There are 11 people around the table in the small south-side apartment. It’s warm and loud and smells of fragrant kubbeh. Somewhere in the other room, a child has discovered the magic of her own feet. It is home to us, to so many of us, the place that we go after Shabbat services and the radically un-Swedish interior stands in stark contrast to the opaque calm that dominates outside. Most Swedes would never see these scenes or know these people that I call family but we belong here just as they do, we play a role in the larger society and in some sense save it from itself, our antiquated ways and deeply rooted rituals balancing out the modernity and ennui of contemporary life.
I have spent the better part of five years trying to make the case for our survival, speaking of and writing about the life of European Jews. At first I got little more than a courteous nod, and now, after terror and totalitarianism has reared its many heads, the response to our plight is an immediate call to leave and stay gone forever. Perhaps I have failed to capture what it is I’m fighting for in a clear and snappy sentence and perhaps that is why the right to remain is not perceived as a human right for us Jews, once the right to return has given and defined. Or perhaps it is one of those things that cannot be captured in words but rather needs to be felt through experiences, and those are unavailable to many and of too little interest to most. So we are locked into an either-or, where we are somehow expected to stay and assimilate or, if our Jewishness persists, leave for Israel and be happy with our lot.
But there is more. There is this. Us. The 11 people at this table, hearing the kiddush, singing and eating and praying together, and we have every right to be here if that is what we choose to do, being a integral part of a society that is nothing like us. The debate has been focused on the negative, the pain and the plight, and I, too, have been guilty of trying to achieve understanding by telling the worst scenario and citing statistics of crimes, horror and hate. Those things matter, but I may have come further if I had told the stories that matter even more.
Later that same day, I go to my friend Isidor’s house to attend his wife’s yahrzeit and to lend a helping hand. An hour later, there’s a prayer service in his living room, praying in one ancient voice, and I stand to the side just watching the scene and wishing I could capture what it is to me and why this deserves to be preserved.
European Jewish life is its own thing, our very own strain of Yiddishkeit with a tapestry of memories and meaning that we only share between ourselves. We walk the line between soul and society, purpose and practice, and the way we do this is a testament to the strength of who and what we are.
Isidor is telling jokes in Yiddish and though mine is quite rusty, I can tell that he works blue. We are eating gefilte fish from his grandmother’s recipe and drinking l’chaims made on traditional Swedish spices and nothing could more exquisitely describe the gorgeous complexity of our Swedish-Jewish lives. There are five countries and backgrounds represented at this table and so many untold stories folded and hidden beneath our mother tongue. We are not facts on the ground or mere statistics but people with pasts and futures that we should be allowed to master on our own.
I wish you could have been there, I really, really do. I wish all those who tell us to leave or who minimize the loss of freedom in our lives could have experienced the beauty of our joy and of our struggle. The right of return can never replace the right to remain, and both should hold a place in the Jewish psyche on the list of priorities of anyone who cares about our people’s fate.
The men who came to pray and to honor Isidor’s wife took time out of their lives to tend to not only him, but to our rituals, and that is why we are family and why we will remain. We show up for each other, be it in synagogues or crowded apartments or a memorial prayer service for a loved one or a brother we don’t know. We show up for each other because we all know this life and we all walk this line, as European Jews in a time and a place that urges us to be either extinct or irrelevant.
But we won’t be, not just yet, not as long as there is life and breath within us. We show up for one another, and I expect the world to show up for us, fighting for our right to Jewish life and not merely Jewish survival.
This article was first published in Israel Hayom
In September, I met with Ami Horowitz for an interview about Sweden and immigration, for a documentary he was making on the topic. Horowitz had heard of the work I had done on the issue, such as my reports in the Washington Examiner on the recent mass sexual attacks at music festivals in Sweden that the media and police covered up, as well as my essays on Sweden’s growing problem of jihadi tourism.
Horowitz and I met up in a sleepy Swedish town and spoke for almost half an hour, of which four minutes ended up in the final cut of his documentary, Stockholm Syndrome. The film also includes an interview with two Swedish policemen and the director’s own running commentary. The documentary received some attention at the time it was released, but not much more than the occasional link appearing in my newsfeed. But — as we now know — that has since changed.
President Trump mentioned Sweden in a speech in Florida on February 18. I first learned about it from my father, who called me early the next morning to ask whether I was perhaps involved in an international incident. As soon as I went on Twitter and saw the outrage, I started to connect the dots. After sifting through the many angry tweets, I could conclude that not only had the international media severely misconstrued what Donald Trump had said about Sweden but also that the newly elected president had put his finger on exactly what ails Sweden as well as the entire European continent. For the past week, I have been under tremendous pressure to rescind my statements and to swear off not only Amy Horowitz but also the entire premise that Sweden has problems relating to its immigration policies. Trump’s statement, however confusing, highlighted the most taboo topic in Swedish society and the well-oiled apparatus that does its utmost to keep it under wraps. And now that the world has its collective eye fixed on our country, the Swedish establishment is fighting hard to convey the party line.
