of Palestine,” for “a return to talks and negotiations based on international law,” and for both sides to end violence and respect human rights.
In the past, the church has claimed that “methods that prevent financial support for the occupation are legitimate ways of working for peace.” At the end of last week, the church’s head, Archbishop of Sweden Antje Jackelén, informed Verständig that she was personally opposed to the decision. However, she added in an open letter published on the church's website, that “an image of the decision is now being spread that is not entirely correct, and which can easily lead to misunderstandings and overinterpretations.”
Jackelén wrote “it is the use of the word ‘apartheid’ that provokes anger and sadness. I myself would not have used the word in this context. But I am also aware that Israeli and other human rights organizations such as B’Tselem, Yesh Din and Human Rights Watch have used the term in their reports.
“The decision also raises the issue of an examination of how the Palestinian Authority and Hamas live up to international law,” she continued. “Even though I think the wording is unfortunate, it is clear to me that the church council’s decision is in no way directed at Jews as a people, either in Sweden or in Israel, nor at the State of Israel.”
Other senior figures within the Church of Sweden were even more critical. “As bishops, we love our church and support its structure. This doesn’t prevent us from strongly distancing ourselves from the decision taken by the council,” wrote Åke Bonnier and Sören Dalevi, two bishops who mentioned the split vote at the church council. In "Kyrakans Tidning", a Swedish weekly newspaper which focuses on church issues, they stated that “103 members chose to vote against the proposal. As a church, we simply don’t agree on this issue. Why does the council so often pass motions concerning Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East? After all, there are 195 other countries in the world to choose from. Why is it never exercised over Belarus, Ethiopia, the U.S., China, Russia or any of the abominable dictatorships surrounding Israel? We note that this one-sided fixation on Israel does not directly contribute to improving relations with the Jewish state or with our Jewish siblings.”
As part of its involvement in the region, the Church of Sweden backs various organizations and projects, some of which support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. The church has often been accused of being anti-Israel and a one-sided supporter of the Palestinians.
Lysén said the Church of Sweden “focuses its international engagement on countries where we have long-term development and humanitarian partners,” and rejected the notion that it was only focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He said the church had raised issues of human rights violations in countries such as “Colombia, Myanmar, South Sudan, Tanzania, several countries in Central America and regionally in the Middle East. This is often done in partnership with ecumenical networks and alliances, and always with a basis in human rights and international humanitarian law.”
Responding to criticism of the decision, Lysén stressed that “the Church of Sweden’s position is not anti-Israeli and remains principled to human rights and international law – in Israel and Palestine, and in any other context where we work. We support and cooperate with both Israeli and Palestinian partners, all of whom work from a human rights-based approach. We remain committed to the rights of both the Israeli and the Palestinian people.”
The Church of Sweden is an evangelical Lutheran church with 5.8 million members (about 55 percent of Sweden’s population) and is considered a progressive and liberal church by international standards. It has ordained female priests since the late 1950s; recognizes and performs same-sex marriages; and its decision-making body, which consists of 251 members who meet biannually, is voted for in a democratic election in which all of the country’s major political parties are represented.
The General Synod elects the church’s Central Board, which is led by the archbishop of Sweden (Jackelén is the first woman to hold the church’s highest position). Until the start of the 2000s, the church held the position of state church, which explains the high membership numbers in a country that is extremely secular and in which only a small percentage of the population attends church services.
Until 1996, all newborn children were made members, unless parents actively canceled their membership. The church is involved in humanitarian work far from Sweden’s boarders, its self-proclaimed priorities including “gender justice and equality, safeguarding people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, basic freedom of religion or belief, just peace worldwide, fair and sustainable livelihood, and maintaining human dignity and human rights in emergency situations.”
STOCKHOLM – “I don’t know if you know who I am, so I will start by pointing out that until about a year ago, I was an active member of the Nazi organization the Nordic Resistance Movement,” the message that Carinne Sjoberg found in her email in-box last month stated, by way of introduction. Sjoberg, a former Israeli who lives in the northeastern Swedish city of Umeå, was surprised by the message from a local teenager named Hugo Edlund, but it was clear to her why she had been chosen to receive it. A resident of Sweden since the 1980s, she is a member of the city council of Umeå, a city of 90,000 people, only a few dozen of whom are Jews. About a decade ago, Sjoberg, who is a teacher by training, and several associates established a small Jewish cultural center in the city. The center conducted educational and other community activities with the aim of reviving Jewish life in the area and acquainting the local public with Jewish customs. Jews and non-Jews alike attended the events, which included activities to mark the Jewish holidays, dialogue encounters, lectures and exhibitions.
The center was a success, but at a certain stage, during 2017, it came under a shadow. It was here that Hugo Edlund entered the picture, albeit indirectly. “One day I found stickers pasted on the center’s windows, with messages like ‘Beware of mixing with foreigners,’” Sjoberg relates. “A photograph of Hitler covered the Star of David on the sign above the door. Afterward, people were observed taking pictures of the area in front of the center and of the cars in the parking lot. We took that as a threat. We didn’t have a fence, there were no security guards. People began to feel stressed.”
