There have been many reactions to the recent deadly violence against Jews in European capitals, from Paris to Copenhagen. Some have expressed solidarity with the Jewish community. Others have worked to reaffirm the European values of tolerance and pluralism. And then there’s Helena Groll, a presenter on Sweden’s public broadcast Sveriges Radio, who suggested yesterday that Jews are to blame for their own persecution.
In an interview with Isaac Bachman, Israel’s ambassador to Sweden, Groll asked: “Do the Jews themselves have any responsibility in the growing anti-Semitism that we see now?” Bachman, naturally, was taken aback. “I reject the question altogether,” he said. “The question of how a woman contributes to the fact of being raped is irrelevant altogether. I don’t think there is any provocation that Jews are doing–they just exist.”
But Groll wasn’t finished attempting to pin the blame for European intolerance on its victims, and proceeded to suggest that Jews in Europe might have it coming due to the actions of completely different Jews in the Middle East. “But a lot of people would look at the Middle East today and say there are various conflicts that we know between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” she went on, “and a lot of people might say, ‘we see the Gaza war, we see things that have been happening, that Israel and Jews in Israel have a responsibility to reactions that are coming?’”
Listen to the entire exchange below:
After outrage on Swedish social media, Sveriges Radio apologized for the interview and purged it from the episode’s online recording. But while the station’s move is commendable, erasing the evidence of bigotry does not actually amount to confronting the bigotry. After all, if Groll is right that “a lot of people” think European Jews should be held accountable for the actions of Israel, Sweden has a much bigger problem than one blithely bigoted radio presenter.
Indeed, the fact that a respected host on Sweden’s public radio could so nonchalantly give voice to the oldest of anti-Semitic tropes–that Jews cause themselves to be hated, and that Jews anywhere are responsible for the actions of Jews everywhere–without any awareness of the bigotry of her comments suggests a much deeper societal failure. Especially because this is far from an isolated incident.
According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 60 percent of Sweden’s 18,000 Jews fear to publicly identify as Jewish. A glance at the past year explains why:
March 23, 2014: A youth center in Jönköping in southern Sweden is vandalized with anti-Semitic slurs, including “Jewish pigs,” “you’ll burn in hell,” and swastikas.
March 27, 2014: Malmö police arrest two teenagers, out of a gang of five, who attempted to break into the local Jewish community center. When they were stopped by security at the gate, they voiced anti-Semitic slurs, according to the police. They were also seen filming and taking pictures of the building before their arrest.
April 8, 2014: An 18-year-old Jewish student in Gothenburg speaks out about anti-Semitic abuse in her high school, reading aloud the slurs she’s received on social media, including “Go gas yourselves, you Jew bastards,” and death threats from classmates. “I have been in hell,” she tells a local TV station. “I feel bad, can’t sleep, and have nightmares.”
June 17 and 25, 2014: A synagogue in Norrköping, south of Stockholm, is attacked twice in the span of two weeks, its windows repeatedly shattered by rocks. The police first decline to view the damage, then visit and decline to classify it as a hate crime due to the absence of anti-Jewish slogans.
July 6, 2014: A 38-year-old man is beaten in Malmö by a gang with iron pipes for flying an Israeli flag from his window. After sustaining heavy injuries, he is found by police in the street and taken to the hospital.
July 21, 2014: Adrian Kaba, the Malmö city council representative of Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats party, writes on Facebook that “ISIS is being trained by the Israeli Mossad.” When pressured to recant, he offers a non-apology, saying, “If there is evidence that this is an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, then I reject it unreservedly.”
August 3, 2014: Jewish marchers in Stockholm’s annual gay pride parade are asked “why they are killing Palestinian children.”
August 10, 2014: Organizers cancel a planned rally in Gothenburg against anti-Semitism because Jewish participants are too afraid to attend. On the same day, popular Swedish hip-hip artist Jacques Mattar tells his followers on Instagram, “The same people who created ISIS control the media: Senior Zionists.”
September 14, 2014: The Swedish Democrats, a far-right party with neo-Nazi roots, take 13% of the vote in the national elections and become the country’s third largest party.
January 21, 2015: A documentary airs featuring a non-Jewish journalist going undercover dressed as a Jew in Malmö. He is verbally and physically assaulted, called a “Jewish devil” and “Jewish shit,” and told to “get out.” He is ultimately forced to flee after being surrounded by a dozen men shouting anti-Semitic slogans and being pelted from nearby apartments with eggs. On the same day, The Local reports that authorities have recorded 137 anti-Semitic incidents in Skåne, Sweden, over the last two years–and that none have been prosecuted.
So far, much of Europe’s intellectual and political elite has been slow to confront the continent’s rising anti-Semitism, only reacting when it explodes into murderous violence. Clemens Wergin, the Washington bureau chief of Die Welt, recalls how, “when I asked then Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt more than a year ago about anti-Semitism in Scandinavia, he didn’t even understand the question.” More recently, when the Jewish community in Denmark requested increased security outside Copenhagen’s synagogue and school last month, in light of the Paris kosher market attack, the authorities refused to commit.
There are many reasons why European elites have had trouble acknowledging and combating anti-Jewish sentiment. Interviews like the one conducted by Groll–and like that conducted by the BBC’s Tim Willcox, who also suggested European Jews were accountable for Israel’s actions–suggest another: that there is much latent acceptance of arguments that blame Jews for their own predicament, even among enlightened and educated professionals.
Until such debilitating assumptions about Jews, which have bedeviled the European mind for centuries, are exposed and expunged, the continent will have little chance of meeting the challenge of protecting its Jews.