Part of the reason for the outrage is that Sweden has a long-standing, complicated, love-hate relationship with the United States, defined by an equal mix of envy and distain — the U.S. being both that place we are better than and the country we secretly long to be. Sweden’s self-image is that of a country with solid liberal values, institutionalized equality, and social justice. Having an American president question that is a direct affront to the one thing we had going for us: our carefully cultivated sense of moral and intellectual superiority. The solution to this conundrum is to belittle and mock President Trump, making him seem ignorant and racist, poking fun at his statements through a barrage of colorful memes. But what all of these methods fail to address is the underlying issue and the truth at the heart of the president’s words.
As Swedish-Iranian economist Tino Sanandaji observed at NRO last week, we see a remarkable lack of statistics showing a correlation between immigration and crime in Sweden — not because there is no such correlation, but because there are no statistics. There are no statistics because the government has consistently chosen not to release them or bring the issue to light. This secrecy has sparked the rise of a populist right in Sweden, and it has also failed the most vulnerable — the immigrants subjected to extremism and crime in urban neighborhoods where the pundits and politicians never go — sacrificing them on the altar of political correctness. Because the truth is that Donald Trump was right to compare the Swedish crisis to that of the rest of Europe, and the reactions to his words were out of panic rather than persuasion. Something has come undone in Sweden, and that is the fault not of an American president but of the failed policies of the political establishment, going on 25 years. The results of these policies are now visible in individual lives and on city streets, and we see them clearly in ballots. The far-right party Sverigedemokraterna (The Sweden Democrats) has tripled in popularity in three elections and is now the second-largest party in the country. Most of the votes it has gained have migrated from the Social Democrats, the working-class party, suggesting that the political climate in Sweden is far less removed from its American counterpart than the Swedish political and intellectual establishment would have us believe.
The truth is that Donald Trump was right to compare the Swedish crisis to that of the rest of Europe, and the reactions to his words were out of panic rather than persuasion.
While Sweden is not, as hyperbolic far-right sites claim, the “rape capitol of the world,” it is suffering from a serious social and economic crisis that is related to the influx of immigrants. It’s not anti-immigrant to debate this and to criticize the policies that led to this crisis; it’s a defense of classic liberal values at a time when they are under attack. In 2015 and 2016, Sweden took in 150,000 immigrants from countries whose populations have views on women, sexuality, equality, and the separation of church and state that are starkly different from the views that Swedish society claims to protect and uphold. There is an inevitable clash of values, and the refusal to acknowledge that clash is only intensifying it, victimizing those who are least likely to have their voices heard. We now find ourselves with societies within the society, policed by gangs and plagued by violence; we see honor killings on the rise, sexual assaults being covered up by the police and the media, and public bathhouses gender-segregated to accommodate religious fervor. These are issues that deserve to be brought to light, and refusing to do so does nothing but spread the darkness.
In the week since Trump’s infamous Sweden-gate, I have reflected on the irony of the Swedish media’s criticizing him for silencing certain media outlets — after all, conservative voices in Sweden have been consistently silenced for as long as I can remember. And rather than face the evident problems caused by systemic political mismanagement in Sweden, the establishment is using President Trump as a bogey man; he is a welcome diversion from the failure of its own ideological paradigm. Swedish pundits and politicians are now describing a war between two images of Sweden, but that very thesis perfectly encapsulates the core of the problem. Sweden is not the dystopian hell shown in Horowitz’s documentary, but it is also not the perfect liberal society touted by people furiously defending Swedish honor from Trumpian insults.
A country with two such competing images of itself is in danger of becoming exactly what it condemns in others: a propaganda machine in defense of a false narrative. Since the beginning of the immigration crisis, Sweden has cut 950 million U.S. dollars from its foreign aid to allocate to immigration services, and much more will have to be cut from other welfare programs to deal with a projected massive influx of refugees. No available studies show the current immigration as anything but a net loss for the country. The idea that immigration is noble has become a truth in Sweden and in much of Europe, and any critique against it is interpreted as racism. In this climate, we close our eyes to real solutions, such as devoting resources (military or financial or both) to aid individuals where they are. Western nations are now, at great expense, creating a problem within their own borders — to fulfill some sort of idea of themselves as being “good” countries — rather than doing actual good elsewhere.