Behind the ominous activity was the Nordic Resistance Movement – and worse was to come, Sjoberg says. “They even got to my house. Flyers with quotes from ‘Mein Kampf’ appeared in my mailbox.” In some cases, members of the neo-Nazi organization approached Sjoberg physically. In November 2017, she recalls, “when I concluded my remarks as the representative of the Jewish community in the memorial ceremony for Kristallnacht, I found myself surrounded by a human wall. Local politicians and others had formed a [protective] circle around me. At first, I didn’t understand why, but then it turned out that neo-Nazis had been there all along. Afterward, a police vehicle began to follow me around.”
Sjoberg, a member of the Liberals (a center-right party), says the developments did not frighten her, but attendance at the center dwindled: “Sons and daughters of Holocaust survivors said there was no one to protect them and simply stopped coming. Parents were afraid to send children, and some said that maybe we should lower our profile in order not to draw fire. My view was that there was no point to the activities if they had to be done in secret.” In the end, in May 2018, Sjoberg says, it was decided to terminate the activity of the Jewish center. It was against this background that Hugo Edlund’s email arrived. Even more surprising was how its text continued: “A while ago I decided to leave the organization, because I reached the conclusion that it is destructive and has elements of a cult. That is my past, and today I am ashamed of it.” He added that even though he had not been involved in the activity against Sjoberg, he was distressed by the organization’s actions and was now trying to change and to act more positively and productively. “My personal apology is the first thing I want to send,” he wrote. “Besides that, I would like to know if you would agree to meet and talk.” Sjoberg used her contacts in the local police and the municipal government to ascertain that Edlund’s message was genuine and that she was not in danger. When she was satisfied with its authenticity, she accepted his invitation to meet.
“It was a good meeting,” she says. “I had nothing personal against him. My heart ached for him and for the fact that there are so many others like him.” Sjoberg says she learned from Edlund that the Nordic Resistance Movement, which is active not only in Sweden, but also in Norway and Finland, attempts to recruit teens from schools in Umeå. “They simply take advantage of their naivete,” she says. “Hugo is a good boy, nice and not aggressive. The neo-Nazis find kids like that and recruit them into their ranks. The society turns a blind eye. In the end, if the adults don’t address manifestations of anti-Semitism and [they continue to] ignore racism – it should be no surprise that youth are easily recruited into organizations like this.”
Edlund and Sjuberg. Photo: Kristoffer Pettersson
‘Grotesque “Holocaust” lie’
The Jewish community in Umeå is not an isolated case: The Jews of Sweden have been coping with overt anti-Semitism for the past decade. Some of the most widely reported assaults occurred in 2017: Molotov cocktails thrown at a synagogue in Gothenburg while a youth activity was underway inside, extreme anti-Semitic slogans shouted out during a pro-Palestinian rally in Malmö, and a march of neo-Nazis through the center of Gothenburg on Yom Kippur that year. Around the same time, firebombs were thrown at Malmö’s Jewish cemetery, which had also been targeted in previous years, as part of a string of attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions in the city. The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention last year published a report on hate crimes in the country. In 2018, the report stated, there were 7,090 reported hate crimes (up 11 percent compared to 2016 and 29 percent more than in 2013). The biggest rise was recorded in anti-Semitic hate crimes: 280, a surge of 53 percent from 2016. In addition to actual cases of physical violence, many reports have recently appeared in Sweden about a threatening atmosphere, harassment and verbal abuse of Jews.
One case that was widely reported in the Swedish and international media involves a Jewish physician in Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm. In an interview with Haaretz last week, the physician said that he and his Jewish colleagues suffered for years “systematic discrimination and injustice” from their department head: “The head of the department created a hostile working atmosphere, published anti-Semitic cartoons in the social networks and made anti-Semitic remarks in the workplace.” The doctor also related that his superiors and other senior figures in Karolinska had tried to cover up the matter, a claim that was confirmed in January in a report issued by the Swedish Ombudsman’s Office.
Additionally, on the “Big Brother” reality show here, two contestants were thrown off the program for expressing anti-Semitic sentiments during small talk about jobs. When one of them mentioned his Jewish boss; the other responded that she hated Jews. A third contestant, who wasn’t removed, had tattoos of Nazi symbols. Concurrently, a neo-Nazi was sentenced to a six-month prison term for harassing two journalists and a senior lawyer and for sending threatening anti-Semitic messages to all three women. It’s against this background that the neo-Nazi "Nordic Resistance Movement" ("Nordiska Motstandsrorelsen", or NMR, in Swedish) operates. Officially founded in 2016 on the basis of a previous organization, "The Swedish Resistance Movement", it is the latest in a chain of neo-Nazi movements and parties that have been active in Sweden since the 1930s. It is also active in neighboring Norway and Finland. The NRM proclaims admiration of Hitler, disseminates anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, uses Nazi terminology and cultivates hatred of a host of enemies: gays, migrants, Jews, Muslims and anyone who’s suspected of advocating feminism, globalization, multiculturalism and democracy. Many in the movement have a history of violence, crime and prison time, but there’s a political arm as well. The party received only 0.03 percent of the vote in the 2018 general election in Sweden, but two of its representatives won seats on two of country’s municipal councils. In recent years, under the aegis of the laws of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, the movement has held marches and demonstrations throughout Sweden. In many cases these develop into violent confrontations with the police and with counter-demonstrators.
