Malmö mayor says unaware of level of attacks on Jews

Malmö mayor Ilmar Reepalu conceded that he has not been sufficiently well informed about the vulnerable situation faced by Jews after meeting with community leaders on Thursday.

Malmö mayor says unaware of level of attacks on Jews
Fred Kahn, Ilmar Reepalu, Fredrik Sieradzki

Reepalu, who has found himself at the heart of a controversy over comments apparently apportioning blame for an escalation of anti-Semitic harassment in Malmö on Jews themselves, met with community leaders Fred Kahn and Fredrik Sieradzki on Thursday afternoon.

“Serious words have been said. But we had a constructive discussion and could be straight with each other,” Fred Kahn said after the 90 minute meeting.

The trio agreed to pose for photos after their meeting.

But Reepalu continued to claim that his comments had been misrepresented by the media, and local newspaper Skånska Dagbladet was barred from attending a press conference at Malmö City Hall after Thursday’s meeting.

“I agree that the way some of my comments have been described in the media has been very unfortunate,” Ilmar Reepalu said regarding criticism from party leader Mona Sahlin.

The Local reported on Thursday that Social Democrat Party leader Mona Sahlin had instructed Reepalu to open a dialogue with the Jewish community.

Skånska Dagbladet has responded to its press conference snub and continued criticism from Reepalu by granting full public access to all material pertaining to their interview with the mayor.

It was in an interview with “Skånskan” that Reepalu first made a link between Zionism and anti-Semitism and stated that Malmö Jews should take a clear stand against Israeli policy in Gaza.

The newspaper has now published on its website the full tapes of its interview with Ilmar Reepalu, as well as all the texts published in its article series on threats and harassment faced by Malmö Jews, and the exchange of emails between the newspaper and the mayor’s office.

The newspaper writes that Reepalu was given the chance to view his comments and did not require that any part of the interview be removed or changed. He in fact added further comments, some of which were published in the newspaper’s articles.

Comments approved by the mayor include the argument that Jews in Malmö share the responsibility for how they are perceived:

“Imagine if the Jewish community in Malmö, in the same way as a large number of Israelis in Jerusalem, took a stand against the breaches of human rights which the state of Israeli subjected the civilian population in Gaza to. Imagine the effect it would have! Instead they hold a demonstration on Stortorget, which can send the wrong signals.”

When asked whether he had considered taking a public stand against anti-Semitism Reepalu appeared to equate the situation with Zionism.

“We accept neither Zionism nor anti-Semitism or other forms of ethnic discrimination,” Malmö’s mayor for the past 15 years said.

The southern Swedish newspaper also links to a Sveriges Radio interview with Reepalu as well as the text of an article detailing an interview with the Malmö mayor by the British Sunday Telegraph.

In the article Reepalu was quoted as saying:

“There haven’t been any attacks on Jewish people, and if Jews from the city want to move to Israel that is not a matter for Malmo.”

After yesterday’s meeting, Reepalu explained that he had hitherto been insufficiently informed about the vulnerable situation faced by Jews in Malmö. He has now been presented with facts from both the police and the community’s own security personnel. The mayor now states that he is ready to act, via the newly formed Dialogue Forum, to ease tension between the city’s plethora of ethnic groups.

“Hate crimes have to be taken seriously,” he said.

In a letter to all council departments, Reepalu urged vigilance for signs of anti-Semitism or racism.

“It is a question of confronting attitudes, often based on prejudice,” said Björn Lagerbäck at the dialogue forum.

Kahn and Sieradzki greeteded the initiative with cautious optimism.

“This is the start of a process. We shall see where it leads.”

The Local has made attempts to call Ilmar Reepalu on Friday but was told that the Mayor was unavailable.

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