They call it “fondlegate,”

the scandal that is now shaking Swedish society. After learning about the horrible mass sexual assaults during a New Year’s celebration in Cologne, Germany, the truth seemed to take on a life of its own, and other stories followed. The first to be told was from the small Swedish town of Kalmar, where organized groups of young immigrant men from the Middle East and North Africa had sexually violated at least 11 women, according to police reports, and many more are believed to have gone unreported. The second account came out of Malmo, a city having become infamous for anti-Semitism and racial tension, where young women had been targeted for so called Taharrush-attacks, Taharrush being a “rape-game” with its origin in the Arab world.

However, the third news-story to come out after Cologne put the two former to shame, as it involves both media and politics, and reveals a culture of silence when it comes to systematic sexual abuse.

The allegations that are surfacing say that the Swedish police along with the media are guilty of covering up a mass sexual assault that took place at the youth festival We Are Sthlm, two years ago. Witness statements and police reports are now being uncovered that tell the story of a scene similar to that in Cologne, where gangs of young men from Afghanistan molested girls as young as 11 or 12, some of the assaults even resulting in rape, and that 200 men had been removed from the area by police during the course of one evening.

Despite knowing what had happened, and who the perpetrators were, internal memos from the police now show that they deliberately chose not to mention the sexual assaults, the fact that the perpetrators where exclusively, and I quote “so called refugee youth predominantly from Afghanistan” or that this was the second year these assaults had taken place.

Police chief Peter Agren said to the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter “This is a sensitive topic. We are afraid to tell the truth because it may play into the Sweden Democrat narrative.” When the information finally leaked, the story was pitched to one of Sweden’s largest daily papers, but it was nixed for the very same reason that the police initially decided to shut it down.

So not only did the Swedish police and media cover up a large-scale sexual assault on underage girls, but it also took it upon itself to choose which political parties are acceptable, and which are not. Through their silence they hoped not to bolster the far-right Sweden Democrat’s poll numbers, and through that silence, they accomplished the exact opposite.

There is a reason why after a trauma, we are told to talk about it. Not only do we need to speak, but we ache to be heard. When the story of trauma is heard it is also acknowledged, and the victim feels as if she matters in the eyes of the world.

Both the Swedish police and media are choosing their victims, who are deemed “kosher” and who are not, and they are doing so led by a political agenda. The irony of all this, however, is that not speaking the truth about Muslim men raping European women out of fear of being racist is a racist choice in and of itself, because in that silence lies a false assumption that all Muslims are rapists or would condone such a heinous act. This is a crime of abuse, and so is the cover-up. They both represent a massive failure of what is said to be a progressive state.

Every victim of a crime, be it a group or an individual, should be allowed to speak their pain and be heard. By ignoring the crisis of extremism that is upon us, they are creating a culture of silence, and in that silence there is no healing to be done.

 

This article was first published in Washington Examiner

“Sweden is needed in the UN Security Council because of our credibility on development issues and the work we do for human rights. Sweden speaks with integrity, without a hidden agenda, and therefore our presence on the Security Council can make a big difference for the good of the world.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom writes these words in a recently published op-ed as part of the Swedish bid for a temporary seat on the council during 2017 and 2018, going up against Italy and The Netherlands, the other two EU member states who have thrown their hats in the ring.

Since the inauguration of the Socialist alliance-government in 2014, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven and his cabinet have worked furiously to establish themselves as world actors, acting out through foreign policy, but their methods have been seemingly random in nature, from the foreign minister starting a fight with Saudia Arabia over feminism and having to be bailed out by the King for condemning Israel for “extrajudicial executions” as it attempted to protect its citizens from terrorist killers.

The first action the Socialist government took, before even passing a comprehensive budget, was recognizing Palestine, becoming the first ever EU country to do so. Sweden has a long-standing relationship to the PA, and the Social Democratic party refers to Fatah as its “dear brothers” in several official texts and is currently handing them $180 million yearly in foreign aid, money that helps finance crimes against both their own and other people.

