European Islamic Immigration Adds New Life to Old Anti-Semitic Hatred

“You want me to spell it out?  I am afraid of Muslims,” stated Swedish-Jewish writer and political adviser Annika Hernroth-Rothstein on May 27 before a room-filling audience of about 40 at Washington, DC’s The Israel Project (TIP). Her presentation “The Future of Jews in Europe:  How Both Covert and Violent Anti-Semitism is Making Jewish Life Unbearable” highlighted how Islamic immigration has given new virulence to European anti-Semitism.

Hernroth-Rothstein’s discussion of Sweden’s 15,000 Jews exemplified the introductory comment of David Hazony, TIP’s Tower Magazine (TM), that anti-Semitism is a “morphing, changing force in our world.”  Anti-Semitism “started when Jews arrived” in the late 1700s in Sweden, she stated, where Protestant reformer Martin Luther, “not a big fan of the Jews,” helped shape a theological “old school anti-Semitism” in Swedish Lutheranism. World War II was later a “very difficult time to be a Jew” in a “neutral” Sweden that actually collaborated with Nazi Germany. That Swedes in 2009 actually believed a Swedish journalist’s blood libel of Israeli soldiers harvesting Palestinian body parts “tells you the kind of mindset that there is.”

Hernroth-Rothstein noted how neo-Nazism personally haunted her in a small town Swedish high school, as detailed in her TM article. Six fellow students somehow acquired accurate recreations of Third Reich Hitler Youth (Hitler Jugend) uniforms and intimidatingly wore them before her, a known Jew, at school. Such hatred during and after World War II convinced her mother that “it was a nuisance to be Jewish” and led her to raise a “totally assimilated family.”

Hernroth-Rothstein tried personally to take this assimilation to an extreme, logical conclusion. She attempted to hide any identifiably Jewish features such as her dark, non-Nordic “Jew hair” that she first bleached (it turned yellow and “looked horrendous”) and then shaved off for several years. Yet neo-Nazis “would hate me no matter what,” she learned, and she decided that “I might as well be the most Jewish,” a conclusion that began her journey towards Orthodox Judaism.

Judaism in public has its dangers, Hernroth-Rothstein discovered as she rode a train with her kippah-wearing four- and nine-year old sons. When they asked a man to relinquish one of their reserved seats, he retorted with “you people always take what you want.” The bigoted man continually kicked the seat of one the sons from an adjacent seat during the 40-minute trip as fellow passengers chose to preoccupy themselves and “did absolutely nothing.”  “We don’t wear kippah on the streets,” other Jews later told an astonished Hernroth-Rothstein. She now opens packages at the post office, not home, she added, and last year she took down an Israeli flag from her balcony, precautions similar to the Swedish-Jewish kindergartens with bulletproof windows. 

Problems for observant Jews like Hernroth-Rothstein come as well from Swedish laws, such as the 1937 ban on kosher slaughter (Islamic halal slaughter, which stuns animals unconscious, is permissible). “I don’t believe it’s an animal rights issue,” she states in light of Sweden’s liberal hunting laws. Numerous bills have also sought an age of consent at 18 for circumcision, even though parents may procure purely cosmetic procedures for small children. Swedish society’s acceptance of Jewish culture such as film festivals does not extend to “being annoyingly Jewish” with religious “weird stuff.” 

What is “in practicality anti-Jewish” legislation often comes from the rising “far-right” Sweden Democrats party, Hernroth-Rothstein noted in a later interview. They are Sweden’s “most pro-Israel party” and “very loudly pro-Israel” as a “way of getting to the Muslims,” the Swedish Democrat “claim to fame.” Yet Swedish Democrats “are not necessarily pro-Jew” and have proposed banning kosher meat imports like those she receives from Belgium via FedEx. The Swedish Democrats also use “loaded words” like “barbaric, archaic” to link the human rights abuse of Female Genital Mutilation, often practiced by Muslims, and Jewish circumcision, two things on a “different planet.”

In this hostile environment, Hernroth-Rothstein’s presentation noted, neo-Nazis “are very few and far between,” the “least of my worries,” in contrast to a “very large Muslim community” that is “actively… physically anti-Semitic.” From this perhaps 4.4% of Sweden’s nine million people comes “anti-Zionist riots” with people screaming “Hamas, Hamas; Jews to the gas.” Swedish government “open state anti-Zionism” has also been “very clearly linked” with anti-Semitism since the 1960s, an indication that Islam’s “different strain” of anti-Semitism “fell into a very fertile soil.”

Hernroth-Rothstein sees Islamic anti-Semitism, though, as a “symptom and not the disease” in a postwar Europe that judged religion and nation-states to be contributory causes to World War II and dictatorship. In this secularized and internationalized “John Lennon Imagine society” Europeans without an identity facing immigrants “do not know what we ask of you when you come to our country.” She is therefore “afraid of Europe, of living in a valueless society.”

In contrast to a “depleting sense of identity” for Swedish Jews, Hernroth-Rothstein actually admires Swedish Muslims for “being incredibly strong in asserting themselves.”  “I don’t blame someone who believes something for sure for trying to impose it upon someone else,” she added. Muslims’ “good PR” and political influence (Sweden’s few Jews, by contrast, “are not politically interesting”) mean that Islam “is viewed very differently… than other religions, it’s welcomed.” She adds that “I am very pro-immigration” as “most of the people I love would not be alive today if there was not a tradition of immigration” in Sweden.   

Yet Hernroth-Rothstein worried that, like the January Paris jihadist massacres, “there are a lot of isolated incidents at this point and we fail to make the connection” in discussions of wider phenomena. “Not a big fan of interfaith dialogue and peace circles,” she in her TM article stated explicitly that the “terror that haunts the Jews of Europe is not a local one, but part of the global war that is now killing the Christians of Iraq, Yemen, and Syria.” She criticized how “concessions are made toward Iran,” the “Muslim Brotherhood is treated as a reliable partner,” and “moral relativism is used in dealing with Hamas.”

Such warnings, though, contradict Hernroth-Rothstein’s own morally relativistic support for Muslim immigration and influence in Sweden. As audience members like the free speech, anti-sharia activist Deborah Weiss protested, Islamic doctrines can justify hatred of Jews, Christians, and others. After the presentation, Weiss rhetorically questioned the appropriateness of admiring Adolf Hitler’s political skills (Hitler references lose arguments, Hernroth-Rothstein unconvincingly responded). 

Hernroth-Rothstein’s presentation suggested a belief that a rediscovered values identity in a Europe that once “stood for knowledge and intellectual integrity and renaissance” will tame negative Muslim beliefs and behaviors. Yet her writing of a “historical clash of civilizations” indicated that Islam’s own independent moral universe is not necessarily susceptible to foreign influence. “Israel holds all those values that Europe has rejected,” she noted at TIP, yet Jewish religion and nationalism have hardly won Israel’s modern, progressive society any favor in a Muslim-majority Middle East. Any similar European self-assertiveness in place of what is currently often a cultural appeasement of Islam offers no certain amelioration of relations. Europe gives little indication, moreover, of developing such a newfound identity in the foreseeable future and averting Hernroth-Rothstein’s post-presentation prediction that observant Judaism has no European future.