This weekend, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg will be marked both in his native country of Sweden and in Hungary, where during the late stages of the Second World War, he saved tens of thousands of Jews from the Nazi death camps.
It is most appropriate that both countries today want to honor the legacy of this great soul, a righteous among the nations and an honorary citizen of both the US and Israel. A co-organized commemoration event to honor the life and legacy of Raoul Wallenberg is planned for New York in September. This is all well.
But behind the scenes of the official receptions and festivities, there is a less honorable story to be told: Despite their efforts to identify with the moral clarity and courage of Wallenberg, both countries have their own share of problems connected with the very same people that Wallenberg tried to save and with their ultimate safe haven — the State of Israel.
In Budapest, where Wallenberg issued Swedish passports to Jews in order to rescue them from the Nazi death camps, the openly anti-Semitic Jobbik has grown to become the third-largest party in the national parliament, receiving close to 17 percentage of the electorate. Hungary is not the only EU country to have witnessed the rise of xenophobic and openly anti-Semitic parties, but there are few countries in Europe, if any, where they are as strong and well-organized as in Hungary. This is a major embarrassment for the current government, which is openly supportive of Israel, but according to its critics, does not dare clamp down on Jobbik for fear of losing its grip on power.
Sweden is no different. Ask any Israeli diplomat in Europe which three EU member states are the most problematic for Israel, and Sweden will certainly be on the list. Whereas the face of anti-Semitism in Sweden is more sophisticated than in Hungary, it is nevertheless strongly present in much of the political left (Jobbik, on the other hand, is considered right wing ) as well as in part of civil society, including the church. Earlier this year, an art exhibition about the Holy Land organized by the Christian development NGO Diakonia had to close down as it displayed a map of Israel being eaten up by Jewish rats. Where Jobbik in Hungary is brutally open about their animosity toward the Jewish people, the Swedish form of anti-Semitism is more subtle. When the exhibition was exposed for its anti-Semitic stereotypes, it was quickly shut down voluntarily as it, according to the organizers, ”simply had been misunderstood.” The art exhibition is only one example of a number of state-sponsored church activities to boycott Israeli goods produced in the disputed territories and to delegitimize the Jewish state.
The biggest paradox, however, has to do with the Swedish passport. Once a symbol of freedom and help for those Jews who were fleeing the Nazi death camps, it today symbolizes the exact opposite for those terrorists and extremists who are seeking a safe haven of their own. It is no coincidence that the suspected terrorist in Cyprus in June, who according to intelligence sources was planning a terrorist attack against Jewish targets, was carrying a Swedish passport. Already in January, another terrorist plot had been thwarted in Thailand, where the suspect was also carrying a Swedish passport. When the news broke about the brutal massacre of the Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, the first intelligence reports pointed to Mehdi Ghezali, a former detainee of Guantanamo of Algerian descent and – you guessed it – a holder of a Swedish passport. He was later ruled out as a suspect, but it fits well in to the profile of a new breed of homegrown European extremists who form an active and internationally connected community. They are using their EU passports to gain protection and privileges. When Ghezali was released from Guantanamo in 2004 after a massive ”human rights” campaign by the Swedish government, he was flown home in a Gulfstream by the Swedish Air Force. A Swedish passport has it privileges. In the case of Wallenberg, it was meant to save people from being killed — not to protect those with the intent of killing others.
The problem of rising anti-Semitism is not limited to Hungary and Sweden. Nevertheless, it is sad to note that the two countries that are most closely associated with the legacy of Wallenberg, namely Sweden and Hungary, are today among two of the most dangerous countries for the Jewish people in Europe. In Sweden the southern city of Malmö has become a no-go zone for Jews, and its mayor can no longer guarantee their security.
A hundred years is a long time. Many things have changed in Europe during this time – mostly for the better — but one problem apparently remains: Jew hatred. In Hungary it reveals its ugly face in the form of the right-wing Jobbik and its racist supporters. In Swede,n on the other hand, it is nicely camouflaged as ”legitimate criticism of the State of Israel,” mainly by activists on the political left. But regardless of political color or background, anti-Semitism is still alive and well in both Sweden and Hungary. Did they not learn anything from Wallenberg?