Arab and Muslim Anti-Semitism in Sweden
Anti-Semitism is perceived as a minor problem in Sweden, restricted to
marginal neo-Nazi and other extreme-Right groups. Anti-Jewish ferment
among parts of the country's Arab and Muslim population is largely
denied and ignored. Nevertheless, the phenomenon exists and manifests
itself among some Arab and Muslim pupils in suburban schools, on
Muslim websites in Swedish, and in attacks on Jews and their institutions.
This anti-Semitism has its roots in the Middle East, where it is widespread
in the countries of origin of many Arab and Muslim immigrants in
Sweden and reaches them through various channels such as satellite
television and the Internet. The exclusion of many Arabs and Muslims
from Swedish society fosters the spread of anti-Semitism in the segregated
suburbs of the major cities. The situation calls for seriously addressing
these groups' problem of alienation.
In the wake of the breakdown of the Oslo process and the renewed
intifada, a wave of anti-Semitic violence has swept over Europe. Most
attention has been paid to the arsons and other violent attacks in
France and other countries such as Germany and Belgium. But Swedish
Jewry, too, has felt this phenomenon.
Swedish Jewry seems, however, to have been the only segment of
society not just to be affected by the violence, but also to notice it.
In the country at large, the tendency of growing Arab and Muslim
anti-Semitism has been almost completely ignored, and to this day
most Swedes are unaware of the anti-Jewish sentiments among immigrants
from Arab and Muslim countries and their descendants. Judging
even by Swedish public discourse over the past decades, anti-Semitism
no longer belongs exclusively to neo-Nazis on the extreme Right. Yet
Swedes have been socialized into treating anti-Semitism as a branch
of racism among ultranationalist groups, and anti-Semitism among
other sectors - such as the extreme Left, Arabs, and Muslims - is
Moreover, in some cases Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism has been
denied. For instance, the journalist and bestselling author Jan Guillou
has used his column in Sweden's largest newspaper, the Social Democratic
Aftonbladet, to argue that while anti-Semitism used to be a
problem in Swedish society, any talk of it in today's Sweden is only
a strategy to build sympathy for Israel and an indirect defense of the
occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.2
Arab and Muslim Anti-Semitism
Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism has nothing to do with dislike of
Semitic peoples in general; by definition, anti-Semitism can only be
directed at Jews. Bernard Lewis notes that a common defense of
Arab anti-Semites is that they cannot be anti-Semites because they
themselves are Semites. As he points out, this would mean that a copy
of Mein Kampf published in German in Berlin or in Spanish in Buenos
Aires would be anti-Semitic, but an Arabic version of the same book
published in Cairo would not be since Arabic and Hebrew are related
Anti-Semitism is the hatred or dislike of Jews qua Jews, nothing
more and nothing less. The term was coined in the 1870s by
Wilhelm Marr, partly to dress his anti-Jewish sentiment in a new,
modern, ostensibly scientific vocabulary and partly to distance it
from Christian anti-Judaism.4 It is hard to give an all-encompassing
definition of anti-Semitism beyond the fact that it always involves
some elements of negative attitudes or notions about Jews. Helen
Fein defines it as a lasting, latent structure of beliefs about Jews
as a collective. On the individual level, it manifests itself as sentiments;
on the cultural level, as myths, ideology, and popular traditions;
and on the practical level as social or legal discrimination,
political mobilization against Jews, and collective or even governmental
violence against them aiming to expel or even kill them for
Similarly, anti-Semitism in the Arab and Muslim world has an
Islamic and a secular-nationalist dimension.6 The latter is more or less
identical with the secular forms of anti-Semitism that developed in
nineteenth-century Europe. With the growth of European influence
in the Middle East, the Arabs imported not only cheap goods and
political ideas but also anti-Semitism in this modern, racist form. The
first to embrace it were often the local Christian communities, which
had closer ties with European Christians than their Muslim neighbors.
