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Islamic leader criticizes Swedish minister's 'generalizations' on anti-Semitism

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Islamic leader criticizes Swedish minister's 'generalizations' on anti-Semitism
Justice Minister Morgan Johansson Photo: Jessica Gow/TT
14:10 CET+01:00
Following a recent spate of anti-Semitic incidents in Sweden, Justice Minister Morgan Johansson has hardened his tone and called upon Muslim groups to 'minimise tensions'.

In a speech given to the Riksdag, Johansson demanded that Muslims contribute towards "minimising tensions" between different groups, and "not add to them".

"If you have been given asylum in Sweden, then you need to live by our rules," he said.

The minister did acknowledge that anti-Semitism is widespread in various different groups, including the far right, neo-Nazi extremist groups and online extremists, but this was the first time he has explicitly referred to anti-Semitism from within the Muslim population.

Johansson emphasized that "the level of conflict in the Middle East is not something that can be brought here," referring to new immigrants.

Last week Muslim and Jewish leaders in Sweden joined together in their condemnation of anti-Semitic attacks in Gothenburg.

READ ALSOMuslim and Jewish leaders react to anti-Semitic attacks 

Asked about Johansson's speech, Temmam Asbai, chairperson of the Swedish Islamic Association, voiced serious concern that Sweden's Justice Minister was making "sweeping generalizations about a whole minority group".

"Jewish and Muslim leaders stood hand in hand together when mosques and synagogues were attacked. We clearly condemn anti-Semitism, but not by playing off different groups against each other and thereby contributing to tensions."

Asked whether he agreed that newly arrived Muslims should leave behind anti-Semitic views that may have been commonplace back home, Asbai responded that "anti-Semitism is already present in Sweden, and doesn't come externally", adding that he does not know "what report or statistics the Justice Minister is basing his claims upon".

A survey by The Living History Forum, a Swedish public authority promoting tolerance and human rights, in 2010 found that 18 percent of all the high school students interviewed were negative towards Jewish people as a whole. Of the students polled that identified themselves as Muslim, 55 percent were negative towards Jewish people.

Speaking to the Aftonbladet newspaper, historian Henrik Bachner, who has researched anti-Semitism in Sweden and abroad, said these surveys should be treated with care, but added that "they do give an indication as to what it looks like".

According to Bachner, anti-Semitic expressions have recurred in connection to the ongoing situation in Israel and Palestine. However, Bachner believes that anti-Semitism is a problem in society as a whole, not confined to Muslim groups. "And it is a central cause for right-extremist groups", he told Aftonbladet.

The Islamic Association chairman said his group was curious to have more information from Johansson as to what he means with his comments: "Whom was he talking to? What did he believe people have done to raise tensions? And what efforts does he expect are needed?"

The Justice Minister's statement comes a week after Prime Minister Stefan Löfven publicly admitted that Sweden 'has a problem with anti-Semitism'.

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