‘No excuse’ for anti-Semitism: Obama envoy

'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.

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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