Israel’s envoy to Sweden calls for better protection of Jewish sites

Anti-Semitic hate crimes on the rise, but Ambassador Isaac Bachman hails Stockholm for being ‘attentive’ to community’s needs

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Ambassador Isaac Bachman (courtesy Israeli embassy Stockholm)
Ambassador Isaac Bachman (courtesy Israeli embassy Stockholm)

Jerusalem is calling on the Swedish government to increase security measures around Jewish institutions, Israel’s ambassador in Stockholm said Monday, reacting to new figures that show an increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes in the Scandinavian country.

“Many times we think that security should be tighter and the police should be present more often and more noticeably,” Isaac Bachman told The Times of Israel in a telephone interview.

At the same time, Bachman praised the Swedish government for being attentive to the problem of anti-Semitism, noting that it remains to be seen whether the trend of increasing violence against Jews can be halted.

In 2014, some 6,270 hate crimes were reported in Sweden, nearly 267 of them (4 percent) with an anti-Semitic background — a 38 percent increase from 2013.

This increase is likely related to Israel’s 2014 Operation Protective Edge, which led to a rise of anti-Israel sentiment across Europe. No figures for 2015 are available yet.

While 4 percent appears to be a relatively low figure, Israeli officials in Stockholm say that it is actually high when one considers that Jews make up only about 0.2 percent of the country’s population (There are approximately 15,000 Jews in Sweden, a country of 9.8 million). In comparison, nine percent of all hate crimes in 2014 were directed against Muslims, who make for about six or seven percent of the country’s population. Therefore, Israeli officials calculated, a Jew in Sweden is 24 times more likely to be attacked than a Muslim Swede.

Danish Jews arrive in Malmo, Sweden, to show their solidarity with the city's Jewish community. (Photo credit: Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)
Danish Jews arrive in Malmo, Sweden, to show their solidarity with the city’s Jewish community. (Photo credit: Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)

Many Jews in Sweden feel uncomfortable with reporting hate crimes, Bachman said, since they want to avoid having their identities revealed during the course of police investigations. “To avoid unpleasant situations, I assume on very solid ground that the number of [anti-Semitic] incidents is even higher. This makes the proportions even worse,” he said.

In addition, the “vast majority” of hate crime complaints are not solved, the ambassador lamented. Therefore, the Israeli embassy in Stockholm supports local Jews’ call for an increased police presence around Jewish institutions and for better education against anti-Semitism.

“We approach the government with the same request the Jewish community has regarding practical element of security around Jewish centers, and not necessarily only synagogues,” Bachman said. “Sometimes it’s social centers, old age homes — establishments known to be Jewish. This is somehow met with some understanding by the authorities, but not to the level expected.”

Despite recent diplomatic tensions between Jerusalem and Stockholm over senior government officials’ comments vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Bachman lauded the pledge of country’s center-left government to combat Jew-hatred.

“The new government is very much concerned with anti-Semitism,” he said. The king, the prime minister and other senior representatives of state routinely attend events hosted by the local Jewish community, he added. “This is a very important declaration that sends a message of seriousness regarding how this government looks at anti-Semitism. We also have to let some time go by and see how this will find expression in the [hate crime] figures.”

Said Bachman: “We need to see more policemen, more people working on the ground in different cities, towns and neighborhoods understanding a little better what these hate crimes are, what anti-Semitism is. We have to see teachers in schools understanding it a little better.”

Swedish teachers often avoid discussion anti-Semitism in class, especially when there are many Muslim pupils, Bachman added. This needs to change, he demanded, while at the same time expressing confidence that Prime Minister Stefan Löfvén will try to tackle such issues. “This is a government attentive to these needs.”

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