As Israel and Hamas Fight in Gaza, Antisemitism Explodes Online in Sweden

The current escalation between Israel and Islamist groups has once more led to antisemitic attacks against Jews in Sweden. This time, though, the front line is increasingly on social media sites.

Published in "Haaretz": https://www.haaretz.com/world-news/europe/.premium-as-israel-and-hamas-fight-in-gaza-antisemitism-explodes-online-in-sweden-1.9828015?lts=1621540135520

STOCKHOLM – Thirteen-year-old Adam (not his real name) goes to a school in southern Stockholm. On Monday, a group of four or five boys who study in a parallel class approached him with an Israeli flag they had drawn, recounts his mother, who is of Jewish descent. “They then burned the flag in front of him. Later, the same boys – who come from an Arab background – drew another flag replacing the Star of David with a picture of human feces. ‘This is your flag,’ they shouted and stepped on it repeatedly,” she tells Haaretz. After the incident, Adam’s mother called the school principal, who told her he took the matter very seriously and would talk to the aggressors’ parents and social services.

The end result was less than successful, however. The next day, the same boys attacked Adam at school again, calling him names and cursing him in Arabic. One of the teachers then advised him it would be best if he wore his shirt, which had a Star of David on it, inside out – just to be on the safe side. “Tomorrow,” says Adam’s mother, “he’s staying home.” As of press time, the school had not responded to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, a mother of an Israeli 12-year-old girl who studies at an international school in the capital told Haaretz that her daughter was saddened and shocked when a couple of fellow students – who saw a picture of an Israeli celebrity, Corrin Gideon, holding her baby and crying during a rocket attack – said to her provokingly: “Your homie is dead.”

People holding placards and waving Palestinian flags marching in solidarity with Palestinians during a demonstration in Malmo last weekend.
Protesters marching in solidarity with Palestinians during a demonstration in Malmo last weekend.Credit: Johan Nilsson/AP

These are just a couple of the incidents that have surfaced in recent days concerning young Jewish people who have been threatened, attacked or harassed in the context of the latest conflict between Israel and Islamist militant groups in Gaza.

But even in more normal times, it’s not a new phenomenon. A few months ago, a report from Malmö described the schools in Sweden’s third largest city as an unsafe environment for Jewish students. The report, called “Schoolyard Racism, Conspiracy Theories and Exclusion,” noted that Jewish students have to contend with verbal and physical attacks, antisemitic conspiracy theories, cries such as “Stingy Jew! I’ll gas you!” and teachers who prefer to avoid confronting the aggressors.

According to Petra Kahn Nord, Sweden’s representative at the World Jewish Congress, when it comes to the mainstream media and politicians, the Swedish reaction to the current flare-up is more balanced and nuanced than in the past, but schools and social media can still be violent environments. “The problem has existed for at least 20 years,” she says, “but at least these days there’s more awareness and a will to take action.” Kahn Nord says the Malmö report is a step in the right direction, and similar reports should be published in other Swedish towns and cities. She adds, though, that “following the examination, there must be action too.”

People holding placards and waving Palestinian flags marching in solidarity with Palestinians during a demonstration in Malmo last weekend.
People holding placards and waving Palestinian flags marching in solidarity with Palestinians during a demonstration in Malmo last weekend.Credit: JOHAN NILSSON – AFP

Kahn Nord is correct in observing that the discourse in the Swedish media and among politicians is more evenhanded compared to the 2014 Gaza war. Most Swedish politicians are more balanced when they talk about this conflict, including Foreign Minister Ann Linde who clearly condemned Hamas last week. And though anti-Israel demonstrations did take place in Sweden in recent days, they weren’t as well attended as previous ones. Most participants were reportedly Swedish Palestinians, with far less mainstream political support than in the past.

When it comes to online antisemitism, however, the situation has worsened dramatically. Social media was far less prevalent in the last major skirmish seven years ago, so this presents new and complicated challenges that are not being addressed by social media companies.

One member of Sweden’s Jewish community who’s active in Jewish education and spoke on condition of anonymity, is in touch with Jewish youngsters and has been following social media in Sweden since the beginning of the latest flare-up.