Europe is not dealing with the reason for the immigration crisis but is only delaying its solution indefinitely. On November 12, 2015, the Swedish government announced that it would reinstate border control for the first time since joining the Schengen Agreement in 1996, a treaty that led to the creation of Schengen Area in Europe in which internal border checks have largely been abolished. In restoring border control, Sweden cited “threats to inner order and security.”
This action, while sudden and drastic, does not change the right to seek asylum, nor is it guaranteed to stop or even lessen the influx or relieve the acute costs of settling refugees. If we go by the current estimates, Sweden in two years will spend on immigration alone the equivalent of two annual defense budgets or the entire cost of unemployment benefits. There are no signs that the number of immigrants will diminish, and there is no plan to cut federal costs or raise taxes to pay for this.
Our country is currently operating at a loss, both economically and socially, and the biggest losers are those farthest from the halls of power and the newsrooms that laud this failure as a success. That is why I stand by my statements in Ami Horowitz’s documentary and why I give President Trump credit for putting his finger on the issue we’ve been avoiding for far too long. The Swedish debate on immigration is so contentious that even relaying statistics can lead to one’s being branded a bigot, which might be why journalists and politicians often insist that immigration is good for the country, creating jobs and paying for itself in the long run. When the reality of people’s daily life fails to comport with the picture painted by reporters and lawmakers, it creates a disconnect between the people and the powerful, and it stokes anger among voters. The ongoing crisis is changing the political landscape, intensifying social tensions and causing a rise in crime — eerily reminiscent of days past. The inability to address the root cause of the problem or even to utter its name is pushing Sweden toward disaster, full steam ahead.
After World War II, Europe rejected borders and decided on a brave new world, based on an idea. What European leaders failed to understand, though, is that no matter how much they wished that the divisions had forever died in the war, the divisions still mattered. What we are now witnessing is a continent scrambling to rebuild something it long ago deemed obsolete. Trump won, at least in part, because he recognized that a nation has a right to control its borders. Europe is losing its soul as a result of its denial, giving up on a liberalism that has been its essence since the Enlightenment.
The immigration crisis highlights the grave problems in Sweden’s and Europe’s immigration policies, problems that may very well cause the eventual dissolution of the EU.
The European peace project has ended up exacerbating the refugee crisis while abandoning the Syrian people on the ground, the Kurds in the hills, and the children dying to reach a European dream — a dream that never really existed beyond the pages of a post-war manifesto.
This article was first published in National Review
“Jewish dignity and honor must be protected in all circumstances. The seeds of Jewish destruction lie in passively enabling the enemy to humiliate us. Only when the enemy succeeds in turning the spirit of the Jew into dust and ashes in life, can he turn the Jew into dust and ashes in death.” – Menachem Begin
As I dropped off my 6-year-old son at school the other day, I was called aside by his teacher. Apparently there had been an “incident”, as she put it, when my son had refused to participate in the annual Saint Lucia celebration; him saying that “we don’t do stuff like that in my family”. He had, after some negotiation, agreed to sit in the room with his peers as long as he could wear his blazer, his nice shirt, and his new tie and did not have to dress up in Christmas gear like the other kids.
Hearing this, I was proud and amazed at the ease with which my son had affirmed his identity. At 6, he knows who he is and who he is not — and he was willing to stand up to authority in order to stay true to that conviction.
We are approaching Hanukkah. At this time last year, I took some unorthodox action, attempting to change the status quo. I filed for asylum in my own country, citing religious persecution, in order to fight the growing anti-Semitism and demand action from my government. No such action came, nor did it garner any significant reaction from the Jewish community itself.
In the past 12 months, Europe has seen not a mere rise in anti-Semitism, but an explosion in overt hatred: murders in Belgium and France; riots, torched synagogues, and defaced Holocaust memorial sites; and all this alongside a dramatic spike in hate crimes all over the continent. Jews are once again being denied entrance to restaurants, service in stores, and treatment in hospitals. They are even losing their livelihoods for no other reason than that they are Jews.
My asylum case coincided not only with Hanukkah, but also with the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943. As I ended up reading both narratives simultaneously I saw one clue to our demise running through these stories of rebellion.
The Germans had planned to destroy the Warsaw ghetto in three days, but the Jewish resistance held out for more than a month. Even after the end of the uprising on May 16, 1943, individual Jews hid out in the ruins of the ghetto and continued attacking Nazi soldiers as they patrolled the area. More than 56,000 Jews from the Warsaw ghetto were ultimately killed, but that symbolic uprising inspired others from Bialystok to Treblinka and created hope among the dying in German-occupied Europe.