With the rise of Arab nationalism, an ideology that Christian Arab
intellectuals were often among the first to adopt, the Jews were increasingly
seen as an alien body in the Arab world, distinct from the Arab
Muslims and Christians.7
Religious Muslim anti-Semitism differs from Christian anti-
Semitism. Traditionally, Islam does not have the same kind of problematic
relationship to Judaism as Christianity has, since Jews in the
Muslim tradition were perceived as a vanquished people that did
not pose any threat to Islam. So long as Jews recognized Muslims'
superior status and paid the jizyah, the special tax on non-Muslims,
they were usually left alone. Some verses in the Koran and examples
from the religious tradition show hostility toward Jews, but compared
to their brethren in the Christian world, Jews in Muslim
countries were usually treated relatively well and only rarely subjected
to outright persecution.8
This situation changed in the last century. Unlike in Europe, where
the Holocaust made publicly endorsing anti-Semitism taboo, Jewhatred
has always been acceptable in the modern Arab and Muslim
world. Owing both to political developments and the growth of radical
Islam, more recently it has only intensified. The establishment of the
state of Israel is doubly problematic in this regard, since it not only
is seen as a colonial project of an alien, non-Arab people but also
defies the Muslim idea of dar al-Islam, the Muslim world where infidels
are not allowed to rule believers.9 The anti-Semitic elements in the
religious tradition that were largely ignored or played only a minor
part in Muslim discourse are now salient, and in today's Arab and
Muslim world anti-Semitism is widespread.10 It is propagated both
by governments and religious authorities, spread via state-controlled
media, the Internet, mosques, schools, and universities.11
This anti-Semitism has also emerged among Arabs and Muslims
in Europe. In today's globalized world, the same satellite television
channels and websites can be viewed in Europe as in Egypt or Malaysia.
Moreover, the segregation of immigrant neighborhoods contributes
to a situation where Arabs and Muslims in Europe remain part of the
cultural discourse of their countries of origin. Well known in Paris,
London, and other metropolitan areas for years, this phenomenon
also exists in the suburbs of Sweden's three largest cities: Stockholm -
population one million; Göteborg, 500,000; and Malmö, 250,000.
In Swedish schools, religious studies is a mandatory subject. Pupils
are taught not only Christianity but also other religions such as Islam,
Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. The purpose of these classes is
not, as when Protestant Christianity was the only religion in the curriculum,
to spread a certain creed but to provide a deeper understanding
of other cultures and worldviews and foster tolerance. Some suburban
schools, however, have a majority of Arab and Muslim pupils, and
they object to the teaching of one specific religion - Judaism. Some
of them decline to participate in the classes on this subject, some
actively sabotage them, and others do not show up at all. Such pupils
may refuse to do their homework or take tests on Judaism, or go on
field trips to local synagogues.12
Sometimes pupils react very strongly when Islam is described as
a religion that grew out of a tradition largely inspired by Judaism,
rejecting the notion that there could be any connection between the
two religions. As a consequence, these pupils' knowledge of Judaism
is usually very limited and their prejudices are rife. They may "learn"
about Judaism only in the mosques, where apparently they are mostly
told that Jews are infidels who will burn in hell.13
Another subject that sometimes causes trouble in these schools is
the Holocaust. The Arab and Muslim pupils often express either
some form of Holocaust denial, or appreciation for the genocide of
European Jewry. Sometimes they profess both opinions simultaneously.
While saying on the one hand that the Holocaust is a lie, or
at least has been largely exaggerated by Jews to extort reparations or
build sympathy for Israeli policies, they also aver that it was a pity
that Hitler did not kill more Jews.
One Holocaust survivor, who gives lectures at schools all over the
country about his experiences during the Shoah, tells of Arab and
Muslim pupils who stay away from his talks, sometimes at their parents'
request. Pupils, he says, who do attend rarely express hostility,
but those who do are exclusively "of Middle Eastern origin." After
his lectures he asks for the listeners' evaluations, and once a pupil
from an Iraqi family wrote:
That, which happened in the Second World War I think it was a
good thing of Hitler to treat the Jews that way because I hate Jews.
After the war they tried to get a country because they didn't have
a country and so they took a part of Palestine and they created little
Israel because Hitler threw them out of every country and that thing
today the lecture by the survivor was only crap. The film was
bad and I think what Hitler did to the Jews served them right and
I don't care what you the survivor talked about and I wish that the
Palestinian people kill all the Jews. Jews are the most disgusting
people in the world and the biggest cowards and because of what
happened today I wasn't going to come to school because an ugly
Jew comes to school.14
Other lecturers and teachers have similar experiences, with pupils
expressing their hatred of Jews in the same kind of terms. They rarely
make any distinction among Jews, Israelis, or Zionists, and have very
clear opinions about Jewish behavior or characteristics despite having
had little or no interaction with Jews.
