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OHMYGOSSIP

Port city Malmö ‘no haven’ for Swedish Jews

OHMYGOSSIP — Attacks against Jews in Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city, have left members of the community questioning their future in a place known for its multiculturalism. Jewish people have lived in Malmö for over two centuries, often arriving in the south Swedish port city, a safe haven for generations, after fleeing persecution and intolerance in other parts of Europe, The Local mediates.

But though waves of immigration over the past two decades have made the area more diverse, hate crimes appear to be on the rise and many people, paradoxically, say they feel less secure. Highlighting a problem many Swedes had thought long relegated to history, the US special envoy for anti-Semitism even visited Malmö last year.

Typically, but not exclusively, the perpetrators of anti-Semitic hate crimes are “young men with roots in the Middle East”, according to Jehoshua Kaufman, a member of Malmö’s Jewish congregation.

Parents are especially worried about their children being subjected to abuse at school. Bullying has been a problem “not for everyone, not always, but very often”, said Kaufman, as he took part in a regular march known as the “kippah walks” — referring to the Jewish skullcaps worn by the demonstrators — organised to battle anti-Semitism.

Around a third of Malmö’s 310,000 residents were born abroad, with the largest minorities coming from the Balkans, Iraq and neighbouring Denmark. The total number of Jews in the city is estimated to be around 2,000, with around 600 that are members of its synagogue.

In 2012, 66 anti-Jewish hate crimes were reported, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention. According to figures from Malmö police, 60 reports were made, compared with just 31 in Stockholm, with more than three times the population. Thirty-five have already been reported in Malmö so far this year. The figures seem to be on the up – in 2010 and 2011, a total of 44 reports were made over the two years combined.

Shneur Kesselman, a US-born orthodox rabbi, has had insults and objects hurled after him on the streets of Malmö more times than he can remember. With his traditional Hasidic black clothing, fedora hat and beard, he cuts an incongruous figure in the traditionally working-class, immigrant-heavy eastern half of the city.

But he insists on staying. “It’s a little hard to explain. My wife and I have made Malmö our project. We feel a sense of responsibility for Jewish life here,” he said.

Malmö’s former mayor, Ilmar Reepalu, gained notoriety after suggesting members of the Jewish community had themselves to blame when a rally they organised during the 2008-2009 Gaza War was attacked with bottles and eggs. “I wish the Jewish congregation would distance itself from Israel’s violations of the civilian population in Gaza,” Reepalu told a local newspaper.

The authorities now appear to be addressing the problem. Ilmar Reepalu’s successor Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, who assumed the mayorship this month, told AFP the city’s schools were trying to combat racism by providing special training for teachers. The city has also invited community leaders to a “dialogue forum” tasked with “combatting religious and ethnic discrimination”.

Ala-Eddin Al-Qut
, head of the local chapter of Sweden’s Islamic Association, said the group had been able to change people’s attitudes after getting Muslim organisations to address anti-Semitism in their Friday sermons. The Malmö Palestine Network had also banned some signs and slogans from its anti-war demonstrations, he said. “You have to distinguish between Jews and Israelis,” Al-Qut said.



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