The Jewish resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto was fought for and through Jewish dignity. The fought even when they knew they were outnumbered, because they understood that, while the Nazis would ultimately kill them, they still had the choice not to enable their enemy to humiliate them. Perhaps most importantly — unlike the Jews of today — they chose to do so without the backdrop of the Holocaust.
We know what happened. We have already been to the gates of hell. Yet there is no Jewish resistance to the pogroms of our time. Perhaps the reason why lies within that statement itself.
Jewish life in Europe after the Holocaust is often described as a rebirth, but with that the Shoah became our ground zero and our main point of reference as a people, creating a litmus test that deems everything short of death camps as acceptable. If we say that we were reborn, then we accept that what came before was a death and not one of history’s most stunning acts of survival. By the focus on Holocaust remembrance we have engaged in a dangerous forgetfulness that includes most of our history and all of our greatness.
There is no lack of death and destruction in Jewish history, but these are now hailed as examples of Jewish survival. We gather around the table to tell stories of how they tried to kill us, and how we lived; tales of slavery and triumphant freedom. In the case of the Holocaust, the Jews of Europe remember only death, and the days of remembrance focus not on the freedom we took but the freedom we were given. For 70 years we have been uttering the words ‘never again’ as if it was an all-encompassing incantation. While using the Holocaust as the sole comparison, the new and evolved forms of anti-Semitism have been flying well beneath the radar.
Forty men and women from the Treblinka rebellion survived the war, hiding in the woods after fighting the SS guards while on the brink of death. Seventeen Nazi soldiers were killed by the Jewish resistance in the Warsaw ghetto. During the Auschwitz Sonderkommando revolt in 1944 the prisoners managed to kill 77 Nazis after blowing up a crematorium and attacking the soldiers with makeshift weapons.
These are a few of many stories of Jewish dignity and amazing survival during the Holocaust. These are stories to be told around a table with our children, and they should be told as part of a long history of trials and triumph.
Redefining our relationship to the Shoah is not forgetting, nor is it forgiving. It’s merely choosing not to be defined by the evils of others, but by the strength of ourselves. If we choose to tell stories of our heroes instead of the stories of our captors it does not lessen their responsibility, but it frees us from the legacy they tried to bestow upon us and helps connect us to our own.
It’s a known fact that victims of violence and trauma often stay in that day they were hurt, recreating the moment and thus becoming revictimized over and over again. I fear that the Jews of Europe are in this state of arrested development, unable to mount a resistance to persecution as they are so focused on death that everything resembling survival passes as life.
In a few days, my sons will help me light that first candle and we will remember those who fought for our right to be who we are. We will honor the losses but revel in the victories that were, as we prepare for those to come.
I believe that, while we may not have a future in Europe, we do have a say in our demise. By releasing the bonds of the Shoah, rising up and not enabling further humiliation, we can leave not as clouds or ashes but as doves. If the heroes of Warsaw, Czestochowa, and Treblinka taught us anything, it’s that there is value in fighting even a losing battle — and that Jewish dignity and honor will still matter long after we are gone.
On December 14th, Sweden’s largest daily newspaper published an interview with Bjorn Soder, vice speaker of the Parliament and member of the Swedish Democrat Party. Maybe some of you have heard of it, or at least seen the international headlines that said “Speaker of Swedish Parliament says Jews have to abandon their faith in order to be Swedish?” or perhaps the more popular “Jews not Swedish, according to Swedish politician”
Well, let’s just take a step back and look at what Mr. Soder actually said:
There are examples of people that belong to the Sami or Jewish Nation living in Sweden. I believe that most people with Jewish heritage that become Swedish leave their Jewish identity. But if they don’t it does not have to be a problem. One has to make a distinction between peoplehood and citizenship; they can still be Swedish citizens and live in Sweden. The Sami and The Jews have lived in Sweden for a very long time.
So what Mr. Soder is saying in this statement and throughout the interview is that he does not believe that one can be both a Jew and a part of the Swedish nation, but one can be a citizen and enjoy all the benefits and responsibilities of any other citizen. That distinction — and an important distinction it is — seems to have been lost on the frantic readers.
Within hours after this article was published, the avalanche of criticism came rolling down the medial mountain, and Jews and non-Jews alike were calling racism on the top of their lungs.
I read the article over and over again but was unable to find the source of this national upheaval. Instead I found that Bjorn Soder was saying pretty much exactly what I have always said, albeit with some eloquence left to be desired.You see, I am not Swedish. I’m Jewish. I am a part of the Jewish people who happens to be a citizen of Sweden. I pay my taxes and I follow the laws, but that does not make me Swedish. Nor do I have any desire to ever claim that title. Instead I value and protect my Jewish identity and it is with pride that I affirm that through action, faith and tradition.
So why the upheaval?
