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Last Night in Sweden

Events over the weekend should spark a long-overdue, honest conversation about the real sources of European anti-Semitism

James Kirchick
December 11, 2017
ADAM IHSE/AFP/Getty Images
Police arrive after a synagogue was attacked in a failed arson attempt in Gothenburg, Sweden, late December 9, 2017.ADAM IHSE/AFP/Getty Images
ADAM IHSE/AFP/Getty Images
Police arrive after a synagogue was attacked in a failed arson attempt in Gothenburg, Sweden, late December 9, 2017.ADAM IHSE/AFP/Getty Images

Sweden, as the prevailing narrative goes, is a social democratic Shangri-La and its story of mass Muslim immigration is one to be extolled and imitated everywhere. Any suggestion to the contrary is prima facie evidence of racism or fascism. So to hear our media elites, former Obama administration officials, and professional peace-processors tell it, the cause of this weekend’s violent anti-Jewish riots in Sweden, where some 20 masked men descended upon a synagogue throwing Molotov cocktails as a youth group huddled in the basement, and a day prior, hundreds of Muslims demonstrated in the streets of Malmo shouting things like, “we want our freedom back and we’re going to shoot the Jews,” was Donald Trump. Specifically, Trump’s announcement that the US will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Presumably Trump was also the cause of the mobs waving Hezbollah flags and shouting exterminationist slogans within walking distance of Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

But let’s get real: Sweden’s problems have zero to do with Donald Trump. They were written about over five years ago in this space by the Swedish journalist Paulina Neudig, who reported that Jewish families were leaving Malmö for Israel in the face of unrelenting anti-Semitic hostility from Muslim immigrants. As Freddy Gelberg, a spokesman for Malmo’s beleaguered Jewish community, tells one local news outlet, “We are careful. You don’t want to display the Star of David around your neck or other Jewish symbols.”

Donald Trump is not to blame for Muslims re-enacting Kristallnacht on the streets of Amsterdam. Neither is Israel. Europeans are. In particular, Nazi Germany’s attempt to solve Europe’s “Jewish problem” has been followed by decades of nauseating indulgence of Arab and Muslim fantasies about wiping out Israel, and the assumption that every adverse development in the mostly one-sided “peace process” between Israel and the Arab world, and every real or imagined indignity visited upon any Palestinian by any Israeli–Arab offenses against Palestinians or other Arabs don’t count–is a natural reason for people to attack and murder Jews anywhere and everywhere in the world.

Encouraging poor and disenfranchised Muslims to stew in hate propaganda so as to direct their resentments away from their lazy and corrupt rulers and towards “Zionists” is a threadbare trick that only people hardened by centuries of colonial administration could continue to play, especially in the wake of the Holocaust. Europe has grown rich through such grotesqueries, which also provide a convenient safety-valve for the social and economic dissatisfactions of the continent’s underclass along with a self-administered dose of exculpation for the mass extermination within living memory of the vast majority of Europe’s Jews in gas chambers and before firing squads. Claiming that divide-and-rule tactics used against one’s own population constitute some higher form of morality is a truly rare kind of obscenity. As anti-Semitic mobs raged across his country, former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt—a fervent twitterer who is never at a loss when it comes to criticizing baleful developments in other countries—saw fit to tweet this.

Yet to obfuscate the ways in which Muslims are actually attacking Jews in Europe and the Middle East, fueled by hate-propaganda produced by other Muslims, is to engage in an equally dangerous species of denialism. Events over the weekend should spark a long-overdue, honest conversation about anti-Semitism in Europe, the sources of which people are too afraid to talk about–but should. The rise of nationalist movements across the continent in recent years has led many to assume that the far-right is mainly responsible for resurgent anti-Semitism. But the facts indicate that assumption is false: Anti-Semitic harassment in Europe is predominantly Muslim in origin, with leftists coming in a strong second place.