“Swedish social media influencers have enormous power,” he says. “They’re followed by hundreds of thousands of young people – and especially by young girls. Since the recent round of violence started, I’ve seen many Instagram posts about the conflict that are shared by thousands of young people. These people may mean well and may want to identify with victims of war, but in reality they’re unknowingly supporting terrorism and calling for the destruction of Israel by sharing slogans like ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “With blood and fire we will liberate Al-Aqsa.”

One Swedish influencer who attacked Israel is pop singer Zara Larsson. She has over 6 million Instagram followers and, after initially denouncing antisemitism, posted last week: “We must also hold accountable a state upholding apartheid and killing civilians, financed by American dollars.” The post was subsequently deleted. Other examples include various local media and culture personalities who usually advocate LGBTQ rights and ethnic minority rights, and are now sharing conspiracy theories about Zionism. This phenomenon inspired an article in the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, titled: “Is antisemitism on its way to becoming ‘woke’?”

Swedish pop star Zara Larsson. Criticized Israel in an Instagram post to her 6 million followers, but subsequently deleted the post.
Swedish pop star Zara Larsson. Criticized Israel in an Instagram post to her 6 million followers, but subsequently deleted the
post. Credit: Hubert Boesl / DPA / AFP

The member of the Jewish community tells Haaretz that young Jews in Sweden are feeling under attack by social media influencers and their followers, who allegedly don’t realize the antisemitic undertones and subtext in the material they’re sharing. “Young Swedish Jews feel the whole world is against them and this is an experience which will have a very damaging effect on Jewish identity in Sweden,” he says.

‘Cut their heads off’

But Instagram isn’t the worst corner of the internet when it comes to spreading hate toward Israel and Jews in Sweden: The popular social media platform Clubhouse has recently been exposed as a particularly aggressive source of incitement.

“Clubhouse is a social media platform where people meet and talk in virtual chat rooms,” explains Adele Josephi, who was one of the Swedish journalists who exposed the content in interviews with two Swedish dailies. “It used to be a more exclusive form of social media, a kind of ‘cool place to be,’ since you had to be invited to join it. But it seems that’s not the case anymore. People have left and many of those who still use it are people from the suburbs with an Arab immigrant background,” she charges.

According to Josephi, since the beginning of the current conflict, “Israel chat rooms” have been opened and are home to extremely antisemitic content. “Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Clubhouse rules and restrictions are not enforced,” says Josephi, who shared some of the recorded material and screenshots with Haaretz. “People can say anything in these forums, which can have over 100 participants. This includes threatening children, explicit violent expressions and racist language.”

Some of the examples Josephi says she heard in the chat rooms include statements like “Brother, we’ll take their Jewish kids and cut their heads off in Sergels Torg [Stockholm’s main square],” rape threats against Jewish women and girls, and admiration for Adolf Hitler, promising to complete what he started. Josephi says she herself was harassed, attacked and threatened online and in phone calls following her speaking out on the subject.

Mathan Shastin Ravid of the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism (SKMA) warns that “we are witnessing, once again, the surfacing of antisemitism in Sweden and other European countries as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict triggers prejudice, contempt and hate toward Jews. This affects everyone, including young people. It can be in schools but it’s also online, where antisemitism spreads at great speed through social media and various apps.”

Ravid believes IT companies “must take responsibility and stop the spread of hate on their platforms.” At the same time, he adds, “incitement against ethnic groups and unlawful threats must be prosecuted,” by the Swedish authorities.

The government and authorities are widely recognized as becoming more active in recent years in their efforts to address antisemitism. “I see a strong will to fight antisemitism within the government,” says Kahn Nord, who’s in touch with senior government officials. “The support for making Holocaust denial illegal and the international Forum on Holocaust Remembrance, which is scheduled to take place later this year in Malmö, show that the government takes the issue seriously and wants to do more. However, it remains to be seen what effect these steps will have,” she says.

Another anti-Semitic attack in Sweden

Jewish Cemetery Attacked, in Sweden's Second anti-Semitic Incident This Week.

