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JEWS

Port city ‘no haven’ for Swedish Jews

Attacks against Jews in Malmö, Sweden's third largest city, have left members of the community questioning their future in a place known for its multiculturalism.

Port city 'no haven' for Swedish Jews

Jewish people have lived in Malmö for over two centuries, often arriving in the south Swedish port city, a safe haven for generations, after fleeing persecution and intolerance in other parts of Europe.

But though waves of immigration over the past two decades have made the area more diverse, hate crimes appear to be on the rise and many people, paradoxically, say they feel less secure. Highlighting a problem many Swedes had thought long relegated to history, the US special envoy for anti-Semitism even visited Malmö last year.

Typically, but not exclusively, the perpetrators of anti-Semitic hate crimes are “young men with roots in the Middle East”, according to Jehoshua Kaufman, a member of Malmö’s Jewish congregation.

Parents are especially worried about their children being subjected to abuse at school. Bullying has been a problem “not for everyone, not always, but very often”, said Kaufman, as he took part in a regular march known as the “kippah walks” — referring to the Jewish skullcaps worn by the demonstrators — organised to battle anti-Semitism.

Around a third of Malmö’s 310,000 residents were born abroad, with the largest minorities coming from the Balkans, Iraq and neighbouring Denmark. The total number of Jews in the city is estimated to be around 2,000, with around 600 that are members of its synagogue.

In 2012, 66 anti-Jewish hate crimes were reported, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention. According to figures from Malmö police, 60 reports were made, compared with just 31 in Stockholm, with more than three times the population. Thirty-five have already been reported in Malmö so far this year. The figures seem to be on the up – in 2010 and 2011, a total of 44 reports were made over the two years combined.

Shneur Kesselman, a US-born orthodox rabbi, has had insults and objects hurled after him on the streets of Malmö more times than he can remember. With his traditional Hasidic black clothing, fedora hat and beard, he cuts an incongruous figure in the traditionally working-class, immigrant-heavy eastern half of the city.

But he insists on staying. “It’s a little hard to explain. My wife and I have made Malmö our project. We feel a sense of responsibility for Jewish life here,” he said.

The response by local authorities has been patchy at best.

Malmö’s former mayor, Ilmar Reepalu, gained notoriety after suggesting members of the Jewish community had themselves to blame when a rally they organised during the 2008-2009 Gaza War was attacked with bottles and eggs.

“I wish the Jewish congregation would distance itself from Israel’s violations of the civilian population in Gaza,” Reepalu told a local newspaper.

Last year, the then Social Democrat mayor courted more controversy by saying the Jewish congregation had been “infiltrated” by the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats — a claim he later retracted.

The Sweden Democrats have sought to use the attacks on Malmö’s Jews for political gain, framing them as a by-product of Sweden’s generous immigration laws.

“It’s clear that misguided skinheads aren’t the major threat against Jews in Sweden today, but the imported anti-Semitism from the Muslim group,” parliamentarian Kent Ekeroth wrote in an op-ed.

But members of Malmö’s Jewish community say that anti-Semitism is not just the preserve of immigrants. In an incident in 2010, local youths in Vellinge, a middle-class town with few immigrants on the outskirts of Malmö, shouted Nazi slogans at people attending a weekend event for children at a Jewish recreation centre and threw eggs at the building.

“But in Malmö it’s the young Muslim guys that are the problem, that has to be said. They come from countries where there are racist, anti-Semitic TV programmes,” said Barbro Posner, a member of the Jewish community.

The authorities now appear to be addressing the problem. Ilmar Reepalu’s successor Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, who assumed the mayorship this month, told AFP the city’s schools were trying to combat racism by providing special training for teachers. The city has also invited community leaders to a “dialogue forum” tasked with “combatting religious and ethnic discrimination”.

Ala-Eddin Al-Qut, head of the local chapter of Sweden’s Islamic Association, said the group had been able to change people’s attitudes after getting Muslim organisations to address anti-Semitism in their Friday sermons. The Malmö Palestine Network had also banned some signs and slogans from its anti-war demonstrations, he said.

“You have to distinguish between Jews and Israelis,” Al-Qut said.

Sofia Nerbrand, co-founder of the kippah walks, said the rest of Sweden viewed Malmö as a litmus test for whether multiculturalism could work in the once homogenous country, especially in the wake of a series of gang-related shootings involving immigrants.

In late 2011 and early 2012, five people were shot dead in Malmö in less than six weeks. At least some of the killings appeared to be linked to organised crime, prompting Reepalu to call for stricter gun laws.

“If we fail here, people will say: ‘Look what happens when you bring in too many Muslims’,” said Nerbrand.

Jehoshua Kaufman said the racism he and other Jews had encountered was not limited to just Malmö but simply more visible there than in places like Stockholm due to the city’s compact and less segregated centre.

Sören Billing/AFP

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SHOOTINGS

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

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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.”

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