Hate crimes force Jews out of Malmo

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MALMO, Sweden

Marcus Eilenberg is a Swedish Jew whose family roots in Malmo run deep. His paternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors who found shelter in this southern Swedish city in 1945. His wife’s parents fled to Sweden from communist Poland in the 1960s.

Now the 32-year-old law firm associate feels the welcome for Jews is running out, and he is moving to Israel with his wife and two children in May. He says he knows at least 15 other Jews who are leaving for a similar reason.

That reason, he says, is a rise in hate crimes against Jews in Malmo, and a sense that local authorities have little desire to deal with a problem that has exposed a crack in Sweden’s image as a bastion of tolerance and a haven for distressed ethnic groups.

Anti-Semitic crimes in Europe have usually been associated with the far right, but Shneur Kesselman, an Orthodox rabbi, says the threat now comes from Muslims.

“In the past five years I’ve been here, I think you can count on your hand how many incidents there have been from the extreme right,” he said. “In my personal experience, it’s 99 percent Muslims.”

Sweden prides itself on having taken in tens of thousands of the world’s war refugees. About 7 percent of Malmo’s 285,000 people were born in the Middle East, according to city statistics, and the city has large numbers from the Balkans, including the Macedonian who heads the city’s largest mosque. After the Holocaust, it took in many Jews who survived the World War II Nazi genocide.

Malmo police say that of 115 hate crimes reported in 2009, 52 were anti-Semitic. Bejzat Becirov, the mosque head, estimated there are about 60,000 Muslims in Malmo. But the number of Jews is about 700 and shrinking - it was twice as big two decades ago, according to Fredrik Sieradzki, a spokesman for the Jewish community.

Last year at least 10 of the hate-crime complaints were filed by Mr. Kesselman, from the Brooklyn-based Chabad-Lubavitch movement, whose black fedora and long beard single him out as he moves around the city.

Walking home from the Jewish community center on Malmo’s snow-flecked streets, the 31-year-old rabbi recalls some of the worst incidents: a young man who shouted “Heil Hitler” and chased him off a city bus; a car that suddenly reversed and almost hit him on the crosswalk by the opera house.

“A typical situation is I’m walking in the streets and a car with Muslim youth between 18 and 30 will roll down the window and yell ‘(expletive) Jew,’ give me the finger and shout something in Arabic,” he said.

Malmo’s Jewish community is mostly secular and long felt safe because few display Jewish symbols that would distinguish them from other Swedes. But things changed after a series of fierce anti-Israel protests and a spike in anti-Semitic hate crimes after Israel’s assault against Hamas-run Gaza last year.

Tempers flared when Jews held a peaceful pro-Israel rally outside City Hall a week after the offensive ended. A bigger crowd waving Palestinian flags threw bottles, eggs and firecrackers.

Tensions rose again two months later when Malmo authorities, saying they couldn’t guarantee security, forced Sweden and Israel to play their Davis Cup tennis matches in a near-empty stadium as police held off rock-throwing anti-Israel activists outside who wanted to stop the competition completely.

Mr. Eilenberg said it was a wake-up call - “a degree of hate that none of us - except those who survived the Holocaust - had experienced before.”

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