Bjorn Soder is saying that the Jews are a people, not merely a religion, and that there are commonalities such as language, history, loyalty, and culture that bond us together and set us aside. In his interview, Soder is using terms such as ‘peoplehood’, ‘nation-state’, and ‘national identity’ — and this touches a nerve in post-Holocaust Europe. World War II changed not only the Jewish but also the entire European narrative, and for the past 70 years religion, nation-states, and national identity have been deemed the culprit and the key to the dark European history that had brought on unparalleled suffering. The old was replaced with the new; a cultural relativism where no tradition, belief, or state should stake a claim on any moral high ground but all ideas and cultures are equally unimportant compared to the globalist, multicultural ideal.
Post-war Europe sees identity, religion and tradition as bad, and assimilation as good. In this John Lennon-esque ideal we are all different yet we all the same, like snowflakes that may be unique close-up but indistinguishable for all intents and purposes.
Right after the interview with Mr. Soder was published, the Jews of Sweden were fighting for the right to be identified as Swedish, and when doing so they quite happily aligned with politicians and intellectuals who were quick to score points in this much-publicized debate. The Left party and the Social Democrats, known for their ties to Hamas and Fatah, were suddenly the Jew’s best friends. We Jews, however, were, as always, our own worst enemies. Instead of fighting to be Swedish, we should fight for our rights to be Jews in Sweden, enjoying minority rights and protected minority status. Instead we fight for the right to be assimilated, joining any dodgy alliance that is willing to give us the time of day.
This is not a puff-piece for Bjorn Soder, nor is it an excuse for the ban on both circumcision and the import of kosher meat proposed by the party he represents. Instead it is an attempt to lift the debate above the comfortable knee-jerk reactions caused by post-war trauma and to realize that there are more than two choices in the oh-so-popular identity game.
My grandmother always told me that he who stands for nothing falls for everything, and I believe that by saying that I have no desire to be like you I am giving you the freedom to be who you are. I stand for me, thus I stand by you. Not by being the same, but by being an equal. If that is a distinction we as a country do not grasp, our problems are much bigger than one man’s words or a viral interview.
Bjorn Soder was attacked for a principle that readers lacked the political will or intellectual integrity to fully understand. Thus was the opportunity to debate him on policy lost in a sea of opportunism and hyperbole.
I agree with Mr. Soder on the principles of peoplehood and the nation-state, yet I disagree with him on much of his politics. We should be capable of holding those two thoughts in our heads simultaneously, shouldn’t we? Just like we should be able to be Jews in Sweden without being Swedish or live in one land while calling another our home.
I have a Swedish address and a Jewish identity. My home is Israel and my passport says Sweden. This should not scare anyone, but instead affirm the values we share as we revel in our differences. The more firmly I stand for me, the closer I can stand by you. Not like you, but for you, as an equal.
It really isn’t that hard.
This article was first published on Ricochet
In 1981, the very year I was born, a whisky-class Soviet submarine ran aground in restricted waters near a Swedish naval base on the Baltic Coast. This event was dubbed “Whisky on the Rocks”, and was one of many known Soviet intrusions on Swedish territory during the Cold War. It was later made public through reports published after the fall of the Soviet Union – 50-odd Soviet operations had taken place in our waters after the end of World War II. Once the submarine was found, the Soviets apologized for what they called “an honest mistake.” While the explanation was accepted as an official matter, we everyday Swedes went back to warily watching our powerful neighbor flex its muscles in apparent provocation.
As the wall came down along with the Soviet Union, Swedish authorities exhaled and saw an opportunity to drastically cut military spending: scrapping compulsory military service, halting ongoing defense programs, and slashing billions off the defense budget, all while claiming that the threat had been removed and the money would be better spent elsewhere. Military personnel went public, blowing the whistle on what they saw as an historic mistake, but politicians took no heed. Or most of them, I should say. In 2007, continued cuts lead to the resignation of Defense Minister Mikael Odenberg of the Conservative Party, who said “I have to be able to look myself in the mirror and defend these cuts to our military personnel. I cannot, and therefore I must resign”.
Roughly 10 days ago I was, along with the rest of Sweden, thrown back 30 years in time. A foreign submarine was spotted in Swedish waters and, within days, the Swedish Navy was said to have had three more sightings. Along with those incidents, various media outlets reported that radio transmissions in Russian had been detected a day before the first sighting and that a distress call from a Russian submarine had been intercepted by Swedish counterintelligence. With that, the search for what was referred to as “foreign underwater activity” was on in full-scale.
