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Hannah Rosenthal, Barack Obama's special envoy on anti-Semitism, speaks in Stockholm. Photo: Bertil Ericson/Scanpix.
US President Barack Obama's special envoy

Worry over anti-Semitism in Sweden

"The incidents in Malmö have been pretty dramatic"
3:53 min

Barack Obama's special envoy on anti-Semitism, Hanna Rosenthal, has been on a highly publicized four-day visit to Sweden. She planned to come to Sweden to honor Raoul Wallenberg, the Swede who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews during WWII. But instead the focus of her trip has been on her meeting with the mayor of Malmö, Ilmar Reepalu, who has been in hot water several times for what some describe as anti-Semitic statements.

“The incidents in Malmö have been pretty dramatic,” Rosenthal said, at a press conference in the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence in Stockholm. “The fact that some people have left because they feel unsafe, that there has been a need to provide extra security for Jewish institutions, speaks for itself.”

The southern city of Malmö has received world-wide attention both for the mayor's remarks and the rising number of anti-Semitic hate crimes that have been committed there over the past few years.

It took Hanna Rosenthal four days before she spoke to the press here. She said she wanted to be open minded and speak to as many people as possible before she drew any conclusions about what was happening in Sweden, and specifically in Malmö.

Back in 2010, both political opponents as well as the leader of his own party, the Social Democrats, criticized Ilmar Reepalu, the Malmö mayor, after he gave the impression that Jews who openly support Israel's policies would have to blame themselves for Anti-Semitic incidents conducted by members of the Muslim community.

Reepalu was quoted as saying that perhaps Jews in the city should take a clear stand against Israeli policy in the Middle East.

More recently, he said there were connections between the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats and the Jewish congregation in Malmö.

"The problem with what Ilmar Reepalu has said, and says, is that he judges Jews as a group and holds them collectively responsible, for example, for Israel's policies,” says Erik Ullenhag, Sweden’s Minister of Immigration. “Those types of statements are always very dangerous because they risk increasing intolerance."

It did not take long for Reepalu to respond, telling news agency TT in a written statement, that, "It's sad that Erik Ullenhag is spreading these falsehoods. I think it's completely unacceptable that Jews in Malmö should be harassed and be made responsible for what the state of Israel does in Gaza. I've repeated this time and time again”.

Hannah Rosenthal described her conversation with Reepalu as very "frank". At the press conference, she was asked whether she thought Reepalu was ignorant, as Ullenhag had charged. She responded by telling how she had asked the mayor about how he wanted to be remembered.

“Do you want your legacy to be that you used ignorant language and that there are people that view that with scorn?” she asked Reepalu.

Rosenthal said that in her time in Sweden, she was not persuaded that anti-Semitism was on the decline, but she said she felt that people were taking it seriously, so she was hopeful the situation would improve.

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