‘No excuse’ for anti-Semitism: Obama envoy

US president Barack Obama’s expert on anti-Semitism, Hannah Rosenthal, said during a press conference in Stockholm on Thursday that the brand of Sweden is at risk if leaders aren’t held accountable for their insensitive actions.

'No excuse' for anti-Semitism: Obama envoy

Rosenthal, the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat anti-Semitism, had spent four days in Sweden “listening and learning” about the controversial treatment of the Jewish community in Malmö.

“I think when there are expressions of anti-Semitism or any other form of hatred; those responsible have to be held accountable, particularly when it’s a voice of somebody in a leadership position. When people say the wrong things, they have to be called out, they have to be condemned,” she said.

During her visit, she met with political heads, as well as community leaders from various religions, assessing the situation and the treatment of the Jewish community.

A key meeting was that with the embattled and controversial mayor of Malmö, Ilmar Reepalu, where his actions that sparked outrage in the Jewish community were discussed.

In this meeting, Rosenthal stressed that their discussion was frank, and that both parties walked away with differing opinions.

Reepalu’s recent statements in right-leaning magazine NEO that the Jewish community in Malmö had been infiltrated by the Sweden Democrats have ruffled feathers in Sweden and abroad. According to Reepalu, Rosenthal mentioned his gaffe in their conversation.

He told the Sydsvenskan newspaper on Wednesday that the pair had shared “a good conversation” however; Rosenthal was adamant that Reepalu’s anti-Semitic remarks were unacceptable.

“It’s not an issue of the media misinterpreting, there is no excuse for language that is anti-Semitic. I was able to explain to him how I was able to hear it as a Jewish leader and a diplomat, how I hear expressions to do with conspiracy theories or age old stereotypes about Jewish people, and this can’t be tolerated,” she said.

“Time will tell. We’ll see if it changes his language, if he is able to examine what he has done. I don’t think the Swedish government wants to see his words as a voice of Sweden.”

Rosenthal pointed out that Reepalu also needs to consider his own legacy, and whether he wants to be remembered for his anti-Semitic language.

However, she was keen to point out that the problems in Malmö don’t end with the mistreatment of the Jews, or the words of Reepalu.

“It’s not just about the Jews or the Roma or the Muslims experiencing hatred, nor is it about Malmö. It’s about Sweden. The Swedish people have a strong history of abhorring hatred, and the solution is to not just pass laws, but to enforce laws that hold people accountable,” she said.

During her visit Rosenthal also met with Erik Ullenhag, Sweden’s minister for integration, and responded positively to his promises.

“The minister of integration has acknowledged his responsibility and vowed to me that he looks forward to continuing the discussion and more importantly doing something.”

However, while she admits that Malmö’s problems may indeed be “world news” as claimed by Ullenhag to TT news agency on Thursday, she admits that Sweden’s world reputation means these issues are in the spotlight.

“The fact that I knew about this before I came here is an example of how people follow it around the world. I’m not saying that people hold Sweden to a different standard, but I think the world opinion of Sweden is pretty remarkable.

“The US, and the rest of the world that pays attention, thinks highly of what happens in Sweden, and this is why there has been a profound recognition of what’s going on in Malmö.”

“This calls for extraordinary attention and extraordinary solutions. The brand of Sweden is at risk when there are unanswered examples of intolerance.”

Oliver Gee

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US criminologist lauds Malmö for anti-gang success

The US criminologist behind the anti-gang strategy designed to reduce the number of shootings and explosions in Malmö has credited the city and its police for the "utterly pragmatic, very professional, very focused" way they have put his ideas into practice.

US criminologist lauds Malmö for anti-gang success
Johan Nilsson/TT

In an online seminar with Malmö mayor Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, David Kennedy, a professor at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said implementing his Group Violence Intervention (GVI) strategy had gone extremely smoothly in the city.

“What really stands out about the Malmö experience is contrary to most of the places we work,” he said. “They made their own assessment of their situation on the ground, they looked at the intervention logic, they decided it made sense, and then, in a very rapid, focused and business-like fashion, they figured out how to do the work.”

He said that this contrasted with police and other authorities in most cities who attempt to implement the strategy, who tend to end up “dragging their feet”, “having huge amounts of political infighting”, and coming up with reasons why their city is too different from other cities where the strategy has been a success.

Malmö’s Sluta Skjut (Stop Shooting) pilot scheme was extended to a three-year programme this January, after its launch in 2018 coincided with a reduction in the number of shootings and explosions in the city.

“We think it’s a good medicine for Malmö for breaking the negative trend that we had,” Malmö police chief Stefan Sintéus said, pointing to the fall from 65 shootings in 2017 to 20 in 2020, and in explosions from 62 in 2017 to 17 in 2020.

A graph from Malmö police showing the reduction in the number of shootings from 2017 to 2020. Graph: Malmö Police
A graph from Malmö police showing the reduction in the number of explosions in the city between 2017 and 2020. Graph: Malmö Police


In their second evaluation of the programme, published last month, Anna-Karin Ivert, Caroline Mellgren, and Karin Svanberg, three criminologists from Malmö University, reported that violent crime had declined significantly since the program came into force, and said that it was possible that the Sluta Skjut program was partly responsible, although it was difficult to judge exactly to what extent. 

The number of shootings had already started to decline before the scheme was launched, and in November 2019, Sweden’s national police launched Operation Rimfrost, a six-month crackdown on gang crime, which saw Malmö police reinforced by officers from across Sweden.

But Kennedy said he had “very little sympathy” for criminologists critical of the police’s decision to launch such a massive operation at the same time as Sluta Skjut, making it near impossible to evaluate the programme.

“Evaluation is there to improve public policy, public policy is not there to provide the basis for for sophisticated evaluation methodology,” he argued.

“When people with jobs to do, feel that they need to do things in the name of public safety, they should follow their professional, legal and moral judgement. Not doing something to save lives, because it’s going to create evaluation issues, I think, is simply privileging social science in a way that it doesn’t deserve.”

US criminologist David Kennedy partaking in the meeting. Photo: Richard Orange

Sluta Skjut has been based around so-called ‘call-ins’, in which known gang members on probation are asked to attend meetings, where law enforcement officials warn them that if shootings and explosions continue, they and the groups around them will be subject to intense focus from police.

At the same time, social workers and other actors in civil society offer help in leaving gang life.

Of the 250-300 young men who have been involved in the project, about 40 have been sent to prison, while 49 have joined Malmö’s ‘defector’ programme, which helps individuals leave gangs.

Kennedy warned not to focus too much on the number of those involved in the scheme who start to work with social services on leaving gang life.

“What we find in in practice is that most of the impact of this approach doesn’t come either because people go to prison or because they take services and leave gang life,” he said.

“Most of the impact comes from people simply putting their guns down and no longer being violent.”

“We think of the options as continuing to be extremely dangerous, or completely turning one’s life around. That’s not realistic in practice. Most of us don’t change that dramatically ever in our lives.”

He stressed the importance of informal social control in his method, reaching those who gang members love and respect, and encouraging them to put pressure on gang members to abstain from gun violence.

“We all care more about our mothers than we care about the police, and it turns out that if you can find the guy that this very high risk, very dangerous person respects – literally, you know, little old ladies will go up to him and get his attention and tell him to behave himself. And he will.”