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NEWS - News of B'nai B'rith

Daniel Koverman, former President of the B’nai B’rith Lodge in Malmö reports on the situation in October 2012

Recently, the tiny Jewish community of Malmö, numbering less than one thousand individuals, was exposed to some unfortunate incidents. The media, politicians, religious leaders, but also the average citizen, reacted in various ways, often expressing their solidarity with the Jewish community.

Living in Malmö, we possibly feel differently about these incidents in comparison with those who read or hear about it from a distant place. As a former employee of the Jewish Community of Malmö, but also as Ex President of our local B´nai B´rith Lodge, Malmölogen, I have been involved in many of these cases. The latest incident happened very recently and it was rather spectacular. Some perpetrators detonated explosives outside the building housing the community offices, a Jewish kindergarten and Talmud Tora Afternoon School.

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I was on vacation far away from Malmö, but I received a number of phone calls with reports. One of them was from a friend, who belongs to the same organization in which I represent Malmö Jewish Community. It is the Network for Belief and Tolerance. Several Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim organisations participate in regular meetings and shared projects. The Network decided to arrange a solidarity gathering outside the community building later on the Friday evening. About one hundred people participated, among them the neighbours. One of the speakers was the Executive Director of the Islamic Center in Malmö.

The Mayor of Malmö, Ilmar Reepalu, was one of the first to call the President of the Malmö Jewish Community, to express his concern. Mr Reepalu has been criticized for his odd attitudes and statements. He takes every opportuninty to single out Israel as the “bad guy”. When Israel played a Davis Cup tennis match against Israel, he orchestrated a game without spectators. When some activists arranged a manifestation for peace between Israel and Palestine, the meeting was dissolved by the police after fierce attacks from a hostile crowd. Mr Reepalu said in an interview, that the Jewish Community is exposed to attacks because it does not criticize Israel for its politics. In another context he claimed, that the Community is infiltrated by the Swedish Democratic Party, which has a negative approach to immigration and what they call “multi-culture”.

Representatives from the Simon Wiesenthal Center and President Obama´s envoy, Mrs Hanna Rosenthal, came forward with very critical remarks. The Simon Wiesenthal Center warned Jewish tourists against visiting Malmö. This was based on the fact, that Rabbi Kesselman from Chabad Malmö, is frequently harassed on the streets. It is not to be recommended to walk around with a Kippa or other visible signs of Jewishness. Jewish graves have been desecrated on several occasions, Jewish stores were attacked, and hostile slogans were painted on the walls.

It is not always easy to identify our enemies. They may come from the extreme right (neo-Nazis), extreme left (anarchists) or Islamist movements. Malmö is Sweden´s third biggest town, with over 300.000 inhabitants, among them about 60.000 Muslims. We know that probably only a couple of hundred of them are extremists, but our feeling is that not enough is done to prevent those attacks against Jewish individuals and institutions.

Happily there are many positive initiatives coming both from Jewish and from non-Jewish organizations. Our sister congregations in Sweden and elsewhere give us a lot of support. The B´nai B´rith Denmark Lodge together with the Copenhagen Jewish Community and Chabad Denmark recently organized a solidarity visit to the Malmö Jewish Community. The Mayor initiated a Dialogue Forum for discussions between the congregations, authorities etc.

Agora and Social Cohesion projects are other examples of attempts to create a climate for cooperation in order to arrive at a “Better Malmö”. The situation is perhaps not as bad as it looks from a distance, but it is, nevertheless, unacceptable. It is very worrying to learn, that 68% of Swedes have a negative feeling towards Israel.

Every day we see media reports or political statements which are not only negative, but also  biased and often inaccurate. Within the municipality of Malmö some left wing and Green Party politicians are demanding that business connection with the security company G4S should be terminated because of their involvement with Israel.