Teachers tend to point to the home environment as explaining
these pupils' attitudes. In the segregated suburbs, immigrants live isolated
from Swedish society, culture, and values while staying in touch
with the discourse of their countries of origin. Hence, Iraqi, Lebanese,
and Palestinian pupils tend to be more anti-Semitic than those from
Bosnia or Turkey, for example.15
Like others of the ilk, Arab and Muslim anti-Semites long since discovered
the advantages of the Internet. There are a number of Muslim
anti-Semitic websites in Swedish, the best known of which is that of
Radio Islam. Already as a radio station in the 1980s, it broadcast
Nazi-like anti-Semitism.16 The content could have been taken from
Der Stürmer or Mein Kampf, with the Jews accused of being sexually
perverted, brazen, and greedy, committing ritual murders, having great
influence over the media, and organizing a world conspiracy aimed
at enslaving all other peoples.17
Ahmed Rami, the man behind Radio Islam, was convicted of hate
crimes because of the anti-Semitic content of his broadcasts, in 1989
and again in a court of appeals. Nevertheless, influential journalists
and politicians supported him and even denied or exculpated his anti-
Semitism.18 Jan Bergman, professor of theology at Uppsala University,
testified in Rami's defense and claimed, among other things, that for
Jews it was indeed a religious duty to kill Gentiles.19
Although Radio Islam has Sweden's most aggressively and systematically
anti-Semitic Muslim website, it is not the only one. Other sites
run by Swedish Muslims on themes such as Islam, Arab and Muslim
culture, and Middle Eastern politics disseminate anti-Semitism. While
they do so less relentlessly than Radio Islam, the content of their anti-
Semitism is little different.20
The idea that Jews all behave in a certain way and have specific
character traits is common on these sites. Jews are portrayed as cruel
and bloodthirsty, greedy and cheap, power-hungry and arrogant, cowardly
and duplicitous. They are also regularly accused of sexual perversion.
On one site, which describes "Jewish capital" as controlling
pedophilia and child pornography, Jews are charged with sexual misconduct
and racism toward Gentiles:
If a Jew attacks a woman's honor, it doesn't matter. This is not his
fault, since a non-Jewish woman is no more than an animal and
with animals there is no need for a marriage contract. Between Jews
he is not allowed to act that way. The Jews are allowed to rape non-Jewish women....No Jewish woman may complain if her husband
commits adultery with a non-Jewish woman.21
Both biblical and modern instances are adduced, from distorted
accounts of King David to propaganda stories about the Israel
Defense Forces. For example, Joseph becoming viceroy of Egypt is
cited as an example of Jews' striving for political and economic
control in their countries of residence, with Joseph being compared
These sites present Judaism as a perverted or evil religion. An
article called "The Truth behind Muslim-Jewish Animosity" calls on
Muslims to hate Jews: "We hate them for the sake of our Lord, we
hate them for Allah's sake because they slandered Allah and slandered
and killed His Prophets." Later, it describes the Talmud as teaching
that Gentiles are pigs, their souls worth less in God's eyes than those
of animals, and that Jews must fight Muslims. "The Jews" are also
accused of "criminal behavior against the House of Allah," that is,
the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, by trying to destroy it and dig
tunnels to undermine it.23
A classic anti-Semitic theme found on some Swedish Muslim websites
is that of a Jewish world conspiracy. It is blamed for virtually all
problems, from poverty, drug trade, and prostitution to every present day
war and the 11 September attack. From this viewpoint, the fact
that a public person is Jewish is proof of his or her membership in
Several Swedish institutions, such as Uppsala University, the Swedish
Bar Association, and Amnesty International, are said to be in the
conspiracy's hands. Some of these websites, including Islamiskaforum
and Radio Islam, have also published the "Jew List." Originating in
Nazi circles, it contains the names of Swedes who are accused of
belonging to the Swedish branch of the Jewish conspiracy. The editor
of a large Swedish newspaper is called a "propaganda producer, Jewish
whore who chose to work her way up through the Social Democratic
Party." A former governor is described as a "typical thief, a Jew." A
cabinet minister is dubbed a "Jewish midget...Sweden's Jewish trade
minister." A well-known journalist is referred to as a "Jewish charlatan,
a propagandist with a Polish-Jewish background."24 The list contains
hundreds more names.