Hugo Edlund, who’s now 18, joined the movement when he was 15. His texts still appear in his name on the movement’s website. At one stage he referred to those fighting against the organization: “This has included psychologists who try to ‘cure’ us of our worldview, police who play us films of the grotesque ‘Holocaust’ lie, interviews with social services, parents who arrange meetings with ‘defectors,’ Reds who leave us threatening messages, pressure from the Swedish Security Service, expulsion from the armed forces, and so on. The list is long” (from the organization’s English language website). “At first, I didn’t take an interest in ideology,” he says now. “I was drawn to the visual side – the flags, the uniform, the shields. The struggle against the police also attracted us, and so did the fact that the organization had a lot of opponents. NRM members see it as a rebellious organization, interesting and cool, which is what made me and a childhood friend start to follow them.”
What did you actually do in the movement? What is the character of the activity?
“The truth is that most of the time it’s just sitting and talking. There’s more internal than external activity. Every week there was a social encounter; we would meet in someone’s house and talk. Once a month there was a meeting in the basement of the district chief, and many times afterward there was an activity such as a demonstration or handing out flyers. Sometimes we would read something or study the movement’s platform.”
The movement’s platform explicitly invokes the term National Socialism and an array of symbols that are evocative of the 1930s. It is replete with racist doctrine (a call to limit immigration to “ethnic northern Europeans”), anti-Semitic conspiracy theories (the need for an all-out struggle against the “global Zionist elite”), Nordic nationalism (a call for unification of the Nordic countries and an immediate withdrawal from the European Union, which is considered an enemy of the people), evocations of fascism (a strong state for the people) and patriotic romanticism (preserving the Nordic essence, being in harmony with the laws of nature, doing compulsory military service and arming the general public).
How many of you were there, and what was your common denominator? Who were your partners in the activities?
“In our city, there were seven-eight active members, maybe 25 in the district. Most of them were older, there were only two women. There was a feeling of belonging and of deep partnership. There was an atmosphere that said we needed to defend ourselves, and of course not talk to the police. The district chief would laugh and say, ‘If you talk to the police, we’ll shoot you.’”
Hugo Edlund. Photo: Kristoffer Pettersson.
Did things become violent?
“I wasn’t involved in violent incidents, but there were cases like that. Two of the older members, for example, were tried for assaulting someone – I think he was black. We talked about those things. For example, when someone from the movement beat up a 16-year-old boy in the election campaign, we talked about that in the meeting and praised him. “The first time I personally encountered a violent situation, I froze. It was in the Umeå Pride Parade, when we were attacked by activists from the other side. We told the police we didn’t want to file a complaint – the word in the movement is that the police work in the service of the Jews.”
What else did they say about the Jews?
“They talked a lot about the Jews. There are lots of conspiracy theories about how the Jews are promoting an agenda that is turning Europe multicultural and into a kind of ‘bland bloc.’ The idea was that the Jews want to mix the races, and in that way destroy the white race. They said that the Jews influenced society through their property – the banks and the media. There was also criticism of specific Jews. The moment a Jew was involved in something, there was prejudice [against him] and they looked for a hidden agenda. For example, they said that when the ‘Jewess Carinne Sjoberg’ whined and closed the Jewish center, the only reason she did it was to appear in the media.”
“It is difficult to say with certainty how the level of anti-Semitism develops in Sweden,” says Mathan Shastin Ravid, of the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism. “Research on the subject is limited and we don’t have extensive studies on the development of anti-Semitic notions and attitudes over time. What can be said is that anti-Semitism is more evident and more visible throughout society in recent years.” He adds that studies show that many Jews in Sweden are loath to show signs of their Jewishness in public. No few Jews have encountered anti-Semitic incidents, he notes. “At the same time,” he says, “awareness has risen. Anti-Semitism is more present in the public debate than it was 10 years ago. More decision makers and commentators refer to the subject and publicly condemn anti-Semitism, and that is important.”
Still, many cases go unreported. Several months ago, a young Jewish woman from the south of Sweden opened an Instagram account in which young Jews in Malmö have shared their experiences. They tell about being cursed, spat at and threatened, receiving hate letters, finding swastikas painted on doors and walls, and in some cases being beaten. The assailants were often migrants or second-generation migrants from Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa. Periods during which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict intensified were particularly prone to anti-Semitic hate crimes. But Malmö is not alone. “Get your stinking Jewish hands off my products,” a saleswoman in a Stockholm store told a young Jewish man, according to his testimony. A young Swedish woman of Jewish origin noted that in a high-school history class, “when we talked about the Holocaust and the teacher said that the Nazis didn’t succeed in annihilating all the Jews, I heard two of my classmates behind me whisper, ‘Too bad.’ One of them said another time that the Jews are disgusting and have to disappear from Sweden.” A Jewish teacher in a school in southern Sweden recalls an email she received from her school principal. “The message contained an anti-Semitic caricature in which two Jews are shown killing a Christian child. I complained to my union, but nothing was done. The reaction of other staff members was a thunderous silence, and in the end the principal also canceled the funding for one of my projects.” When the teacher called her union’s headquarters in Stockholm, the response was disappointing: “You Jews are quick to take offense,” the official on the phone said. “What do you want, money?”