Another anti-Semitic attack was discovered in Sweden amid protests against president Trump's Jerusalem decision.

published in Haaretz: https://www.haaretz.com/world-news/europe/1.828380

David Stavrou Dec 11, 2017 8:15 PM

A Jewish cemetery in Malmö was attacked early on Monday, in Sweden's second suspected anti-Semitic incident this week.
Two bottles containing flammable substances were thrown at a Jewish cemetery close to the Jewish community building in the southern Swedish town of Malmö. No damage or injuries took place, as no one was present in the cemetery at the time of the attack. The Swedish police opened an investigation into what is being called a hate crime, after the bottles were discovered later on Monday. No arrests have been made.
Over the weekend, a couple of pro-Palestinian demonstrations took place in Malmö in response to U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement, in which he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. During one of the demonstrations, anti-Semitic and violent slogans were shouted.
A synagogue in Gothenburg was firebombed on Saturday, and an Israeli flag burned in Stockholm, also in response to Trump's decision. Three people were arrested Sunday in connection with the attack on the Gothenburg synagogue as part of the investigation in which the Swedish secret police are involved.

According to local media the three men arrived in Sweden this year from the Middle East. The men are 18, 20 and 21 year old men, two of them arrived from Syria and another was born in Gaza. Police used material from surveillance cameras to make the arrests. The men's lawyers say their clients deny the charges.
Malmö police spokesman, Nils Norling, said on Monday that there is no clear connection between the three incidents, "but we feel the atmosphere and feelings around the world, which are apparent in Malmö too."
Local politicians and religious leaders in Sweden have condemned these actions.

Crowd ban risks bolstering extremists

בעקבות ההחלטה לקיים את משחק גביע דייויס בין ישראל לשוודיה ללא קהל

Published in The Local – Sweden's news in Enlgish, March 2009 http://www.thelocal.se/18052/20090307/

I have never been a big tennis fan. In fact, the odds are that I wouldn't even have heard of the Davis Cup match between Sweden and Israel, taking place this weekend in Malmö, if it wasn't for the "Stop the Match-Boycott Israel" campaign which has been underway since December. The campaign organizers are doing their best to mobilize thousands of demonstrators to Malmö this weekend and according to Malmö police chief, Håkan Jarborg Eriksson, some extremists have stated that they want to "stop the match at any cost". 

Like it or not, sporting events are part of our culture and official matches between national teams often become political events. This is particularly true in Sweden. Many Swedes were in favor of boycotting the Olympic Games in China, for example. Others wanted to boycott the 2006 Football World Cup because it promoted prostitution and human trafficking in Germany. The Davis Cup itself has also been a source of controversy in the past. When Sweden played Rhodesia and Chile in the late sixties and early seventies there were many calls for cancellation and mass demonstrations were organized.

Many sports fans may object to it, but in reality sports and politics are both part of the public arena, and cannot always be separated. In a democracy people have the right to mix them together, to demonstrate and even call for boycotts. Still, municipal officials are expected to live up to their minimal responsibilities even in the face of an angry crowd. This is the reason that the decision made by Malmö's sports and recreation committee, to hold the Israel-Sweden match behind closed doors is so outrageous.

According to Bengt Forsberg, chairman of the committee, there was no political motive behind the decision. Though police had said the match could go ahead and that the public could be admitted, Forsberg's committee decided not to take the chance. "This is absolutely not a boycott", he explained, "We do not take political positions on sporting events. We have made a judgment that this is a high-risk match for our staff, for players and for officials". In other words, someone made a threat and the city of Malmö decided to cave in.

To many this may seem reasonable at first sight. Why take unnecessary risks? If there are concrete threats, it could be claimed, everything must be done to avoid casualties. But in this age of terror and violence where does this end?

Anyone who has been anywhere near a Stockholm derby football match, for example, couldn't miss the extensive police presence. Policemen on foot, on horse and in helicopters above try to maintain the peace, at an enormous cost to the tax payer, while large groups of drunken young men throw objects at the field, terrorize other spectators and get involved in large scale fights. The authorities, quite rightly, have decided time and again to fight hooliganism and protect peaceful football fans. It is, after all, a basic civil right to engage in sporting activities without being subjected to threats and violence. There has been talk of anti-hooliganism legislation, and the National Council for Crime Prevention even proposed treating hooliganism as organized crime. But in the case of the tennis match in Malmö, the combative rhetoric disappears and the ones who are punished are the fans instead of the hooligans. Why is this?