It is impossible to fully assess how common anti-Semitic sentiments
are among Arabs and Muslims in Sweden. One indication may be
the number of anti-Semitic attacks and other crimes with anti-
Semitic motives that occur in the country. Because of the relatively
large number of such acts that go unreported and the method of
registration used by the police, the frequency of these events cannot
be ascertained.25 It is clear, however, that they increased sharply in
2000 after the breakdown of the Oslo process and the renewal of
The most common form of anti-Semitic crime is harassment in
the street by Arab and Muslim youths who identify passersby as
Jewish. Such verbal or physical attacks are especially common during
Jewish holidays, when more Jews than usual are visible close to synagogues
and community centers. For instance, three men identified as
Arabs walked by the Great Synagogue in Stockholm on the eve of
Rosh Hashanah, 2002, and shouted, "I'll kill you, Zionists!" A young
man was attacked on his way home from synagogue in Malmö by a
group of Arab youths on Yom Kippur, 2004. In a slightly different
incident in 2002, a Muslim taxi driver refused to drive two elderly
women to the synagogue in Stockholm and forced them out of his
car when he identified them as Jewish.26
The largest anti-Semitic incident over the past five years took
place in Stockholm on 18 April 2002, when a rally against anti-
Semitism and Islamophobia organized by the Liberal Youth
Movement was stormed. Some sixty individuals, mostly of Middle
Eastern background, physically attacked participants, destroyed
signs, and shouted epithets like "Jewish swine!" and "Allahu Akbar!"
Many of those in the rally, including some Holocaust survivors,
suffered injury and shock before the police intervened after
fifteen to twenty minutes. Similar attacks have taken place in Malmö
What Can Be Done?
The Arab and Muslim communities in Sweden are large and heterogeneous.
Not all their members are anti-Semites, and only a small handful
attack Jews. Still, the anti-Semitism is real and Jews in Sweden feel
threatened, few daring to wear a kippa or Magen David pendant in
To deal with the situation, the Swedish government and society
at large must first cease their denial and acknowledge that it exists.
Secondly, there must be a will to tackle it. Among those who
acknowledge this anti-Semitism, not all perceive it as a problem, or
at least not as one that can be confronted. Jan Samuelsson, professor
of the history of religions, says Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism in
Sweden is "understandable, reasonable, and justified."28 Although he
is an exception, many others are willing to exculpate the phenomenon
as regrettable but inevitable as long as Israel occupies Palestinian
Such tolerance for intolerance is a recipe for catastrophe and in
the end may have grave consequences not only for Swedish Jewry. To
cease making excuses for the phenomenon and realize that it is part
of a global trend is the first step in battling it. This must, however,
be part of a broader strategy of counteracting segregation in the
suburbs of Sweden's larger cities. Socially, culturally, and economically
integrating the Arab and Muslim immigrants is something from which
everyone, not only the Jews, would benefit.
* * *
1. There are only a few works dealing with anti-Semitism on the Swedish
Left. See, e.g., Per Ahlmark, Vänstern och tyranniet - Det galna kvartsseklet
(Stockholm: Timbro, 1994) (Swedish); Henrik Bachner, Återkomsten -
Antisemitism i Sverige efter 1945 (Stockholm: Natur och Kultur, 1999)
* * *
2. Jan Guillou, "Okupationen är omöjlig att försvara," Aftonbladet, 15 April
2002, p. 10 (Swedish). Guillou is not the only Aftonbladet columnist to hold
this view. See, e.g., Johanne Hildebrandt, "Trötta generaliseringar spär bara
på misstron," Aftonbladet, 26 October 2003, p. 56 (Swedish); Mats K. G.
Johansson, "Hela arabvärlden demoniseras," Svenska Dagbladet, 25 February
2004, p. 56 (Swedish).
3. Bernard Lewis, Semites and Anti-Semites: An Inquiry into Conflict and Prejudice
(New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1986), p. 16.
4. Ibid., p. 49. See also Moshe Zimmermann, Wilhelm Marr: The Patriarch of
Antisemitism (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).
5. Helen Fein, "Dimensions of Antisemitism: Attitudes, Collective Accusations,
and Actions," in Helen Fein, ed., The Persisting Question: Sociological
Perspectives and Social Contexts of Modern Antisemitism, Current
Research on Antisemitism, Vol. 1 (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter,
6. Raphael Israeli, "Anti-Jewish Attitudes in the Arabic Media, 1975-1981,"
in Robert S.Wistrich, ed., From Anti-Zionism to Anti-Semitism in the Contemporary
World (Houndsmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire and London: Macmillan,
1990), p. 102.