According to Mathan Shastin Ravid, physical danger for Jews in Sweden definitely exists, primarily from the far-right movements and from radical Islamists. At the same time, anti-Semitic viewpoints, anti-Semitic rhetoric and conspiracy theories are infiltrating broader circles of society. “It is important to understand that anti-Semitism is not only present on the extreme political margins,” he says. “It is also present in society’s mainstream. It’s more common than people think it is and it should be taken very seriously.” The Swedish government maintains that it is committed to combatting anti-Semitism. Recently, the government has indeed supported educational and cultural activities, as well as public diplomacy, on the subject, and upgrading the ability of the law enforcement system and the police to combat racist organizations and ensure the security of institutions that are liable to be victimized by hate crimes. Symbolic measures are also being taken. For example, members of the Swedish parliament visited Auschwitz, and the country’s education ministry is cooperating with Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, on developing curricula.
Nevertheless, the problem remains far from being resolved. On the last International Holocaust Day, this past January, Carinne Sjoberg organized an event for ninth-graders in Umeå. The event itself has been held for a number of years, with the participation of about a thousand students and teachers. There are talks and speeches, along with other content related to the Holocaust and its lessons. This year, Sjoberg encountered students who laughed, made retching noises and cursed during the event. “When I began my remarks, they interrupted so much that I couldn’t finish speaking,” she relates. “No one did anything, and the event was simply halted. Even worse, some local politicians said that maybe the event shouldn’t be held in the future, since it makes the young people behave like that. Some of the teachers also don’t want it anymore, because it’s a lot of work and is quite costly. I find that hard to accept.
“First they caused the Jewish center to shut down, and now they’ll terminate this educational project, too? That will be another victory for the neo-Nazis, while the city’s leadership behaves like the three monkeys: See nothing, hear nothing, say nothing.”
Hugo Edlund’s period of membership in the Nordic Resistance Movement drew to an end in 2019. “In the past two years, two indictments were filed against me,” he relates. “One was for a hate crime because of things I circulated against Jews on Twitter. I was sentenced to community service work for youth and a fine. The second time I was convicted of a hate crime and also for graffiti – I spray-painted swastikas and symbols of the movement in different places in the city. I was sentenced to community service work and a fine again, plus payment of compensation.”
Edlund during his NRM days.
You were still a minor then, living with your family. How did your parents react?
“I didn’t tell them that I was a member of the Nordic Resistance Movement. They found out by surprise when I took part in activity against the Gay Pride Parade in Luleå [a small city in northern Sweden]. They knew about my opinions and my ideology, but not about my connection with the organization. One of my older brothers broke off relations with me, and the family was confused and didn’t know what to make of me. My parents tried everything. They tried to cut off the internet, to prevent political conversations in the house and to stop me from going to activities. But it came to a point where they simply despaired, because they felt there was nothing they could do.”
What finally made you decide to leave?
“It was a lengthy process, with all kinds of stages. For example, when the police came to my house at 5 A.M. to do a search. I realized that I didn’t have a regular life, I didn’t feel good, there was a social stigma on me and I wasn’t doing the things a regular person does. It was like living in a bubble. I didn’t go to school; I tried to work, but I left that, too, and I stopped even caring about the money. My whole focus was on the movement. “There are stages in membership in an organization like that. The first stage takes you from online activity alone to active membership, and in the second stage you become more extreme. It’s a destructive environment, and there’s a good chance you’ll start committing crimes and closing off doors to yourself. Gradually you lose friends, job possibilities and studies. In the end I understood that and I decided to leave.”
Edlund’s friends, in particular two who were close to him and whom he had recruited to the movement, reacted aggressively to his departure. One evening last October they came to his house and hit him during an argument about returning the movement’s uniform. Two months later, the two were tried for assault and convicted, sentenced to do community service work and ordered to pay compensation to Edlund – who is aware that his former comrades might go on persecuting him. Still, he is determined to embark on a new path. “Now I am completely free of that past,” he says. “I am finishing my schooling. I am also working on a project, in cooperation with Carinne. The project is about the far right, and that is also what I want to do in the future. I want to make a contribution to society and I don’t want other young people to follow the same path that I once did.” Edlund has passed on information about the Nordic Resistance Movement to an NGO that monitors and analyzes the activity of extreme-right movements in Sweden. His aspiration is to work with youth and contribute to the efforts to prevent radicalization. His meeting with Carinne Sjoberg, following the message he sent, was only the first. They are now in regular contact and are both participating in the struggle against racist political extremism and against anti-Semitism in Sweden. “It’s not a struggle for the sake of the Jews alone,” Sjoberg says. “It’s a battle for democracy that’s important for everyone. It’s a struggle for the right to be what we want to be and to live the life we choose to live.”
