Jewish residents in Malmo are furious after the Swedish town's mayor, Ilmar Reepalu, equated Zionism to anti-Semitism in an interview published on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
During the interview with Skanska Dagbladet newspaper, Reepalu was asked whether he considered a public condemnation of anti-Semitism in Malmo. The mayor responded that "Malmo does not accept anti-Semitism and does not accept Zionism," charging that both adopt extreme positions towards certain groups.
Reepalu added that local Jews bear some responsibility for the attitude towards them, noting that "they have the possibility to affect the way they are seen by society." The mayor then urged Malmo's Jewish community to "distance itself" from Israeli attacks on Gaza's civilian population.
"Instead, the community chose to hold a pro-Israel demonstration," he said, adding that such move "may convey the wrong message to others."
Charlotte Wiberg of the Swedish Committee against Anti-Semitism expressed deep concern in the wake of the mayor's words.
"Reepalu does not address other communities in a similar manner and his words constitute discrimination against local Jews," she said. "Reepalu chose not to show solidarity with Jews facing danger in Malmo, but rather, with the people who wish to marginalize a religious group because of Israel's policy. Moreover, Reepalu demonstrated historical ignorance by comparing Zionism to anti-Semitism."
"Each year the situation gets worse. Living conditions in the city have become intolerable for Jews. Sometimes children need to be accompanied by guards when they go to kindergarten, and there are always guards around the Jewish Center, which Muslims have tried to break into a few times," Marcus Eilenberg, a Jewish resident of Malmo, told Ynet.
"Stones being thrown at the center and other Jewish institutions has become a routine occurrence," he said, "Graffiti is scrawled on the walls including swastikas next to Stars of David and 'Hitler'. My children can't go to any Jewish activities without security. It's very sad."
Eilenberg and his children
According to Eilenberg, it is this situation that led him to move to Israel together with his wife and their two children.
Regarding the words of the mayor, Eilenberg said the attitude to Jews had become worse since Operation Cast Lead.
"The mayor didn't denounce the aggression against Jews during the operation. On the contrary, he took advantage of the situation to attack Israel and in effect legitimized the aggression. After there were demonstrations against Jews here, we held a quiet vigil in support of Israel and the children of Sderot in the Jewish Center, and then dozens of Muslims attacked us, threw stones and glass at us, and tried to cut through the fence of the center. Some people were hurt, but luckily the police arrived," he said.
Eilenberg said that in his opinion this was the straw that broke the camel's back.
"This was the wake-up call to Jews. The moment they hurt my family I decided to leave. Two weeks later hundreds of Muslims again tried to attack the assembly but the police were ready. There were hundreds of police, but this didn't stop the Muslims from trying to get us."
About 700 Jews and 55,000 Muslims live in Malmo, Eilenberg said. Every time violence erupts in the Middle East, Israel is blamed and Jews in the city are attacked, he added.
"Even according to police data, the phenomenon is on the rise. There was even a case of someone in a school threatening to slaughter a Jewish classmate. I'm stunned if this is democracy in a democratic state in the year 2010."
Yonatan Weber contributed to this report