But this is not the only way in which Sweden engages with murky regimes, as shown by its booming export industry. The Swedish government is currently exporting weapons to 26 countries that according to Freedom House are dictatorships, including but not limited to Oman, Algeria, Brunei, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Kuwait, Egypt and Bahrain, something that does not quite jibe with the fact that it also offers up 80,000 Swedish solders to peacekeeping missions for conflicts involving some of those very same states. The military efforts alone are costing the tiny Northern kingdom 100 million USD a year, and that is not counting the considerable hike in foreign aid given to African and Arab countries in order to shore up their loyalty to Sweden within the Security Council for any future vote.

So the question is, why is Sweden so furiously seeking this chair, paying for it with both blood and treasure? Foreign Minister Wallstrom said in her op-ed that Sweden’s strength is not having a “hidden agenda,” but perhaps the real advantage is the open one they adopted as soon as the ballots were in.

Sweden is not relevant in the real world, nor will it ever be. So what the government is doing now — choosing to focus on paper dragons and made up-entities — is somewhat of a brilliant move. The Middle East is the issue of the day, the year and the century, and as such Sweden wants a piece of the peace-making pie. Tying one’s fate to Palestine ensures never having to actually act or make real-world decisions, and knowing that makes the lust for a seat at the UN-table all the more logical and shrewd. The UN Security Council is an impotent colossus, each member state blocking the other to prevent any action or force. What is left is prestige, prestige and hollow legacy, not unlike the equally costly process of an Olympic hosting gig.

In her op-ed, Foreign Minister Wallström writes that Sweden wants a “platform for our values” and I believe that she is speaking the truth. She wants the platform, not a launchpad, to do nothing as everyone watches in awe. That is the UN, and it is Sweden, in a sad and perfect nutshell: Spending $700 million to get invited to the party, just to stand in a corner watching your shoes, praying no one will ask you to dance.

 

This article was first published in Washington Examiner

“The main difference between the Principalists and the Reformists in this election is not our views on and goals for Iran — on these we are of one mind — but rather political theory and execution.”

Dr. Moshen Keshvari is a short, dynamic man and he speaks in sharp staccato, flicking his wrist to emphasize the end of every sentence. We are sitting in his office at the Principalist headquarters in central Tehran, and the room is buzzing with intensity as Iran nears its 10th general election since the birth of the Islamic revolution.

I ask Keshvari, on top of the conservative list for the Majlis, if the Iran deal influences the election, and his answer is surprisingly unabashed.

“These are uncertain times, and we expect a record turnout because of it. People either want us, who will safeguard Iranian values and meet American promises with the suspicion it deserves or they will choose the Reformists who recklessly trust America and the West.”

When I point out to Keshvari that many in America and the West believe that Iran was the winner in the 5+1 deal and that President Obama fully conceded to Iranian terms he smiles and says, “I agree.” I laugh in astonishment at his honesty and ask him if he worries about Obama’s replacement or follows the American presidential elections, where several Republican candidates have campaigned on overturning the deal, but at this he shrugs with apparent contentment.

Rothstein and Dr. Keshvari, top Principalist candidate. (Photo by Annika Channa Rothstein)

“Believe me, Miss Rothstein. We are ready for whatever candidate is chosen, and we are prepared for one that rips up the deal. When he does we will produce … what’s it called … an ace up our sleeve.”

It’s a strange experience sitting in that stuffy office with Keshvari, smiling and conversing. I am a Jewish woman traveling alone in Iran and though the tension across the marble table is palpable, I cannot help but find myself liking this man and his complete and utter lack of shame.

 “America needs us now, and we know it”.
“The entire West needs someone to control the Middle East and keep [the Islamic State] and the barbarians at bay. They need us now, we do not need them, and like a small child we cannot be infected with the Western ideas because we have been inoculated

Bullying is the word Moshen Keshvari keeps using to describe the Western ideas he opposes, bullying from the entities he sees at the heart of this weaponless war — America and Israel — the former more intensely despised than the latter for reasons the good doctor is happy to divulge.

