On Anti-Semitism

Yesterday, the UN General Assembly held its first ever conference to address concerns of a rise in anti-Semitic violence worldwide. All twenty-eight nations of the European Union joined Israel in its call to the General Assembly to convene such a conference in October last year, and made heroic statements of support and concern when addressing the circa fifty member States that showed up yesterday. Ironically, these same twenty-eight nations have systematically ignored the distressed calls from their Jewish communities to take action against anti-Semitic violence over the past decades.

Anti-Semitic violence is not a concept that suddenly appeared in the last year or two. It has been constant, growing slightly every year, and increasing exponentially every time hostilities increase in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It has been ever so present in Jewish communities all around Europe, with more and more Jews fleeing to Israel, and more and more synagogues closing down. The ones that remain are forced to tighten security measures as the Jewish community dwindles and the threats swell. This is not a new phenomenon. We Jews are very much familiar with it. Our governments are not.

Shneur Kesselman, Rabbi in Malmo, Sweden, withstood 137 anti-Semitic attacks, solely in the years of 2013 and 2014. Ten years ago, when first arriving in Sweden, he was spit upon by a pedestrian, only to have a person attempt to run him and his wife over with a car shortly after that. Kesselman is no stranger to anti-Semitic violence. And neither am I. In 2009, I attended a manifestation for peace in the Middle East in the city center of Malmo. Present were about ten to fifteen Holocaust survivors, a number of their children and grandchildren, a couple of Jewish Community representatives, and a musician playing old Hebrew songs of coexistence and peace. About halfway through the manifestation, a mob of “anti-Israel protesters” arrived, fully armed with Molotov cocktails. They alternated between shouting, “Heil Hitler” and “Kill all Jews”, in exercise of their right to “critique the policies of the Zionist State”, naturally. The police could no longer keep them back, and as they began attacking us, we were instructed to run. The police instructed a group of Holocaust survivors to run as fast as they could, through the alleys, away from a mob of armed persons shouting “Heil Hitler” at them, in 2009. One can only imagine the painful memories this sparked.

Two days ago, the Swedish national television channel released a new episode of Uppdrag Granskning (literally, “Mission: Investigation”), investigating the existence of anti-Semitism in Malmo. The episode featured two reporters, dressed up in kippas and Magen David necklaces, walking through various neighborhoods, and candidly filming the reactions of strangers. In the episode, the reporters also interviewed a number of local Jews about their experiences with anti-Semitism, as well as a representative of the department of the local police force dealing with anti-Semitic crime. The result was as expected, at least for me, as a Jew. There was nothing shocking about the insulting remarks and threats made by passers-by with Middle Eastern heritage. I, myself, was a victim of multiple such angry comments when I wore my Magen David necklace in public. What surprised and saddened me, rather, were the shocked reactions of the reporters, the police, and the viewers. The reporters and government officials “hadn’t realized it was this bad” while the police representative sheepishly had to admit that almost none of the hundreds of reports of anti-Semitic violence had been followed up on, while zero had resulted in any sort of charge. “It appears that you can”, was his answer to the reporter’s question on whether you can practically get away with anti-Semitic crimes in this city.

And it’s not only Malmo, and it’s not only Sweden. A former Dutch minister was recently quoted as presenting a “novel” solution to world peace. Send the Jews to the US, and then everyone will be happy. It appears that it is not only the Swedish police force that expects Jews to run from anti-Semitism. As for France and the rest of Europe, it seems that it took a horrific, fatal attack on a group of French cartoonists for anyone to react to the subsequent attack on a group of Jews. Sadly, I can’t help but feel that if the Kosher Supermarket attack was an isolated incident, it may have gone mostly unnoticed, like the hundreds of attacks that have been continuously committed against Jews in France, Germany, Belgium, and other European states.

So while I think it is positive that countries like Sweden sign a statement declaring their “categorical rejection of Anti-Semitism” and endeavoring to “eliminate Anti-Semitism in all its forms”, I feel discouraged, and oddly insulted. I feel insulted, because my people have pleaded for our governments to take action for years. I feel insulted, because our governments have stood back and watched silently when we have fled out of fear of persecution to the only State in which we feel welcome. I feel insulted, because persons in the municipality of Malmo have blamed Jews’ affiliation with Israel for the rise in anti-Semitism. I feel insulted, because “critique of Israel’s policies” is constantly used as a scapegoat for pure anti-Semitism, and because even when investigating anti-Semitism in Malmo, the reporters still reasoned that the Israel/Palestine conflict is the “root” of this form of hatred. It is not. Anti-Semitism is the root of anti-Semitism. And if the two concepts continue to be confused, compared, and discussed simultaneously, anti-Semitism will not be eradicated. Not even with a joint statement from the UN General Assembly.

About the Author
Olivia Flasch was born in Sweden to Polish-Ukrainian Jewish parents. After high school, she spent a few months volunteering in Israel. She then completed her Bachelor's Degree in International Law (LL.B) in The Hague, The Netherlands, and her Master's Degree in Law (MJur) at the University of Oxford. She currently lives in London.