STOCKHOLM – Among the dozens of world leaders who landed in Israel last week for the International Holocaust Forum, the presence of Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven was particularly notable. It had been 21 years since a Swedish Prime Minister had visited, and a series of diplomatic incidents in recent years only worsened the atmosphere.
The incidents included the recognition of a Palestinian state by Löfven’s government and then-Foreign Minister Margot Wallström’s linking of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to terror attacks in Paris. For nearly three years after Wallström’s comments in 2015, there were no official meetings between the two countries, with Israel repeatedly rebuffing requests by Wallström and Löfven to improve ties.
But at the end of 2017, two senior Swedish officials came to Israel: then-Parliament Speaker Urban Ahlin and then-Commerce Minister Ann Linde, who is now foreign minister. Also, Israel named a new ambassador to Stockholm, Ilan Ben-Dov, who a Swedish Foreign Ministry source says brought “a new atmosphere and approach” to bilateral relations.
Like Göran Persson, who served as Swedish prime minister from 1996 to 2006 and was considered a friend of Israel, Löfven is striving to turn Sweden into a world leader in Holocaust commemoration and the battle against anti-Semitism. At the same time, Stockholm continues to address the Palestinian issue, support the Palestinian Authority and promote the two-state solution when most of the world seems to have lost interest.
“The government stands behind the recognition of Palestine,” Linde told Haaretz last week. “The recognition was done in support of a negotiated two-state solution; one State of Israel and one State of Palestine,” she said, adding that support for the two-state solution is solid in the EU, which, like Sweden, supports the Palestinians and donates to them.
“I am very clear about my sincere ambition to further deepen and broaden the relationship with Israel,” she added. “I will continue to strive for this. We must be able to maintain an international law-based foreign policy and at the same time have a very good and constructive relationship with Israel.”
Arson and other attacks
Linde is also unequivocal about the fight against anti-Semitism. “Sweden remains deeply committed to the international fight against anti-Semitism,” she said. Asked about anti-Semitic remarks, including in her Social Democratic Party, she said: “Criticism against the Israeli government’s actions can be motivated, as against any other state, but it is never acceptable to use anti-Semitic stereotypes or to question Israel’s right to exist.”
“It could be bullying on social media and in some cases, physical attacks, even if it’s not very common,” said Aron Verständig, president of the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities. Firebombs have been thrown at the Gothenburg synagogue and the Malmo cemetery. There have also been arson attacks, swastika graffiti, violent demonstrations by neo-Nazis and other harassment of Jews.
These include, amongst other incidents, the Jewish cultural center in the city of Umeå closing down after receiving neo-Nazi threats, media attention which was turned towards a Jewish doctor who suffered discrimination and abuse at Stockholm’s Karolinska University Hospital and many reports of threats, harassment and cursing at Jewish teenagers, younger children and teachers in Sweden’s schools.
But there has also been greater interest in the Holocaust and the recognition that its memory must be preserved. Over the past year numerous events in the country have focused on Holocaust commemoration and the fight against anti-Semitism. Notably, the Living History Forum, a Swedish government authority, teaches against racism and anti-Semitism and an organization named “Jewish Culture in Sweden” preserves the legacy of the Holocaust by arranging various cultural events.
The Swedish government is determined to show that it takes the issue seriously. Linde spoke about a number of steps like efforts by the Swedish police to increase funding and staffing against hate crimes, and investments in protecting Jewish institutions and other sites likely to be targets. The government has also initiated legislation against racist groups and is improving enforcement and the prosecution of hate crimes.
Efforts also include visits by legislators and school students to Auschwitz, while the Swedish education minister is cooperating with the Yad Vashem memorial and museum in Jerusalem. The Swedes are also considering building their own Holocaust museum.
For now the highlight is the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Anti-Semitism, which is scheduled for October. Löfven has invited researchers, world leaders and other representatives from some 50 countries to plan steps to help preserve the memory of the Holocaust and fight anti-Semitism. Also, last week Löfven announced that Sweden is adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism.
Aron Verständig, president of Sweden’s Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, would like to see an even larger investment in Jewish life in Sweden but he says cooperation with the government is good. “lately it’s doing good things like arranging the international conference in Malmö and creating a new Holocaust museum”, he said.
Still, the Israeli government doesn’t seem very impressed, and ties between the countries remain cool. During his visit to Jerusalem last week Löfven didn’t meet a single Israeli official, though, granted, he wasn’t the only leader who didn’t hold meetings outside the Holocaust forum.
Foreign Minister Linde, for one, isn’t discouraged. “There is no reason why we could not have a fully normal relationship given the long-standing friendly relations between our two countries and plenty of common interests such as innovation, gender equality and the important struggle against anti-Semitism,” she said. “The prime minister’s visit to Jerusalem this week proves how important the work on combating anti-Semitism is for the Swedish government. The fact that we have different views on certain other issues should not prevent dialogue, but rather makes dialogue even more important.
