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JEWISH

Ilmar Reepalu: ‘the Swedish Ken Livingstone’

Embattled Malmö mayor Ilmar Reepalu's most recent "anti-Semitic" row is reminiscent of the troubles that plagued London's outspoken ex-mayor Ken Livingstone, argues historian and former Malmö resident David Linden.

Ilmar Reepalu: 'the Swedish Ken Livingstone'

The recent comments of the Malmö’s mayor, the Social Democrat politician Ilmar Reepalu, have been similar to those of the British Labour Party politician Ken Livingstone.

Both Ilmar Reepalu and Ken Livingstone are successful politicians and proud men.

As a result, both have often refused to apologize when they insulted a group or a specific individual. Their comments were “misunderstood” and when they tried to explain them “nobody listened”.

Despite the fact that they are politicians who have often spoken truth to power, in London and Stockholm, neither can admit to a mistake. Especially, and most tragically, when it comes to questions concerning Jews or Islam.

Their verbal “mistakes”, however, cannot be blamed on them being new to politics.

In the 1980s, Ken Livingstone led the Greater London Council (GLC). Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher thought “Red Ken” to be a dangerous opponent and abolished the GLC.

He resurfaced in national British politics when New Labour created the post of an elected Mayor of London. In 2000 he ran as an independent and defeated Frank Dobson who was the official New Labour candidate.

Meanwhile, “The Strong Man of Malmö”, Ilmar Reepalu, has led the city council since 1994.

Both Livingstone and Reepalu are seen as “straight talking” politicians. They say what they think and they have often benefited from it, politically.

In 2003 Livingstone articulated many people’s critique of the invasion of Iraq. When Ilmar Reepalu suggested that newly arrived immigrants should be forced to settle where there were employment opportunities, he was by many seen as the voice of reason.

Reepalu is also a political tactician who ran Malmö from a minority position between 2002 and 2006

During the 2006 elections that followed, the “Ilmar effect” played an important role in seeing the Social Democrats achieve better results in Malmö than in much of the rest of the country.

For a long time, both Livingstone and Reepalu were seen as politically invincible.

In 2008, however, Ken Livingstone’s success story ended when the Conservative candidate Boris Johnson defeated him.

Before the election he had also made a fool out of himself with a series of scandals or “gaffes”.

For example, he refused to apologize to a journalist whom he had likened to “a concentration camp guard” following one lubricated dinner.

Even when the journalist informed him that he was Jewish, he refused to apologize.

Furthermore, during the election campaign Livingstone never thought Johnson to be a serious candidate.

Livingstone is once again running for mayor, but this time his Gloria of Invincibility has faded.

There are also scandals and “gaffes”: he has avoided incomes tax, despite the fact that he referred to those who had done the same as “rich bastards”.

He has supported a radical Islamist cleric who, among other things, has advocated the killing of homosexuals.

He has also taken a job as a TV-presenter for Press TV, which is a channel funded by the Iranian government, and he has claimed that Jews do not vote Labour “because they are rich”, a statement he has refused to retract.

In his own way, Ilmar Reepalu is a Swedish version of Ken Livingstone.

He criticizes abuse committed by the Israeli state but he is quiet about radical Islamism. The same can be said of Ken Livingstone.

Both men have used a form of rhetoric where you can detect an underlying ugly sentiment about Jews.

It seems like “they should just put up with it”.

Livingstone has in this election had difficulty avoiding accusations of anti-Semitism.

Reepalu should learn from Livingstone’s mistake and resign when he has a chance to do so with dignity.

Unfortunately the leader of the Social Democratic Party, Stefan Löfven, has declared that Reepalu has his “full support”.

This is unfortunate for Reepalu personally.

Because with this “Ilmar is Ilmar” attitude, he is free to commit another gaffe and to be defeated at an election.

David Linden is a PhD student in history at King’s College London and a former resident of Malmö. Followed him on Twitter at @davidlinden1.

A previous version of this article was published in Swedish on the <a href=" http://www.newsmill.se/artikel/2012/03/30/reepalu-svensk-ken-livingstone

“target=”_blank”>Newsmill opinion website.

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JEWISH

Malmö anti-Semitism made Danish star leave The Bridge

A spike in anti-Jewish sentiment in the Swedish city that plays host to much of the action in The Bridge contributed to Kim Bodnia’s decision to leave the show, the actor told an Israeli TV station.

Malmö anti-Semitism made Danish star leave The Bridge
Kim Bodnia. Photo: Malthe Risager Jørgensen, DR

Fans of the Swedish-Danish co-production were devastated when it was announced that the Danish detective Martin Rohde would be written out of the show. 

Bodnia was a huge hit with viewers, but the Dane said he wanted out as he was unhappy with the script and his character’s development. 

Speaking to Walla in Israel, the 50-year-old actor, who is Jewish, has now revealed that anti-Semitism was another reason for ditching the crime drama that has wowed audiences worldwide:

“It’s growing, especially in Malmö where we shot The Bridge in Sweden. It’s not very comfortable to be there as a Jewish person. So of course this has something to do with why it’s easy for me to say no to working in Sweden.”

Bodnia said he also thought the actors were given too little input into their character development in the third season. But if he had any hesitation about leaving, the decision was made easier by anti-Jewish developments in Sweden’s third-largest city. 

“It’s very easy, when they didn’t have the script right, I can say: Well, I don’t feel so safe there. It’s not funny, it’s growing and we have to deal with it every day and we have to fight against it,” said Bodnia, who also noted that Denmark faced similar challenges. 

With Rohde out of the frame, the eccentric Malmö cop Saga Norén instead had to get used to working with a new partner from the other side of the Öresund strait in the third season of The Bridge, which aired in Scandinavia late last year. 

An escalation in hate crimes against Jews has seen many families leave Sweden in recent years.  

The head of the Swedish Jewish Community, Lena Posner-Körösi, told The Local in the wake of last year’s terror attacks in Copenhagen that threats from Islamists in particular had become commonplace. 

Heavily armed police were stationed outside Jewish institutions across Sweden amid fears of attacks (see video below). 

US President Barack Obama even sent a special envoy to Stockholm and Malmö to see how Swedish cities were dealing with threats to Jews. 

Lena Posner-Körösi welcomed that move, telling The Local:

“What we are facing now is not just an issue for the Jewish community, it is a threat to the whole western democratic world…we appreciate everyone who is concerned.”