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4 May, 2010 09:19

Muslim immigrants make anti-Semitism an issue for Sweden

Sweden is normally considered to be a peaceful haven in Europe. But this Scandinavian stability is being shaken up by a wave of anti-Semitic attacks.

Malmo was once the very face of socially-inclusive and tolerant Sweden. But the country's third-biggest city has turned into a hotbed of ethnic and religious violence.

The windows of a local synagogue are bulletproof. Whenever there is a religious service, there is heavy security, and during big holidays there is actually a police cordon.

Officially, there were 80 hate crimes committed against Jews last year in Malmo, but local religious leaders say the real number may have been several times higher.

With nearly a third of Malmo's population born abroad, Sweden's tolerance may have welcomed the intolerant. The majority of immigrants are Muslims, many are from Palestine. Police blame them for several recent fire-bombings, desecrations and assaults on Jews.

“It's not just any Muslims that feel resentful. It is those who themselves come from the Middle East, and they bring their conflicts with them,” Director of the Islamic Centre Bejzat Becirov says.

Many of Malmo's immigrants have settled in the virtual ghetto of Rosengard. Incomes and education levels are lower here, crime rates are higher and anti-Israel sentiments run high.

The Jewish Center's Frederick Sieradzki pins the blame for the attacks not just on radical Islamists, but local authorities.

At the height of last year's Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the left-wing Mayor Reepalu claimed attacks on Jews were a natural consequence of Israel's actions.

“Since we have had this mass immigration from countries where these values are not held, we have to accept, we have to understand, and we felt this is a downhill slope for Swedish values,” Sieradzki says.

Like for thousands of others during World War II, Sweden became a safe haven for Judith Popinski when she was escaping Nazi persecution.

“This is a different country to the one that saved me. Before I used to come to schools to talk about my experience of the Holocaust, but now the schools where there are a lot of Muslims are not interested. We don't feel safe here,” Popinski says.

Judith's children have left Malmo, and the community grows smaller all the time. But it is not just Malmo's 700 remaining Jews, but Sweden's reputation that is under threat.