“America and Iran have real history, but we do not consider the Zionist regime legitimate so we do not consider it at all, nor do we care who the leader of that regime is. It is nothing to us. If, however, Israel makes one wrong move we will eradicate it from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, just as the Ayatollah has promised.”

My translator pauses as he translates this part, well aware of who and what I am, he throws me a glance that is somewhere between amused and apologetic. I smile back, not knowing what else to do, then look at the floor in order to avoid even feigning agreement.

“He lies.”

 Top reformist candidate Ali Reza Mahjoub does not mince his words when it comes to Keshvari’s statements on the deal or the doctor’s opinion that the differences between their parties are minor. “The Principalists say they want a relationship to the West, they say they want democracy and are open to change. It is all lies and everyone knows it. These are the differences between us. I don’t lie.” Mahjoub is angry and he is not yet ready to concede the fight, even though more than 60 percent of the candidates on his list have been excluded before the election by the infamous Guardian Council, working directly under the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“I am very hopeful that change is coming to this country. This cannot be stopped. We have 60 percent women in our universities now and young people are learning more about the world through Internet as well as through formal education. This is an enormous social energy that is waiting to be unleashed, an army that refuses to use guns but instead will use their minds to shape their future.”

Mahjoub was a leading figure in the Islamic Revolution and he has 20 years experience in Iranian politics. Representing the Reformists, he runs on a platform of so called “moderate openness” toward the West in line with President Rouhani. But as we speak he makes it clear to me that he is far from blind to what he sees as the double-talk of America and its Western allies.

“I believe we should establish consulate-level relationships to most countries, but as an Iranian I have a natural suspicion toward America. What reason have they given us to trust them? I am hopeful but I am no fool.”

And this is key. Despite being posed as enemies in a contentious election, both Principalists and Reformists are gathered in solidarity against the common enemy. Everywhere I go in Iran they are there — the symbols, murals and chants against the US, depicting and enforcing an age-old animosity. Obama is featured in many of them, standing alongside classic Persian villains, and I can’t help but laugh at the folly of his Middle-East turnaround. This may be referred to as the election of change, but as often in this region our Western timelines have very little to do with the reality on the ground. Keshvari expressed the sentiment perfectly as I asked him about Obama’s Cairo speech and the new relationship toward Iran.

According to Mahjoub the main differences between the Principalists and the Reformists are that the Reformists want a moderate foreign policy, a strong civil society and to open up toward democracy in a “more traditional form.” The latter, though, will, according to Mahjoub, take some time.

Ali Reza Mahjoub, top reformist candidate alongside his foreign affairs executive. (Photo by Annika Channa Rothstein)

“In other countries they have soft negotiations but produce hard results, in Iran we do the exact opposite. This will not be done in a day.”

And many I have spoken to this week seem to share the sentiment expressed by Mahjoub. One young man I met at a trendy Tehran cafe said that his parents, living in a small village two hours north of Tehran, would vote this year for the first time since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

“They know the reformists won’t win but they want their voices to be heard in the Majlis and the Assembly of Experts. The supreme leader is old now and he will be replaced by whoever is elected now, and many of us think that this is the chance to achieve a soft revolution — a slow change for the better without bloodshed.”

But that dream, however beautiful, seems less than achievable; all candidates in the Iranian elections are vetted by the Guardian Council, a political entity directly appointed by the Supreme Leader, and by election day on Feb. 26 a whopping 66 percent of the candidates had been disqualified for “lacking religious qualifications.”

Those who remain are all in the Supreme Leader’s good graces, making the elections a closed system without any real hope of change. Despite this, people show up to vote, most likely because not having the literal stamp of loyalty in your birth certificate can cause significant problems for anyone dealing with the government and those I spoke to on election day mentioned that not having voted is a common reason to be denied employment or government aid. Keshvari and Mahjoub may represent the outward drama at the heart of this election — between those who see the openness toward the West as a threat to the values of the Islamic State and those who see it as an opportunity to improve it, but the similarities between them clearly outweigh the conflict.

