Swedish Jew files for asylum… in her own country

Annika Hernroth-Rothstein’s unprecedented move aims to draw attention to rising anti-Semitism, manifested in neo-Nazi marches, bans on kosher slaughter and ritual circumcision

Annika Hernroth-Rothstein. (photo credit: Anders Henrikson/Flickr)
Annika Hernroth-Rothstein. (photo credit: Anders Henrikson/Flickr)

In a drastic move designed to bring attention to anti-Semitism in Sweden, Swedish Jewish activist Annika Hernroth-Rothstein has filed for asylum in her own country Monday. The 31-year-old political adviser and mother of two took the unprecedented step to protest a series of measures in Sweden banning kosher slaughter, ritual circumcision, and possibly even the importation of kosher meat.

Some say proposals in Sweden and Norway to ban ritual circumcision and a resolution by the Council of the European Union condemning the practice indicate rising anti-Semitism in Europe, and there is no shortage of discussions on the topic in public forums.

But Rothstein, who has also been active in helping to organize Jewish solidarity and pro-Israel rallies in Sweden, said she hoped her actions would help move the issue from being a discussion on Twitter, around dinner tables and in synagogues to something that political decision-makers are talking about as a problem that needs to be addressed.

“One thing that we are good at is having conversations among ourselves, but I don’t see this as a Jewish problem because I don’t think there are a lot of Jewish anti-Semites out there,” she told The Times of Israel in a phone interview on Tuesday. “It’s not our responsibility to solve this on our own. It is a political problem that needs to have political consequences and solutions.”

Rothstein said many people she’s talked to have told her to forget about it and that the only solution for Jews in Europe is to move to Israel, but she’s unwilling to accept that.

“We have a responsibility to the people who can’t leave, to the people over 80 who’ve been through hell to get here,” she said. “We owe it to them to make sure that they can live openly and freely. I want people to see that this is a human rights issue. People come here from all over the world for the right to live freely and openly, but Jews in Sweden are denied this basic right.”

Rothstein’s grandparents changed their names in 1940s, but couldn’t escape anti-Semitism in a region that let Nazi soldiers pass through on their way to Norway. After growing up without a strong connection to Judaism, she embraced her heritage when she became a mother at the age of 22, observing Shabbat and starting a Swedish-language political blog.

Rothstein published an article on the Mosaic Magazine website on Monday to announce her petition to be recognized as a refugee in Sweden.

According to the Swedish migration board’s website, “a person is classed a refugee when they have well-founded reasons to fear persecution due to: race; nationality; religious or political beliefs; gender; sexual orientation; or affiliation to a particular social group.

“The persecution may originate from the authorities of the native country. It may also be the case that the authorities are unable or unwilling to offer protection against persecution from individuals or groups.”

In the Mosaic article, Rothstein pointed out that kosher slaughter has been illegal in Sweden since 1937 and that bans on circumcision are rapidly gaining political and public support.

“When it comes to our religious traditions, those on both the right and left in Swedish politics find common ground; they take pride in defending both animals and children from the likes of us, and from what one politician has called our ‘barbaric practices,'” she wrote.

“One by one,” she added, “our practices are being outlawed. Attacks on us are going unpunished. Politicians, journalists, and intellectuals describe us as barbarians. On November 9, the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a few hundred neo-Nazis marched through Stockholm in solidarity with their Greek allies in the Golden Dawn party. They marched legally, with police permits. Another few hundred leftists turned out in protest; a significant number were waving Hamas flags and sporting Palestinian kefiyahs. It made for a perfect synergy: a solemn anniversary, a day of shame, hijacked, with official permission, by two extreme and nominally opposite sides of the political spectrum, united by their hatred of Jews.”

A month ago, she confronted the lawmaker behind the latest anti-kosher slaughter bill and other similar legislation. She told him it would be easier to simply pass one law banning Jews than banning Jewish ritual practice piecemeal. After a 20-minute argument, the parliamentarian told her, “Well, you know us. This thing you call multiculturalism. All of that. We don’t want it. Not here. Not in our country.”

Thus far, Rothstein said the Swedish community has been “very silent,” but she has been getting overwhelmingly positive responses from all over the world. She acknowledged, however, that there have already been some negative reactions and that she expects more in the future.

“I obviously expected backlash from all the right-wing groups that are going to hate me no matter what I do, but I was also expecting it [from the Jewish community here],” she said.

Before Rothstein had even filed her application, she talked about the idea with other people in her community. One day a woman she barely knew came up to her said she’d heard about the idea.

“‘Oh, you’re such a provocation,’ she told me. ‘Why do you have to put your identity in people’s faces?'”

For her part, Rothstein wonders why Jews are not doing exactly that.

“One decision after another, the government is taking away our [religious freedoms] and driving us out of the country, and we aren’t taking to the streets,” she said. “We should be, but we aren’t, and I’m hoping that even people who think that I’m annoying will notice.

“I want people to understand that this is not just a ploy. Of course, it is a publicity stunt, and I know it won’t last long and [my application] will be dismissed, but it’s about a much larger issue. It’s about holding the government accountable.”

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