One explanation is that Mr. Forsberg and his committee aren't being entirely honest or they may be extremely naïve. Despite their claims, any decision at this level is political. Obviously, no one will stop the money making and extremely popular football league because of threats. In this case, freedom and democracy will prevail against the dark forces of violence. But when it comes to tennis match against Israel the attitude changes. Mr. Forsberg obviously doesn't care much about a match against a team from a country that a large part of his constituency hates anyway. I wonder if the good citizens of Malmö would approve of banning fans from a Malmö FF game because someone said he's so pissed off that he might hurt someone.

At the risk of being accused (yet again) of promoting paranoid theories of Anti-Semitism I'll add the following point: after giving in to threats such as the ones made by angry Anti-Israel demonstrators, why shouldn't the City Council of Malmö close down the Jewish cemetery and synagogue since they were already attacked and are definitely at a high risk of being attacked again. Why shouldn't pro-Israel demonstrations be banned since demonstrators are often met by angry stone-throwing mobs. In fact, why shouldn't local authorities close down the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm or the Jewish centre in Helsingborg, both of which have recently been attacked?

This scenario may have sounded unrealistic a few months ago, but the decision to ban the public from the Davis Cup match shows that it is more than possible. A few Jewish or Israeli targets may not affect most Swedes but it's a slippery road. If a few threats on a relatively minor sporting event can empty a 4,000 seat arena, just imagine what a real terrorist attack would do to Swedish society. Would a terrorist attack on a local bus close down the public transport system? Will night clubs and restaurants loose their licenses if they will are targeted by terrorists? Will municipalities say they prefer not to risk going on with daily life even when the police clearly say they can handle the work load? Regardless of political convictions, there must be a consensus that a modern freedom loving democracy has to protect itself against violent extremists. In the post 9/11 world, perhaps it's time for local authorities to realize that the times, they are a'changing.  

Another explanation for Malmö's City Council decision may derive from the very nature of the objections to the match. It's a discriminating decision that is a result of a discriminating campaign. Make no mistake, "Stop the match – Boycott Israel" is a legitimate campaign. I don't agree with what they say or with their political allies but no one can take away their right to express their objections to Israeli policies or to publicly sympathize with the Palestinians in Gaza. It's true, some of them have said terrible things and spread vicious lies (such as comparing Israel to the Nazis); some have actively supported terrorist organizations, but their right to express themselves remains. Still, anyone who wants to see the bigger picture should be careful with boycotts. They are seldom effective and tend to end up hurting the wrong people, and although it is tempting to make comparisons to boycotts like the one against South African apartheid, the analogy is wrong.

The conflict in the Middle-East is nothing like that in South Africa and a boycott policy against one side in it is simplistic at best and biased, unbalanced and hypocritical at worst. This is not to say that Israel cannot be criticized, but Swedes should be careful when using a tool as powerful as boycotts. Sweden had no problem participating (and winning twenty medals) in the 1936 Berlin Olympics under Hitler or participating in the Beijing games despite China's massive violations of Human Rights. Hundreds of demonstrating students were killed by government forces just days before the 1968 Mexico-City Olympic Games, but that didn't "Stop the Match" for Swedish athletes just like the British soldiers who shot unarmed civil right activists in Derry, Northern Ireland didn't bring about any boycotts against English products or English cultural and sporting events.

Does this make the calls for boycotting the Davis match against Israel invalid? Of course not. But it would imply that Israel is worse than Nazi Germany and that Israeli policies brought about events more severe than the Irish Bloody Sunday, the Mexican Tlateloco Massacre and the events of Tiananmen Square all combined! It is clear what kind of people make claims like this. What isn't clear is how the Swedish government allows a situation where local officials impose such extreme policies and onions in a matter which is, after all, a national issue, not a local one.

And here's one last thought for the demonstrators in Malmö who must be very proud of the exposure their campaign has received these last couple of months. They gained support, their case is all over the media and they even forced local officials to close the controversial match to the public. But here is a word of advice: don't be too pleased with Malmö's decision to give in to threats. The same authorities that cannot stand up to today's threats will not stand up to those of tomorrow.

What started as threats against tennis players and fans could easily lead to threats by ultra nationalists against immigrants or Neo-Nazi threats against Mosques and Madrasahs. "The ultimate weakness of violence", Martin Luther King once said, "is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it".