Malmö mayor Ilmar Reepalu has been nominated on the 25 person short-list for the international title of World Mayor 2010.
But Reepalu’s nomination has been roundly criticised by Los Angeles-based Jewish organization the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.
The centre argued that Reepalu should be ruled out of contention “due to what he has said and done to the Jews of Malmö” in an open letter signed by Shimon Samuels, the centre’s director for international relations, to the City Mayors and World Mayor coordinator, Tann vom Hove.
Samuels argues that Reepalu’s nomination contradicts the qualities highlighted by the award “to foster good relations between communities from different cultural, racial and social backgrounds”.
Samuels then goes on to cite Reepalu’s comments in response to a series of articles on Malmö’s Jews in the Skånska Dagbladet daily in the spring.
“When interviewed, Mayor Reepalu blamed the situation on the Jews themselves as the community did not ‘distance itself from Israel’,” wrote Samuels.
The letter from the centre also refers to interviews given by Ilmar Reepalu with the UK Sunday Telegraph in which he appeared to deny that Jews had been subjected to attacks and harassment, and referred to further comments wherein Reepalu proceeded to question if he was the victim of an “Israel lobby” smear campaign.
The Centre argued that “a Mayor who fails to stand up for all his citizens cannot be a role model and what Reepalu has said and done against Sweden’s Jews, especially in Malmo, should disqualify his candidacy for World Mayor 2010.”
Ilmar Reepalu has in his defence argued that he felt that his comments had been misrepresented by Skånska Dagbladet, later arguing that he does not feel that Malmö Jews have any connection to, or responsibility for, the Israel-Palestine conflict in the Middle East.
The Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles claims the support of over 400,000 US Jewish families and describes itself as “one of the largest international Jewish human rights organizations.”
The World Mayor prize is awarded annually by the City Mayors project which was set up in 2003. Previous winners include Cape Town’s Helen Zille, Melbourne’s John So, and Athens’ Dora Bakoyannis.