A far-right Swedish leader has caused an uproar in his country after saying people who identify as Jews cannot be seen as true Swedes.
Björn Söder, party secretary of the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party and also deputy speaker of parliament, told newspaper Dagens Nyheter there were some groups in Swedish society who were citizens but belonged to other nations — namely Jews and Sami.
Asked if a person could not be Jewish and Swedish at the same time, Söder said, “I think most people of Jewish origin that have become Swedes leave their Jewish identity.
“But if they do not do it, it doesn’t need to be a problem. One must distinguish between citizenship and nationhood. They can still be Swedish citizens and live in Sweden. Sami and Jews have lived in Sweden for a long time.
“We have an open Swedishness, an individual can become Swedish regardless of background,” he said. “But it requires that they be assimilated.”
Söder’s remarks have angered many in the country. Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said he found the statements “very, very scary,” the Guardian reported. Löfven has called the Swedish Democrats “neo-fascist.”
Jewish leaders have also lashed out at Söder. The president of the Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, Lena Posner Körösi, told the Guardian: “I am appalled that Sweden’s third largest party can express itself in this way about Jews and other minorities.”
She said the comments reminded her of “1930s Germany.”
Willy Silberstein, chairman of the Swedish Committee Against Anti-Semitism, said “”I am Jewish and born in Sweden. I am just as much Swedish as Björn Söder,” according to Swedish English news website The Local.
The Swedish Democrats have been swiftly growing in power in recent years. The party was established in 1988 but only made it into parliament following unprecedented gains in the 2010 elections, winning 5.7 percent of the vote (20 seats). It doubled its power and became the nation’s third largest party in the elections held in September, taking 13% of votes. Following the collapse of the Swedish government this month and the announcement of new elections in March of next year, the far-right party is projected by some polls to increase its power to 16%-18%, the Guardian reported.
Söder has claimed his statements were quoted out of context, telling Swedish radio “Those who know me when it comes to Jews know I have long had a very strong commitment to both the state of Israel and the Jewish people.”
Last year Söder and his party presented a motion in parliament to ban the non-medical circumcision of males younger than 18.
“Boys should have the same right to avoid both complications of reduced sensitivity in the genitals, painful erections, increased risk of kidney damage and psychological distress by permanent removal, and the tremendous violation of privacy that circumcision actually means,” they said at the time.
JTA contributed to this report