At first, I made several jokes on social media about the whole operation. The reports were just too comical: The King had been informed (I dare anyone not to make a meme out of that one) that there were frogmen running lose in the archipelago; the reporters stood on rubber dinghys talking about “mysterious foam.” But then, a few days in, I watched the live broadcast of the military briefing on the operation, and everything suddenly felt way too real.
The military was calling the sightings “extremely reliable” and saying that there was more to be done in order to find these submarines — but saying that they lacked necessary equipment, and were doing all they could with what they had. I — probably like most of my fellow countrymen — was asking myself: What do we do when we find them? With what do we defend ourselves if they attack? For 30 years we have cut more and more out of an already small pie and we are basically left with a white flag and a ’90s answering machine saying “We give up” in four different languages. Russia is in our backyard, in our waters, and what have they come for? Why are they here?
A few days ago, the search for the underwater vessel was called off after an unsuccessful weeklong operation. The military released a statement saying that it was “probable” that Russian submarines had invaded our waters, and that this was unacceptable, but that the search for the submarines in question was now being halted. Again, we were all having ’80s flashbacks; yet another Russian intrusion, yet another failed hunt for Red October.
Sweden is famously (or rather infamously) neutral. The world around us is not, however, and failure to accept that simple fact has left us with a bewildered rock and stick army forced to “do the best they can with what they have.” In a world where Russia has violated Swedish and Finnish airspace, invaded Crimea, and walked all over Estonian sovereignty — all in just a little over a year — that just isn’t good enough. But while deconstructing an army takes little more than a vote, rebuilding it takes generations.
The Kremlin, of course, denied having anything to do with this incident and released a statement saying it was probably the Dutch. As if they aren’t really trying to lie convincingly; as if they know that Sweden is theirs for the taking, a rubber ducky sitting in the fjord.
We enter parliament in order to supply ourselves, in the arsenal of democracy, with its own weapons. If democracy is so stupid as to give us free tickets and salaries for this bear’s work, that is its affair. We do not come as friends, nor even as neutrals. We come as enemies. As the wolf bursts into the flock, so we come. — Joseph Goebbels, on Democracy
A few weeks ago, my country of Sweden got a new government. Or, it’s not so much a new government, but a return to a past I had hoped was long forgotten. Chances are most outsiders wouldn’t have heard of this electoral upheaval, had it not been for one of the new government’s first forays into foreign policy: recognizing the state of Palestine, making it the first major European country to do so. But for those of familiar with Sweden’s the political landscape, this has been a long time coming.
The Social Democrats are a party with a long pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli tradition and a seemingly never-ending flexibility toward anti-Semitic attitudes within the flock; from former Prime Minister Olof Palme’s close friendship with Yasser Arafat and his comparisons between Nazi Germany and Israel, to the infamous anti-Zionist policies of Malmö mayor Ilmar Reepalu. More recently, the popular politician Adrian Kaba publicly claimed that Mossad trained ISIS to kill Muslims and that the Islamic State is a pawn in a Jewish-European right-wing conspiracy.
One might think that such outlandish statements would cause national outrage, but they don’t. One might also draw the conclusion that spreading anti-Semitic myths might lead to Adrian Kaba leaving the Social Democratic party in disgrace, but one would by sadly mistaken. Instead, Kaba is heading up the Malmö Taskforce Against Anti-Semitism and Islamofobia. No, that’s not a typo; that’s the political environment of the country I live in.
As a proud, public, and outspoken Swedish Jew, I am often asked if I worry about getting attacked on the street for wearing my Star of David, or having my home vandalized for flying a large Israeli flag. My answer is always the same: as much as I fear violent anti-Semitic individuals, it doesn’t compare to how much I fear the systemic anti-Semitism eating its way into our political system.
The Swedish decision to recognize the State of Palestine may seem like a thoughtless stunt from a small country, but it speaks to a larger trend with grave consequences for us all. As the anti-Semitism of yesterday dresses up as the anti-Zionism of tomorrow, the latter gains political momentum to do what the former never could. The coalition of the Social Democrats, the Left, and the Environmental Party was elected not in spite of these policies, but because of them. They are not attempting a coup; they are fulfilling a promise.
One of the newly appointed ministers in the new coalition government is Mehmet Kaplan of the Environmental Party (MP). Mr. Kaplan is no longer allowed entry into Israel after his active and repeated involvement in Ship to Gaza. He has compared Swedish Muslims going overseas to fight global jihad with Swedish freedom fighters during the Finnish Winter War and he is often a prominent speaker at anti-Israel rallies across the country. During one of these rallies Mehmet Kaplan said his dream was to one day see Jerusalem “liberated,” without caring to specify whom the capitol of Israel needed to be liberated from. This former head of the Swedish Muslim council and current member of the Free Gaza movement has now been appointed the Swedish Minister of housing and development, making him one of the most powerful people in our land.
