The president of Sweden’s Jewish Central Council said he is concerned by the significant gains made by a nationalist right-wing party with neo-Nazi roots in the country’s recent elections.
Aron Verstandig told Israel Hayom that while he believes the Sweden Democrats will not be part of the new government, “one can never know.”
He said the Jewish community’s main concern in recent years was the strengthening of radical movements in Western Europe and North America, which he said could have consequences for Jewish communities there.
Verstandig called the nationalist right in Sweden an indirect but palpable threat to the local Jewish community because although it does not explicitly call for Jews to be kicked out of the country, it is no fan of minorities.
He noted that “the strength of the neo-Nazis is felt more forcefully in the last two to three years, with them holding marches and event pretty frequently.”
The Jewish community in Stockholm, where over half of Sweden’s 15,000 Jews reside, held an emergency rally last week that included an emergency briefing on the threats facing Swedish Jews. Among those who attended were representatives from the anti-racist Expo Research organization, Sweden’s Military Academy Karlberg, and representatives of the police and security forces.
“Because our community is comprised of many Holocaust survivors and their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, we are naturally shocked at the rise of the underground Nazi movement,” he emphasized, calling for local politicians to rein in neo-Nazis and their activities.
Along with the far-right, the Salafi Sunni Islamist movement is also growing in Sweden.
A recent report by the Swedish Defense Ministry described the city of Gothenburg, one of the largest exporters of jihadis in Europe, as a Salafist stronghold.
In December, three Syrian and Palestinian assailants were arrested for firebombing a synagogue in the city.
‘People going back to their roots and identity’
Sweden recently announced plans to build a Holocaust museum with a special focus on Swedish survivors in the southern city of Malmo, where dozens of anti-Semitic incidents are reported each year, as well as a center dedicated to Swedish Righteous Among the Nations Raoul Wallenberg, responsible for saving tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust.
“It feels like the move is more important than ever,” Swedish Health and Social Affairs Minister Annika Strandhäll wrote on Twitter.
Verstandig said, “I know that Prime Minister Stefan Löfven attributes much importance to the matter on a personal level. Last year, he visited [the Nazi death camp] Auschwitz, and in my opinion, it moved him. We met a number of times, and it is clear that this is really important to him.”
Still, Rabbi Shneur Kesselman, director of Chabad Lubavitch Malmö, was much more skeptical about the decision to open the museum, citing concerns those behind the move were more interested in calming tensions than actually improving the situation for Jews.
Sweden’s third-largest city, Malmö has taken in thousands of Muslim asylum-seekers in recent years. The Sweden Democrats received more than 30 percent of the city’s vote. The city’s 450 Jewish residents, along with the 1,500 other Jews residing in its environs, will likely pay the price of these elections in addition to the anti-Semitic incidents there that have become commonplace.
“No doubt the strengthening of the movement with a neo-Nazi background adds to everyone’s sense of threat, although one must not compare our concerns in the Jewish community, which are greater than those of the ‘locals,’ who are seen as ‘authentic’ [Swedes],” said Kesselman. “My greatest concern is that the radical right will continue to grow and its power will grow, and my hope is of course that the opposite will happen.”
On a positive note ahead of the Yom Kippur holiday, Verstandig said it was important that people know that despite these challenges, the Jewish community in Stockholm is quite active, and the number of members has grown.
“One can still live a good Jewish life here,” he said.
According to Kesselman, “What is amazing about the community in Malmo is that while many have already left—not necessarily because of anti-Semitism, but due to the general secular atmosphere—we are seeing a record number of people take part in Rosh Hashanah activities and activities ahead of Yom Kippur. There is a certain awakening of people going back to their roots and identity, maybe precisely because of this period of uncertainty.”