Tuesday, October 28, 2003

By now we’ve come to accept that, as Germany was once the hotbed of anti-Semitism, it is the Middle East — from Egypt to Damascus to Saudi Arabia to the PLO — which today is a seething cauldron of racism. What, however, is even more alarming is that anti-Semitism is spreading to what would hitherto be considered the most unlikely places.

I have before me a study published Oct. 20 in a leading Swedish daily, Dagens Nyheter, which reports that “Arab and Muslim attacks on Jews are rising sharply in Swedish society [while] silence surrounds Muslim Jew-hatred.” The study, inadequately translated from Swedish, was prepared by two Swedish social scientists, Sverker Oredssom, a professor of history, and Mikael Tossavainen, his research assistant.

The situation has become so bad, they report, that “Jews in Sweden today often feel compelled to hide their religious identity in public: necklaces with stars of David are carefully hidden under sweaters, and orthodox Jewish men change their kippot [skullcaps] to more discreet caps or hats when they are outdoors. Jews in Sweden nowadays get secret telephone numbers to avoid harassment. In Sweden. Today.”

In a Swedish population of some 9 million, there are about 20,000 Jews, mostly in Stockholm, Sweden’s capital. The social scientists blame the Muslim migrants, now 3.9 percent of the Swedish population, for the growth of anti-Semitism. (Sweden has the second-largest percentage Muslim population in Western Europe. France has the highest Muslim population percentage, 7 percent.)

“Most Swedes believe that anti-Semitism is an extinct problem in our country,” they write. “Most Swedes believe that our society has evolved and that we are more enlightened today. … Unfortunately, they are wrong. During the last year, the security police registered 131 anti-Semitic crimes. Nobody knows how many incidents go unreported. but the security police expect the number to be large.”

Jewish congregations in Sweden have noted a sharp increase in “harassment, threats and attacks by Arabs and Muslims against Jews in Swedish society during the last few years,” the report states. “The problem is furthermore aggravated by the almost complete silence which surrounds this form of Jew-hatred. If anti-Semitism among Arabs and Muslims in Sweden is discussed at all in Swedish media, it tends to be in the form of trivializations or denials of the problem.”

The report’s authors say anti-Semitism was once “only found among marginalized groups at the extreme right and left. That is not the case anymore. During the last decade, another form of anti-Semitism has started to spread in the suburbs of large Swedish towns: a Jew-hatred often imported from the Middle East and not seldom presented under an Islamic flag which also wins adherents among groups of Arabs and Muslims in Sweden.”

Teachers in Swedish suburbs report widespread hostility against Jews among Arab and Muslim students. Several Internet Web sites in Swedish report on Muslim political and religious topics and at the same time spread anti-Semitic propaganda in this fashion: the Holocaust is dismissed as a Zionist fiction, an event that never happened. Then comes another declaration, this one full of admiration for Adolf Hitler and regret that he didn’t live long enough to complete his extermination campaign.

One Swedish Web site announces the existence of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world, an announcement with which Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahatir Mohammed would be in full agreement.

At some point the European democracies, like Sweden, will have to decide how far freedom of expression and other civil liberties extend when Web sites in several European languages, including Swedish, are publishing blood libels against Jewish citizens. The American philosopher, Arthur O. Lovejoy, has written:

“The conception of freedom is not one which implies the legitimacy and inevitability of its own suicide. It is, on the contrary, a conception which defines the limits of its own applicability; what it implies is that there is one kind of freedom which is inadmissible — the freedom to destroy freedom. The defender of freedom of thought and speech is not morally bound to enter the fight with both hands tied behind his back.”

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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