In 2012, the European Fundamental Rights Agency asked Jews across Europe about their personal experiences of anti-Semitic incidents. Jews in France, Sweden, Germany and the UK overwhelmingly reported Muslims as the perpetrators. According to an analysis of the poll commissioned by the Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities and the Center for Research on Extremism at the University of Oslo, “Attitude surveys corroborate this picture in so far as anti-Semitic attitudes are far more widespread among Muslims than among the general population in Western Europe.” Practically all anti-Semitic murders (Paris 2006Toulouse 2012Brussels 2014Paris 2015Copenhagen 2015Paris 2017) in Europe have been committed by violent Islamists claiming to act in the name of Islam – and been applauded by countless Muslims worldwide on social media sites. And in all cases but Germany, the second-most frequent perpetrators of anti-Semitic harassment were reported to be leftists.

That this data is self-reported–that many European governments decline to publish statistics about the nature of the Jew-hatred they’re dealing with–indicates a reticence to discuss the role of Islam and Muslim immigration in the proliferation of anti-Semitism on the continent. Sometimes, as in the case of a 2014 firebombing of a synagogue in Germany, which a judge ruled not to be a hate crime but an act of political protest, authorities refuse to acknowledge the problem even exists.

A similar dynamic is at play in how we talk about terrorism. Compare the reactions of two prominent Muslims to Islamist-inspired violence: The Muslim-to evangelical Christian-back to Muslim guru Reza Aslan claims that terrorism perpetrated by self-described Muslims, acting in the name of Islam, has “nothing to do with” Islam. Following terrorist attacks outside the Palace of Westminster this past summer, by contrast, London’s Muslim mayor Sadiq Khan said, “I’m angry and furious that these 3 men are seeking to justify their actions by using the faith that I belong to.” The latter—which acknowledges the ideological role of Islam in the generation of terrorism—is a better response from Muslim community leaders than the blithe assertion that Islam has “nothing to do with” terrorism.

Or consider the reaction to recent remarks made by Karl Lagerfeld. “One cannot–even if there are decades between them–kill millions of Jews so you can bring millions of their worst enemies in their place,” the fashion icon said on a French television station last month. Hundreds of people complained to France’s media regulator demanding that Lagerfeld be punished for muttering hate speech. Yet Lagerfeld cannot be dismissed as some reactionary xenophobe. “Merkel had already millions and millions (of immigrants) who are well integrated and who work and all is well,” he explained on the same program. Of the far right Alternative for Deutschland’s earning 94 seats in the German Bundestag this September, he said “I am ashamed for Germany.”

Considering the facile ways in which many commentators have invoked the Holocaust to make the case for Europe accepting an unlimited number of Muslim migrants–with no regard whatsoever as to how this influx would affect a Jewish community already under siege–it’s hard to see why this particular invocation of the Shoah should be deemed out of bounds.

The danger of governments and the press continuing to deny the reality of violent anti-semitism, and of the real dangers posed by large numbers of migrants from Muslim-majority countries without any real effort or ability to acculturate them to Western social and political norms, while blaming “the far right” and “neo-Nazis” alone for anti-semitism and attacks on Muslims, should be plain to any thinking person. While attempts to edit reality can make believers in Europe’s failed multicultural experiment feel better, they actually increase the power of the political movements they claim to abhor. Cordoning off discussion of “sensitive” topics from the realm of respectable debate is a large part of the reason why the second biggest party in Sweden is one with roots in the neo-Nazi movement and why a far-right party has entered the German Bundestag for the first time since the 1950s.

Events in Europe this past weekend underline again that we need to be able to discuss (never mind acknowledge) the adverse affects of mass Muslim immigration, particularly on Jewish communities, without automatic recourse to accusations of “Islamophobia,” a term that, as the former Socialist Prime Minister of France Manuel Valls put it, is used “to invalidate any criticism at all of Islamist ideology…to silence people.” Of course not all Muslims are to blame for the violent actions of a few, nor do most Muslims in Europe wish to impose Sharia law over the continent. But it’s equally dangerous to pretend that Islam has nothing to do with the fact that once again Jews are cowering in synagogue basements, fearing for their lives.

James Kirchick is a Tablet columnist and the author of Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington (Henry Holt, 2022). He tweets @jkirchick.