There is no reform here in the Western sense of the word, and even those most adamant about achieving change do not want a western-style society. American culture is widely perceived as being a threat to all that is good and holy, causing breakdown of families and deterioration of societies, and the message pumped out by the regime for the past 37 years has been as effective as it has been clear — the two paths being resistance or death. The past is not forgotten, no matter what Obama may say, but its beating heart is everywhere as I walk down the Tehran streets. “Death to America” means life to the conflict, a conflict that sustains the system and ensures survival for the powers that be.

 

This article was first published in Washington Examiner

I’m not sure what it is that makes it so magical. Perhaps it’s the silence, or even the desolate streets, but being a Jew in the Galut on Christmas is a strange and unexpected blessing.

I do the same thing, every year, and I have it down like clockwork. I take a lengthy morning walk in my cold, abandoned city and cook myself burgers before watching all three Lord of The Rings movies in a row. I know, it may sound like any old Sunday, but I guess that is the point and just what makes it so special.

Just five years ago, I was married to a non-Jew and I lived the life of constant compromise that I had grown up with. The holidays were a time when nobody was truly happy, and the symbol of my weakness was a giant tree in the middle of the living room.

With my return to Judaism came the very difficult decision to leave my marriage to live a fully observant life. Full of fear and fulfillment, I started my walk back home at this time of year, five years ago. Ever since, Christmas in the Galut has been a time of reflection on that journey and my tinsel-free apartment, a point of pride in this candy-cane land.

In my community, the intermarriage rate is in the high 80s. Every day, steps are taken to accommodate this rather than combat it. “Jewish-style” weddings and watered-down rules are all part of a system built on the idea that quantity beats quality and fitting in trumps fixing what’s obviously broken. The interesting thing is that with this adaptation and attempt at belonging comes the unexpected loneliness of being between two worlds, the master of none — a feeling I have felt, as it was very close to home. I thought that my life would be easier if I chose to adapt and try as hard as I could to be more like them, but not only did I fail, but ended up with much less of me and very little belonging.

There’s this mythology surrounding Jews on Christmas, from Chinese food and gift-envy to catchy South Park-songs about tribal woes in a jingle bell-world. The narrative is focused on the idea that we want to be like them, and that Christmas is a lonely time for us that needs to be managed and lamented. To me, it’s a missed opportunity to rejoice in what we are, and even more in what we are not.
I love these empty streets in the early hours of the morning, feeling like an alien in a brave new world. I am proud of my alien status, of not being like them and not taking part in a world that does not belong to me. And because of that, because I am free and I’ve stopped pretending. I can feel joy for the sake of Christians without it tinting mine.

I guess that is what true religious co-existence is. It starts with me saying, “I am not like you, nor do I wish to be.” From there, I can greet you without a hint of fear. As a Jew in the Galut on Christmas I feel proud, because it is a testament to the choices I’ve made and the distance I’ve put between me and the scenes inside those tinsel-adorned windows. As Jews, we shouldn’t try to fit in, but feel proud to stand out, and never entertain the idea of a “kosher-style” Christmas.

I love being a Jew on Christmas, because it reminds me that I used to be a bad version of them, but through hard choices and the help of God became the best version of me, and that my beautifully normal Sunday is an act of return and redemption.

So with that I wish my gentile friends a very Merry Christmas, and to myself another beautifully unordinary Jewish year.

 

OMG, but you’re like the most outgoing person I’ve ever met!

I get that all the time. Usually right after I have tried to explain to someone how shy and uncomfortable I often feel in social settings.

And I get it, it doesn’t really make sense. At first glance, I am an extrovert. I talk and laugh and socialize, shaking hands and making jokes, often the life of the party.

And it is absolutely exhausting.

I have been like this for as long as I can remember. As a small child, I would suddenly walk out of play dates, locking myself in my room when I felt I had enough and needed to breathe.

As an adult, you can’t really do that. When I feel socially maxed out at a party or in a meeting I can’t just walk out or lock myself in my office, leaving my boss to explain to the other grownups that I’ll be back when I’ve recharged.