STOCKHOLM – A Jewish doctor who works at the Swedish hospital accused of covering up repeated alleged incidents of anti-Semitism by a department chairman tells Haaretz the abuse consisted of both verbal attacks and professional decisions that adversely affected his and his colleagues careers.
A former department chairman at the Karolinska University Hospital, who is also a researcher at the affiliated Karolinska institute that awards the Nobel Prize in medicine, is accused of anti-Semitic behavior toward Jewish doctors. Haaretz speaks to one of his alleged victims and to other sources close to the events.
The accused, a former department chairman at the Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, allegedly bullied and harassed Jewish doctors working in his department. The physician has been forced to take time away from his duties while the accusations are being investigated, after the story broke in Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet at the end of October.
Haaretz is aware of the identity of the accused, but we are not naming him due to Swedish legal restrictions.
A senior Jewish doctor who has worked at Karolinska for almost 20 years (and who agreed to speak to Haaretz on condition of anonymity) says that, together with Jewish colleagues, he was systematically discriminated against by the department chairman.
The doctor says two of his Jewish colleagues had to quit the department because of the abuse and he is the only Jewish doctor still working there. He says all three had to pay both a personal and professional price for the conduct of a person whom Jewish organizations say posted anti-Semitic materials online.
“Our work environment was extremely hostile,” the Jewish senior doctor tells Haaretz. “The situation started over three years ago, he says, and escalated over the ensuing years”. He first told his superiors about the abuse in mid-2017, he says.
In one case, the doctor says the department head saw him talking with another Jewish colleague and remarked: "There goes the Jewish ghetto." The doctor adds that "the harassment included a series of damaging steps to our careers," such as being denied access to research funds and not being allowed to participate in medical conferences or courses.
The alleged discrimination also had a negative effect on their patients, the doctor says. "In some instances, we were not even allowed to meet patients and perform surgical procedures, which were an important part of our jobs," he says, citing cases in which the department head referred his patients to other doctors.
Another example centered on an international congress in which the Jewish doctor was invited to give the keynote lecture. The department chairman allegedly denied his request to attend, without supplying a reason, but then provided funding for five non-Jewish doctors to travel there instead – even though they had not received formal invitations. Karolinska University Hospital’s acting CEO, Annika Tibell, told Haaretz that the initial decision was overruled by senior management and a university representative, and the Jewish doctor was eventually able to deliver his keynote speech at the event.
In another case, the senior Jewish doctor was supposed to lead a multi-center study funded by the European Union, and involving an Israeli hospital, at the Karolinska Institute. But the suggestion that he would serve as the project’s local principal investigator was rejected by the chairman, with no official reason given.
Though some of these accusations could be attributed to professional differences or even office politics, the Jewish doctor and other sources with knowledge of the situation believe that they are the result of the chairman’s anti-Semitism.
As proof, the doctor and others cite material that the department chairman allegedly posted on his Facebook account. This material included cartoons that were deemed anti-Semitic by three anti-Semitism watchdog organizations: The Simon Wiesenthal Center; the Swedish Committee Against Anti-Semitism; and the Living History Forum, a Swedish public body that promotes human rights and educates on the Holocaust.
One cartoon depicts a bloodthirsty Israeli soldier with a large, grotesque nose, while another compares Israel to Nazi Germany.
Karolinska University Hospital’s acting CEO, Annika Tibell, tells Haaretz the institution has “a zero-tolerance policy regarding all forms of harassment and discrimination. In addition to a well-functioning working environment and respect for each other, this is fundamental for our hospital and for the care of our patients.”
The senior doctor who spoke with Haaretz, as well as sources with knowledge of the department’s inner workings, also detail how attempts to complain about the ex-chairman’s conduct were initially ignored, while subsequent investigations fell short.
According to the doctor, his initial complaint was ignored. It was only when he complained with the help of a lawyer that the hospital agreed to launch a probe into the department head's behavior, he says.
The Jewish doctor charges that, far from revealing the truth, these were essentially "cover-ups" designed to protect the accused department chairman. (In a response to Haaretz, Tibell rejected all accusations of a cover-up.)
"The first investigation was conducted (after the chairman was temporarily suspended) by the new head of the department – a professor at the Karolinska Institute who was also a close friend of the former chairman," says the senior doctor. "This professor was biased and asked non-Jewish doctors if they had experienced anti-Semitism in the department. These questions were asked face-to-face, and naturally their answer was negative.”
When one Jewish doctor confirmed "that he had indeed experienced anti-Semitic comments" and couldn’t rule out that "there was a problem, this information was ‘forgotten,’" the doctor alleges. "During the investigation, no protocols were written and eventually the conclusion was that there was no anti-Semitism problem,” he adds.
Tibell says an external investigation was deemed necessary following the first probe. The Jewish doctor reveals that this was to be conducted by two psychologists, but they removed themselves from the process, he says, "because they were not qualified to assess such issues and were not experts in anti-Semitism."
Tibell confirms that, saying that the initial external investigation "did not start as planned, due to lack of required competence in the specific area of harassment.”
