Building Bridges Against Anti-Semitism and Racism

During the last few days, Israeli news sources have been flooded with articles about a broadcast which was sent in Swedish TV on January 21st, where the program Uppdrag Granskning uncovered worrying signs of anti-Semitism in Malmö, a city in South of Sweden.

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Screengrab from the Swedish news report

An undercover reporter wore a kippa and the star of David, and walked around in areas known for their negative attitudes toward Jewish people, with a hidden camera in order to document the reactions he got from people living there. The majority of people didn’t care, and some just looked a bit curiously at the kippa on his head, however, some showed disturbing signs of hatred. There were people yelling taunts and threats, throwing eggs, and groups approaching him in a clearly threatening way. A couple of times it got to the point where he felt the need to leave the area for his own safety.

Later in the program we see the same reporter as he goes back to the same areas, without the kippa and with a camera and a TV crew, to talk to and interview the people who had shouted and thrown eggs at him about their reactions and thoughts. A couple of Muslim youths who agreed to be interviewed explaines their reasons for hating Jews, which according to them is the Israel-Palestinian conflict. When the reporter asks how come, because he came as a Swedish Jew, not claiming to have anything to do with Israel or the conflict, the youths answer that Israel-Palestina is the only association they make when they see or hear about Jewish people. He says that they hear about torture in Israel, and they want to help, but they cannot since they are in Sweden, so what they do is to throw eggs at Jewish people when they see them. One of them even said, that he doesn’t think a Jewish person could live openly in their area, wearing Jewish symbols, because according to him; muslims are not allowed to move around freely in Israel, so Jewish people should also no be allowed to move around freely, anywhere.

Reporter: “But this is Sweden after all.”

Youth: “Sweden and Sweden, we still have our background and so do they.”

I reacted strongly while watching this program, firstly because it is disturbing in general, but also because this happens in my home country, Sweden, so I feel some kind of responsibility. I will admit, I have never been to Malmö myself, so I don’t really know what it’s like there, but from what I have heard from others it is in fact a beutiful and multicultural city. Also, in the program they interview a few Jewish people about their life in Malmö, and one of them, an American who works as a chef in a vegetarian restaurant, explaines that he has many reasons to love the city, that it reminds him of his home town New York, but that he gets shouted at and harassed a lot.

One thing to which I reacted, apart from the anti-Semitism described in general, is the reasons we are given for some it. According to the Muslim youths that were interviewed, there are no reasons to hate Jews except for the fact that they associate them with Israel, and the fact that Israel makes them hate Jews is based on things they have heard. This is for me the truly sad part of the whole thing, how people so easily learn to hate each other, based on…what? On rumors? On what media describes? On associations? Based on which God they believe in? Based on which religion they were born into? Based on decisions made or not made by someone in some government? Based on the fact that others hate, so we should hate too?

I am neither Jewish nor Muslim, but I am Swedish, and I live in Israel. I have friends who are Jewish, Muslims, Christians, atheists…Israelis, Palestinians, Swedish, and from a bunch of other backgrounds…both in Sweden and in Israel, and in other parts of the world. I don’t take sides, and I try my best to not hate anyone. I believe you cannot judge a whole group of people, a whole country, or a whole religion, based on the actions and beliefs of some. I believe hate only fuels more hate, war only fuels more war, and spreading rumors just makes it all even worse.

Sometimes when I say this out loud, people call me naive, and say that I live in LaLa-land. It is possible that they are right, but just like some will hold on to their strong beliefs in religions and history, I will hold on just as strongly to my beliefs that the only way to create a change in this world is through love, mutual acceptance and understanding, knowledge, and respect for eachother. 

There was one thing in this TV-program which did actually lift my spirit, and I want to point it out since we rarely get to read much about the good ones in media.

At one point they interview a Swedish Muslim guy about his view on the anti-Semitism in Malmö. This is the man who started the Swedish organisation called Youths Against Anti-Semitism and Racism (originally: Muslim Youths Against Anti-Semitism and Racism). He is one of those who acknowledge there is a problem with anti-Semitism and racism in general, and that it is widely being ignored and not dealt with. His aim is to create bridges between people, for a Sweden where everyone can feel safe regardless of nationality or religion, a Sweden we can be proud of.

Personally, I think this is a beautiful cause which I support whole heartedly, and with the risk of referring to groups and stereotypes here, I also find it extra beautiful that this is an organisation and an initiative created and driven by a Muslim man, wanting to create bridges of peace to Jewish people as well as other religions and non-religions in Sweden. People like him give me hope for the human kind, and the feeling that I am not alone in LaLa-land.

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