The adult world is challenging to us introverts, because it seems to be constructed for people who can work in groups and who don’t need a week to mentally prepare for a party.

But now and again we find a person who gets us; someone who sees beyond the surface and lets us be just as difficult and awesome as we need to be. The common denominator of all these people is that they know the following things:

1. When we cancel on you, it is not because we don’t want to see you. It is literally not you, it’s me. Inside an introvert there is a constant battle between the side of us that loves socializing and the side that fears it more than death. There’s no knowing which side will win from one day to another. This leads to many cancellations and at least a week of anxiety and guilt over disappointing whoever we were supposed to see.

2. We work best alone. Introverts are usually, in my experience, overachievers. We work hard and are highly intelligent. But we excel when left to our own devices. Almost all of the introverts I have met have jobs where they are allowed to manage their own time and they get more done before noon on Monday than most people do all week.

When I am asked to work in a large team, most of my energy goes into handling the social situation and very little is left to put into the task at hand. I am the happiest when I get to close my door, start my project, and not talk to another human being before I am done.

3. We do not hate you. Many, many times I have heard it said that I am angry, distant, and that people think I dislike them. That is usually not the case. I just live in my own head — a lot. And when I decline an invitation it is not because I don’t like you. I just have a very small amount of social energy to be portioned out over the course of a week.

4. Don’t judge a person by their feed. Introverts excel in social media. There we are allowed to control the output and input. It’s being social while sitting alone at your desk, building relationships where we are allowed to blossom. But it’s important to remember that if you know an introvert on social media, you do not really know her.

5. Introverts are awesome. We are worth the effort. When we befriend someone (and here I mean a real-life, flesh-and-blood friendship), we are fiercely loyal and loving. We have few friends, mostly because there are so many layers to get through and so many hurdles to jump. Once you are there, however, we reward the effort. When we love, whether it is romantic love or friendship, it is for life. The same goes for introverts in the workforce. It takes a special employer to see and accommodate us. We don’t love common lunches or coffee breaks, but on the other hand we need very little hand-holding and thrive under the freedom we are given.

6. What you call a weekend event we call a living hell. Destination weddings, weekend conferences, and three-day sleepovers with friends: this may all sound like great fun to you, but to me it is like being trapped in The Shining. Most introverts have an on and an off-level. When we are on, we are superb; entertaining, charming, and sociable as few others. And even though we enjoy these interactions, they take massive amounts of energy. The perfect situation for an introvert is a three-hour party, knowing you get to go back home to hide and recharge afterwards. To switch off and be alone. A three-day event means being on, constantly bleeding social energy.

7. We will call you back. I sometimes go a week without answering the phone. I may be socially maxed-out, or I may be working on something, needing to economize my social energy. This does not mean I do not like you. I will just call you when I am ready to be on again. This is, by the way, how I knew how close my best friend and I were: the fact that we could be on the phone for hours, usually not saying much of any importance. I had found the one person I did not need to always be on with.

8. We are not sad. ‘Social’ does not equal ‘happy,’ people. I always get confused by the adverts showing large groups of people doing things to music. If someone wants to sell me a soda, they should show one person sitting alone in a room full of books, enjoying it in complete silence. I’m not depressed, I promise. Nor am I an anti-social weirdo destined for evil plots or letter-writing campaigns urging the government to allow single-person households to own more than 25 cats. I just really enjoy my own company. Happily so.

9. We fear your judgement. I can’t tell you how often I have wished I was like the others, the people who don’t need recharging or periods of silence; the people whose best friends aren’t books. I also kind of fear that I will never ever meet someone who will love not only the exuberant and social side of me, but also see — truly get and appreciate — the loner within.

10. We don’t want you to give up on us. I know that being friends with an introvert doesn’t sound all that tempting after this list. But believe me, it’s worth it. Don’t give up on us. What seems like rudeness — the cancellations, not picking up the phone, or acting aloof at the most inopportune time — it’s just how we are. And remember: the more of it you get to see, the closer we are to letting you in and the more we trust you. So don’t stop inviting us, don’t stop calling, don’t give up. Please?