She says the current (third) investigation is ongoing and will likely end in December. However, she notes that “with hindsight, I believe we could have acted more quickly and assertively in securing the prompt start of the present external investigation.”
The senior Jewish doctor remains skeptical about the latest investigation. “It is supposed to be an external [probe], but the legal firm conducting it has economic ties to the hospital and isn't really objective," the doctor claims. He also alleges that Karolinska rejected an offer that the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Swedish Committee Against Anti-Semitism serve as observers, which he claims is necessary to ensure the integrity of the investigation.
The former department chairman is still being paid while the investigation continues, and is still conducting research at the affiliated university. In addition, the Professor, who allegedly tried to cover up the events, is on a similar "time-out" although sources told Haaretz that he is still involved in the department's work both as consultant and as a professor.
Last week, another senior official who was responsible for the department in which the anti-Semitic incidents allegedly occurred, decided to quit. This was for both personal reasons and after admitting he didn’t react strongly enough to resolve the problem, according to an internal hospital email seen by Haaretz. He too will continue working as a doctor and researcher at Karolinska.
A dark history
Karolinska is the name of both a major hospital and an affiliated medical university that is regarded as one of the most prestigious in the world. The university's Nobel Assembly, which consists of 50 professors from various disciplines, selects the recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Although the university and adjacent hospital are two separate legal entities, they are closely connected. The original Karolinska Hospital in Solna, just north of Stockholm, was founded over 80 years ago.
Sweden has a dark and complex historical relationship with anti-Semitism – one that has not skipped over the medical profession. Swedish doctors were prominent in the development of eugenics and race biology in the first half of the 20th century, and institutions, including Karolinska, actively rejected Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s and seeking work in Sweden. The country's dark past can still be found in the hospital grounds today, with one street named after Astrid Cleve – a Swedish researcher who remained a Nazi sympathizer even after World War II ended.
Asked about the street named after Cleve, Tibell told Haaretz: “This was just recently brought to the attention of the hospital, prompting a strong reaction from Karolinska University Hospital asking the local municipality to rapidly change the name of the street.”
The anti-Semitism scandal at the hospital comes at a time when Sweden has been facing a new wave of anti-Semitism. In the most recent election in September, for example, a party with Nazi roots made substantial political gains. And the last few years have also seen a string of anti-Semitic attacks in the country. Last December, for instance, a synagogue in Gothenburg was firebombed while an event was taking place; Malmö has been the site of numerous attacks against Jewish people and institutions in recent years; and recently a Jewish local politician in Lund, a town in southern Sweden, was a victim of an arson attack. Other cases of threats, harassment and vandalism have occurred in various places, including one town, Umeå, in northern Sweden, where a local Jewish center had to close down because of attacks and threats by neo-Nazis.
"The situation has become worse in the last few years," Aron Verständig, chairman of the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, tells Haaretz. "This is not new and it's very worrying." Verständig says that though anti-Semitism isn't common in Sweden when it comes to the general population, for quite a few years now there have been many attacks, mainly in Malmö, committed by people with a Middle-Eastern or North African background. “In recent years the extreme right has become a problem too and there is also anti-Semitism within the pro-Palestinian movement and Swedish extreme left, although this is usually not violent", adds Verständig.
However, five Jewish doctors and researchers who currently work at Karolinska all said they have no recent personal experiences of being harassed, discriminated against or mistreated due to their Jewishness. According to these conversations, apart from a couple of minor incidents dating from a number of years ago, Karolinska’s anti-Semitism problem is seemingly confined to one department.
However, all five voiced strong feelings of discontent about the way Karolinska had chosen to handle the scandal.
One source talked about a "management culture of silencing critics and covering up scandals." Another said Karolinska has an organizational problem that allows employees to be subjected to toxic work relations for years, with no mechanism for respite. A third said they thought Karolinska’s management was hoping for "the storm to pass, while failing to understand how serious the allegations are and how much damage they caused staff and patients."
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, one of the founders and the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, concurs. After being approached by one of the Jewish doctors who claimed harassment at Karolinska, Cooper sent a letter to the hospital's management last month, alleging that the hospital knew about the "obvious and open anti-Semitism," and ignored it.
Two weeks ago, Cooper traveled to Stockholm and met the hospital's acting CEO, Tibell. In a press conference held after their meeting, Cooper told journalists he had urged the hospital's leadership to fast-track the investigation.
"This needs to be fully addressed. If it isn't, there will be damage to the name of Karolinska – which is something the Wiesenthal Center doesn’t want to see," he said. "That's one of the reasons I got on the plane and came here."
Cooper added that the doctor who approached the center for help is "a brilliant physician, who wants to continue doing good work at this hospital."
The Swedish Medical Association has been criticized by some of its members on social media for its response to the situation. According to an article in Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, the union has been reluctant to help the Jewish doctors, with the chairwoman of the union saying that mutual respect is needed by both sides in the dispute.
When asked how a Jewish person can show respect to a person who has been anti-Semitic and harassed them, her response was: “They can listen to each other. I don’t have a better answer. Harsh words are exchanged in every demanding workplace. In these cases, one should try to talk to each other and explain what happened.” One doctor reacted online by asking, “What exactly does the discriminated-against doctor need to understand about the bully’s racism?”