This is what keeps me up at night. If I get attacked for wearing my Magen David, I turn to the police who can correct the wrong that was done to me. But what to I do when my attacker is appointed to one of the highest offices in the land? Who will protect me when I am no longer considered the victim, but the criminal?
In 1933, they cast their votes for death and ruin, but they did so claiming ignorance of what was yet to come. Those who are now putting hatred in power all over Europe do so to the backdrop of the Holocaust; as the last witnesses draw breath, history is allowed to repeat itself by ballot and popular vote.
However expected, this latest turn in Swedish foreign policy is chilling in all its calm deliberation. Because this is how it starts and how it ends. Not by committing illegal acts toward us, but by making us illegal, and by going after the home we flee to once we have no place left to go.
In 2014, they cast their votes for hate and ruin. And as the wolf bursts into the flock, so they have come.
This article was first published on Ricochet
It’s election night in Sweden and, according to the latest polls, my country has chosen a future of sorrows past.
But before I get into all that, I should offer up some background for those of you not currently glued to the Swedish state-TV:
For the past eight years, Sweden has had a center-right government after almost uninterrupted Socialist rule. Four parties have governed together, forming the conservative coalition “The Alliance”: The Moderates (headed up by Prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt), the Christian Democrats, the Liberal Party and the Center-Party. Much has happened In those eight years, and even though the conservative coalition came into power during the worst recession since the 30s, Sweden can now boast a GDP growth of 12.6%, a rise in disposable incomes of 20%, and the title of Europe’s most successful economy. This has happened after huge changes made to the public sector, cutting public spending from its previous level of 68% to about 50%, and making private options available in health care and education. Taxes have been cut in most areas and in some instances — such as inheritance- wealth- and property tax — they have been removed entirely. The most radical change has perhaps been the social security system, where bigger demands have been put on those out of work in order to receive their checks at the end of the month. After having been world leaders in disability pensioners and unemployed people being put in early retirement, the new conservative coalition changed the system to put those people back in the workforce, something that created outrage among a people used to generous benefits with little to no demands for performance.
Perhaps that is one of the reasons to why I am now watching my country choose to go back to Socialist rule. According to the latest polls, the Social Democrats will win this election, along with the environmental party and the leftist party (former communist party), and the former union boss Stefan Löfven will become Sweden’s new Prime Minister.
These three parties, calling themselves the Red-Green coalition, have run on a platform of no profits in education or health care, higher taxes, and added benefits. Basically, they want to overturn the harm that they perceive to have been done over the past eight years.
They will not be able to rule in the majority though. The biggest winner in this election will most certainly be The Swedish Democrats, the far-right party running on a platform of limited immigration. From 4,7% in the previous election, they will now reach double digits, thus giving them the balance of power in parliament. This should surprise no one, but seems to fill the entire political establishment with moral outrage. Sweden has set a record in immigration over the past 10 years, and the growing issues with Jihadi tourism, segregation, crime and a Muslim population nearing 10% have been the elephant in the room during this election cycle. The political establishment refuses to touch this issue, most likely out of fear of both losing a big chunk of voters and being labeled racist, a common occurrence in Swedish political debate. This silence has benefited the Swedish Democrat Party, and come Monday they will be the 3rd largest political party in Sweden.
One of the parties thought to enter parliament for the very first time is Fi, Feminist initiative, focusing mainly on issues pertaining to gender equality. They have strong opinions, but when it comes to fact-checking and foresight they seem to be coming up short; an independent researcher showed that if the Feminist Party gets all their ideas through, taxes would have to be raised by several hundred percent. However, their unorthodox ideas on military defense in times of great European uncertainty may be one of the ways they intend to save money. Feminist Initiative wants to scrap Swedish defense entirely because it says the military perpetuates violence and the idea that men are agents of aggression (which it says leads to more domestic violence). They also want “reeducation” for men that work within government media to make sure that they become aware of how they fit into the patriarchal system and how they can become more sensitive to the female plight.
Feminist Initiative, along with the leftist party, is the preferred party for the intellectual elite and they are both projected to have their must successful election ever. This may be indicative of the extremist trend we saw proof of in the elections to the European Parliament this May, where far left and far right claimed victory over the center-right establishment; but perhaps it also speaks to an ideology so engrained in the Swedish psyche that it always finds its way back to the ballot.
After casting my vote a few hours ago, I walked back home through a crispy city dressed for fall, and the anger I had previously felt turned into a somber sadness. Much like the Israelites, the people of Sweden stood at the Red Sea, fearful of freedom. But, unlike the Israelites, they are choosing to be slaves in Egypt rather than risk a treacherous trek. As Swedes we always have the option not to grow up, to be dependent from the cradle to the grave, as creativity is legislated out and everyone stays safely mediocre. We were shown an option, freedom was at our fingertips, but, according to the polls, freedom was an unwelcome visitor in this culture of consensus.