7. Robert S.Wistrich, Antisemitism: The Longest Hatred (New York: Pantheon
Books, 1991), p. 206.
8. Lewis, Semites and Anti-Semites, p. 121; Wistrich, Antisemitism, p. 196.
9. Wistrich, Antisemitism, p. 224.
10. Lewis, Semites and Anti-Semites, p. 196.
11. See, e.g., Arnon Groiss, The West, Christians and Jews in Saudi Arabian
Schoolbooks (New York and Jerusalem: Center for Monitoring the Impact
of Peace, 2003); Daniel J. Wakin, "Anti-Semitic 'Elders of Zion' Gets New
Life on Egypt TV," New York Times, 26 October 2002; Fouad Ajami, "What
the Muslim World Is Watching," New York Times Magazine, 18 November
12. Mikael Tossavainen, "Det förnekade hatet - Antisemitism bland araber och
muslimer i Sverige," Svenska Kommittén Mot Antisemitism, Stockholm,
2003, p. 22 (Swedish).
13. Jackie Jakubowski, "'Judarna kommer att brinna i helvetet,' förklarar en
elev. Det fick han lära sig i en Koran-skola," Judisk Krönika, No. 2, 2001
14. The letter is quoted in Tossavainen, "Det förnekade hatet," p. 24. The peculiarities
in the grammar and orthography reflect the Swedish original. The
translation from Swedish is this author's.
15. Tossavainen, "Det förnekade hatet," p. 26.
16. Ahlmark, Vänstern och tyranniet, p. 85.
17. Ibid., p. 100.
18. See, e.g., Dennis Zachrisson, FiB-Kulturfront, No. 16, 1988 (Swedish); Claes-
Adam Wachtmeister, Expressen, 26 September 1990 (Swedish); Sven öste,
Dagens Nyheter, 23 September 1990 (Swedish).
19. Ahlmark, Vänstern och tyranniet, p. 249.
20. Many of these websites have changed their addresses after their anti-Semitic
content was analyzed in Tossavainen, "Det förnekade hatet."
21. See www.islamiskaforum.com. The translation from Swedish is this author's.
22. "Abûl-A'lâ al-Mawdûdî kritiserar Allâhs profeter," at www.darulhadith.com
23. "The Truth behind Muslim-Jewish Animosity," www.islamiskaforum.com
(Swedish). The translation from Swedish is this author's.
24. See, e.g., www.islamiskaforum.com.
25. See the annual report by the Secret Police (SÄPO), "Brottslighet kopplad
till rikets säkerhet 2002," Stockholm, 2003, pp. 30, 82 (Swedish).
26. For more examples, see Tossavainen, "Det förnekade hatet," p. 36.
27. See, e.g., Per Svensson, "Det brinner på Mö llevångstorget," Judisk Krö
nika, No. 2, 2001, p. 30 (Swedish); Eva Hermelius, "Farligt med kippa på stan,"
ibid., p. 35 (Swedish).
28. Jan Samuelsson, "'Muslimers hat mot judar är befogat,'" Dagens Nyheter, 25 October 2003 (Swedish).
MIKAEL TOSSAVAINEN is a doctoral student in the Department of History, Lund University, Sweden. The topic of his dissertation is the role of the Holocaust in Israeli historical consciousness. His earlier research has focused on historiography and the connection between nationalism and religion. Tossavainen also teaches modern Hebrew in Lund University's Department of Middle Eastern Languages.
* * *
The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect
those of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
The above essay appears in the Fall 2005 issue of the Jewish Political Studies Review, the first and only journal dedicated to the study of Jewish political institutions and behavior, Jewish political thought, and Jewish public affairs.
Published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (http://www.jcpa.org/), the JPSR appears twice a year in the form of two double issues, either of a general nature or thematic, with contributors including outstanding scholars from the United States, Israel, and abroad. The hard copy of the Spring 2005 issue will be available in the coming weeks."
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Assessing the American Jewish Institutional Response to Global Anti-Semitism by Steven Windmueller
The New Muslim Anti-Semitism: Exploring Novel Avenues of Hatred by Raphael Israeli
Arab and Muslim Anti-Semitism in Sweden by Mikael Tossavainen
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Israel in the Australian Media by Tzvi Fleischer
Barbara Tuchman's Comments on Israel by Moshe Yegar
Hidden in Plain Sight: Alexis de Tocqueville's Recognition of the Jewish Origin of the Idea of Equality by Joel Fishman
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