Karolinska Institute President Ole Petter Ottersen said in response: “Questions regarding anti-Semitism and discrimination are of great concern both to Karolinksa Institute and to me personally, and if we find out that there are issues of this sort within the institute, we will react immediately. We do not tolerate discrimination of any sort. Discrimination has absolutely no place in a university and goes against all what a university should stand for.”
Regarding the future of the doctor suspected of abuse and the professor involved in the first internal probe, he said the institute "will closely study the outcome of this investigation and make necessary follow-ups."
מתוך הארץ באנגלית: https://www.haaretz.com/world-news/europe/1.814179
Swedish Police Routed neo-Nazi March Past a Synagogue on Yom Kippur
Nordic Resistance Movement march in Gothenburg on Saturday could draw up to 1,000 people; court ruled Monday that it can’t go near the local synagogue but NRM says it doesn’t accept decision
David Stavrou (Stockholm) Sep 26, 2017 9:21 PM
While Jews worldwide will be praying and fasting this Yom Kippur, members of Gothenburg’s Jewish community will have to face a grim political reality when a neo-Nazi movement marches through the city on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
That is horrible in itself, but it could have been even worse after the local police originally rerouted the march past the city’s synagogue. It was only after the local Jewish community appealed the decision that a Swedish court nixed the police plan on Monday.
Saturday’s demonstration is organized by the Nordic Resistance Movement, a national socialist movement with branches in Sweden, Norway and Finland. Although the movement itself is legal and the Swedish branch even has a political wing, many of its members, including its leaders, have been indicted and arrested for various violent crimes in the past. The movement promotes a white supremacist, anti-Semitic ideology and openly praises Hitler.
The Swedish branch has become stronger in recent months, organizing demonstrations attended by hundreds – including an unannounced demonstration in Gothenburg last week. The movement refers to Saturday’s demonstration as its most important yet and expects over 1,000 participants to attend.
Up until Monday, the NRM demonstration was going to pass near Gothenburg Synagogue. The movement had initially planned to march down Gothenburg’s main avenue, but the police, concerned by violent clashes with counterprotesters, made the NRM change the route, which would have brought it closer to the synagogue.
But as a result of appeals by Sweden’s Jewish communities organization and Gothenburg’s Book Fair (which also takes place this weekend), Gothenburg Administrative Court decided to shorten the demonstration route, citing risks to public order and security.
According to the court decision, demonstrators will not be allowed to gather outside the book fair’s location or be allowed to pass near the synagogue.
According to the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet, Aron Verständig, chairman of the Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, said he was pleased with the decision. An NRM spokesperson, however, was quoted in TT news agency as saying, “We do not accept the decision and we may defy it.”
When the march was initially rerouted near the synagogue, Greater Gothenburg police chief Erik Nord told Swedish public service television that when the authorities “sat in the room together, I don’t think any of us were aware it was a Jewish holy day. It’s not nice that Jews who went through the Holocaust will meet Nazi demonstrators in the streets during their holy day – I fully understand that – but we can’t take that into consideration. We examined this from the perspective of order and security,” he added, prior to the court ruling.
Nord said the NRM is indeed a national socialist movement that promotes race ideology and may commit hate crimes during its demonstrations, but that Swedish law permits demonstrations even if they’re organized by Nazis.
Leaders of Sweden’s Jewish community had protested the police decision in the local press. “It’s about what kind of society we want to have,” wrote Verständig and Allan Stutzinky, chairman of the Jewish Community in Gothenburg, in an op-ed in Svenska Dagbladet. “Do we want a society that does its best to meet the Nazis’ needs or a society that cares about protecting minorities?”
Verständig and Stutzinky had also cited a smaller Swedish-Jewish community in the northern town of Umeå, which earlier this year had to shut down its activities because of threats made by neo-Nazis.
“Aside from fear for our own security, the demonstration evokes uncomfortable associations for us Jews,” they added. “During the Holocaust, it wasn’t unusual for the German Nazis to choose the most important days of the Jewish calendar to conduct their horrendous atrocities.”
In Sweden, freedom of speech is vigorously protected and the Jewish community leaders are not claiming that neo-Nazis don’t have the right to express their opinions.
Although the Gothenburg police said they must allow demonstrators to protest in a safe and orderly manner, even if they are Nazis, Swedish law does not allow hate crimes. Consequently, the police published a leaflet of “dos and don’ts” aimed at Saturday’s demonstrators.
According to the flyer, individuals can be arrested if they march in a military manner, wear uniforms and wave flags with symbols that resemble National Socialist Party demonstrations from the 1930s and ’40s. These guidelines are subject to interpretation, though, and have been widely debated in the Swedish press and on social media in recent days.
The police said the leaflets were an attempt to clarify the rules before the actual demonstration and “reduce crime before it’s committed.” However, according to local press reports, a lot of work has been done on the basement of Gothenburg’s main police station in recent days, in order for it to be able to hold hundreds of detainees. Just in case.