In four hours I will know what I already feel sure of: tomorrow I will wake up to a new country outside my window. Or no, that’s not quite true. It’s the country I grew up in, a country I prayed I would never see again.
This is not a political piece.
Not really. It’s more like a whole bunch of memories, strung together, and a plea for change from the change I see sweeping the nation I love.
I am a Swedish neocon, and a Jew, so I guess I am basically a unicorn. I was born and raised in a sleepy west coast town in the early 1980s, in a country an inch from being a full-blown DDR-state. I should be a socialist feminist performance artist, or a hipster filmmaker, passionate about gender-neutral daycare and sourdough bread. But I got lucky, and I broke away from the herd.
I first stepped on U.S. soil in the spring of 1990. My father had spent his high school years in Texas in the early ’60s, and now he wanted his daughter to see what he had seen and love what he loved. And boy, did I ever. I was 9.
I’m not sure if I can fully convey the cultural shock of going from 1990s Sweden to Dallas, Texas, or if it is even wise to try. Because how can I describe what it is to taste your very first doughnut or go to Toys R Us and see row after row of wonderfully girly Barbie-dolls?
I came from the country of meh to the nation of yeah. And it was nothing short of magnificent.
I was lucky enough to spend my summers there, in the heart of Texas, and with every visit I gained a growing awareness of the differences between your country and mine. America was loud. It was uncomfortable and alive. People were different, not only from Swedes, but from each other.
It was the small stuff. There were flags flown publicly, showing national pride while maintaining a strong sense of individuality. People prayed at the dinner table, and even in schools! Women were allowed to choose to be home with their kids without guilt or government penalty, and people still got married and protected the institution of the traditional family.
In America I saw all these astounding, giant, little things; and an amazing mix of rallying behind your country, while at the same time demanding its leaders to be accountable, for your rights to be respected and your voices to be heard.
I lived with my dad’s childhood friend, Jay, an old-school republican with a passion for history and politics. On my first visit he gave me a copy of the declaration of independence, patiently explaining it, word for word. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; those words jumped out at me. Not only did this document say that I should be free to chart my own course, but that happiness was a right, and a goal? That changed everything. That changed me.
Jay and I talked politics all the time, and every visit was a living lesson. He took me to the Alamo, we followed the Clinton impeachment, debated the Gulf War and stood side by side on Dealey Plaza. And I fell in love, slowly but surely. I got to know and fall in love with a nation based on certain intrinsic values, carrying a responsibility for the world, seeing freedom as a right worth living and dying for.
I went back and forth between Sweden and the U.S., between socialism and freedom, and it was like growing up not only on two sides of the world, but on two sides of history. I saw America helping change the world and saving lives while Europe engaged in knee-jerk liberal analysis and Monday-morning quarterbacking, And every time the U.S. unapologetically went its own way I smiled with pride, sleeping soundly at night knowing that just like in my bedtime stories, there was a hero out there who would always show up just in time to save the day.
But things have changed, haven’t they? In the past years I have seen the country I love so much change, moving toward the country I grew up in. I saw a President get elected on change, and apparently things had changed enough by 2012 to hand him a re-election. Well, guess what? I know the change that your president speaks of. I have lived it, and I live it still.
I know what happens when government trumps the individual, I know what it is when you apologize for the values that built your land and I have seen the horrific results of a nation equating exceptionalism with brutality and deeming values moronic and obsolete. I know one thing for sure: If you grow up in a country that doesn’t ask anything of you, you end up living an entire life without asking anything of yourself. Expecting nothing, excelling at nothing, with no repercussions for failure and no incentive for growth. And it kills your very soul.
I know, however, that there is a way back and a road forward, partially thanks to Ricochet, actually. I joined this community just a few weeks ago, after listening to the podcasts and following the posts for quite some time. Here, I see the America I fell in love with. As I sit in my kitchen here in Stockholm I giggle with delight at the living, breathing conservatism and riveting debate you all let me take part of from afar (also, I do so enjoy the occasional joke about Swedish socialists and depressing Bergman-movies).
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; I hope every single one of you get how amazing that is, in word and in meaning. To me, it captures what it is to be human, by highlighting not only our need for freedom and our right to life, but the massive capability every single person is born with. This is something no government entity can ever replace, and no well-spoken leader should ever be given the power or pulpit to question.
You are exceptional, and coming to America taught me that I could be exceptional, too.
Thank you for that. Thank you.