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“The community here used to keep a low profile, but there’s a feeling that we are lost if we do nothing now,” Frederik Sieradski, a spokesman for the Malmo Jewish community, told JTA during a recent solidarity trip that Jews from Copenhagen, Denmark, made to his city of 300,000 – the third largest in Sweden.
The newly aggressive public actions by Jews against anti-Semitism mark a significant shift for Swedish Jews, according to Mikael Tossavainen, a Swedish-born researcher of anti-Semitism in Scandinavia at Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary Jewry.
Tossavainen noted that a “very similar attack” against Malmo’s only Orthodox synagogue in 2010 “attracted far less international attention and response” than the Sept. 28 attack.
The emergence of the kipah walks was a major factor in attracting attention to the problem in Malmo, he said. Another factor, Tossavainen said, was the city’s mayor, Ilmar Reepalu, who made international headlines when he advised Jews who want to be safe in Malmo to reject Zionism.
Though he has condemned anti-Semitism, Reepalu has called Zionism a form of “extremism” comparable with anti-Semitism and said the Jewish community has been “infiltrated” by anti-Muslim agents.
During her visit to the country in June, Hannah Rosenthal, the Obama administration’s special envoy for combating anti-Semitism, said Malmo under Reepalu is a prime example of “new anti-Semitism,” where anti-Israel sentiment serves as a thin guise for Jew-hatred.
Since her visit, Malmo police have been more willing to follow up on complaints about anti-Semitism, according to Rabbi Shneur Kesselman, an envoy of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement to Malmo.
Data by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention show that in the years 2009-2011, Malmo saw an average of 70 anti-Semitic incidents a year.
Daisy Balkin Rung, a Jewish woman who grew up in Malmo but left years ago, came to a different conclusion after the attack. In a controversial Op-Ed on the website of Sweden’s TV4 that generated chatter on media outlets throughout the country, Rung called on Jews to leave Malmo.
“It’s sad to admit: The kipah walks are a good thing, but they are not changing the situation in Malmo,” Rung told JTA. “I’m afraid Malmo is one battle which the other side has won.”