The city of Malmo, Sweden, earlier this month hosted the International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism. Perhaps a bit ironically, the city of Malmo, chosen as the site for the two-day conference, has been a hotbed for antisemitic and anti-Israel activities. In fact, while the conference was being held, the main synagogue in Malmo was targeted with another antisemitic outburst. The words, “The Holocaust was a scam” was painted on its walls. According to a report in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, the police are handling the case as a hate crime. The newspaper claimed that the Nordic Resistance Movement, a neo-Nazi group, claimed responsibility for the incident. However, given Sweden’s media policy of shielding the large Middle Eastern Muslim migrant group in the city, the veracity of the report may be questionable. During Israel’s clashes with the terrorist group Hamas in Gaza, and especially in the 2009 Cast Lead operation, triggered a wave of antisemitic assaults on Jews in Malmo by mainly Muslims.
Back at the conference, heads of state and prominent officials were brought together (the Swedish government invited 50 heads of state) including the prime ministers of Albania, Estonia, Slovakia, and Ukraine, and the presidents of Finland, Latvia, Romania, and North Macedonia. Israel was represented by Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai, and President Isaac Herzog, who participated virtually. The host country, Sweden, was represented at the highest level by Prime Minister Stefan Lofvan, Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf, and Queen Silvia. Virtually representing the US was Secretary of State Antony Blinken, while the US delegation to Malmo included Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, Brian McKeon, and US Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, Ellen Germain.
To Sweden’s credit, over 20-years ago it hosted 46 countries who met in Stockholm to preserve the memory of the people murdered in the Holocaust. The conferees drafted at that time the Stockholm Declaration, and according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “promised to plan a better future amidst the soil of a bitter past.” In his video delivered to the conference, Blinken pointed out that, “anti-Semitism is on the rise all over the world.” He said, “Just last week vandals desecrated parts of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland, and disinformation, including Holocaust denial is rampant. Those who are engaged in denialism want to blur the line between truth and lies, and provoke hate against the Jewish people….”
Blinken emphasized three steps the US would take: First, $1million to counter antisemitic hate speech on line in the Middle East and North Africa. Second, the US would start an expanded series of international visitor programs that will work with government and civil society representatives to confront Holocaust distortion and antisemitism in the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America. Third, the State Department will work with Congress to provide another $1million in Central Europe to support this alliance and the Holocaust Taskforce against Holocaust denials and distortions. Finally, Blinkin announced that President Joe Biden has nominated renowned Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt, to be his envoy to combat antisemitism.
Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, like Blinken, addressed the assembled participants at the conference virtually. In it, he called on the world to more vigorously confront social media companies to ensure that hateful material is dealt with. He said, “Antisemitism is an infusion of hate into pockets of ignorance, a force of destruction which wears down any virtue on its path.” He added, “It will not be only improving Holocaust education in schools, such as the outstanding program of Yad Vashem, but also working aggressively on social media, including confronting social media companies to ensure that hateful incitement is quickly removed.”
Swedish retiring Social-Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Lofvan, told his fellow heads of state attending that, “We are not looking for another declaration; we are looking for a way to translate the principles of these (Stockholm Forum and IHRA) documents into reality. It is our duty to continue to tell the stories of Holocaust survivors when they are no longer among us; it is our duty to do whatever necessary to counter the forces that threaten human dignity. It is our duty to remember and react.” Lofvan called on other heads of state to come up with “concrete measures” to tackle antisemitism.
While Prime Minister Lofvan made a moving address to the assembled dignitaries, his own government had, in recent years resorted to antisemitic tropes. His former Foreign Minister, Margot Wallstrom in particular, has made offensive remarks against the Jewish state clearly bordering on antisemitism. Led by Wallstrom in 2014, Sweden was the first member-state of the European Union (EU) to extend recognition to the non-existent Palestinian state, led by Mahmud Abbas, a Holocaust denier. The influx of Middle Eastern Muslim migrants from Syria and Iraq, inculcated with hatred for Israel and Jews, increased antisemitism in Sweden to unprecedented levels in schools and communities, especially in Malmo.
In 2015, Wallstrom stated in the Swedish parliament that Israel was conducting “extrajudicial executions” of Palestinian stabbers. Israel’s foreign ministry responded by accusing Wallstrom of “giving support to terror and thus encouraging violence.” During the 2015 Paris, France terror attack by the Islamic State (IS), Wallstrom asserted on Swedish Television that the attacks were rooted in frustration of Muslims in the Middle East, including the Palestinians. In August 2009, the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet, published an article that charged Israeli troops of harvesting organs from dead Palestinians in their custody. Israeli officials denounced the story in the paper as false and antisemitic.
Nathan Sharansky, former Soviet dissident, Prisoner of Zion in Soviet gulags, author of The Case for Democracy, Human Rights activist, and former head of the Jewish Agency, devised the 3D test of antisemitism. The 3D’s include Demonization of Israel, Double Standards when dealing with Israel, and Delegitimization of Israel. As Sharansky saw it, the new form of antisemitism is aimed at the collective Jew – that is the Jewish state. Under Sharansky’s test, Wallstrom can most definitely be identified with Demonization of Israel, as well as portions of the Swedish media.
Rabbi Moshe David Hacohen, the former rabbi of the Malmo Jewish community, expressed disappointment that, “the conference had not dealt in greater depth with the situation in Malmo.” As a result of antisemitic attacks on local Jews in Malmo, the Jewish population in Malmo has declined from about 1,000 to 530.
During the Malmo conference, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde, had visited Israel with the aim of opening a new chapter in Israeli-Swedish relations. In a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Linde declared, “Sweden is a friend of Israel.” Nevertheless, Sweden needs to act domestically against hate of Jews and Israel.