Anti-Jewish stereotypes in Swedish public discourse – Henrik Bachner – Engage Journal Issue 5 – September 2007

Since 2000 anti-Jewish currents have been strengthened globally. The most dramatic development has taken place in the Arab and Muslim world, but disturbing tendencies have been observed in Europe as well. The imprint these currents have left in Europe varies between East and West and between countries. In Sweden there seems to have been no rise in the number of antisemitic hate crimes, (1) yet there are clear indications that anti-Jewish stereotypes and myths have become more visible and accepted in Swedish public debate, specifically so with regards to the discussion on Israel and the Middle East. In this article I shall try to elucidate and discuss some of the characteristics of anti-Jewish thinking as manifested in contemporary Swedish public discourse. (2)

A brief background

Sweden has had a small Jewish population since the end of the eighteenth century, when Jews for the first time were allowed to reside in the country without converting to the Christian faith. Today there are approximately 20.000 Swedish Jews, comprising 0.2 percent of a total population of 9 million. The history of anti-Jewish prejudice in Sweden, however, dates back to the Middle Ages.

Historically anti-Jewish thinking in Sweden has not differed much from the Christian anti-Jewish tradition prevalent in many other European countries. During the second half of the nineteenth century, perceptions and imagery became increasingly influenced by modern antisemitism. All though no broad, popular antisemitic movement ever emerged, traditional religious and secular anti-Jewish stereotypes remained an integrated and fairly well accepted part of Swedish culture until World War II. Negative perceptions of Jews also influenced popular attitudes as well as restrictive government policies toward Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany during the 1930s. (3)

As in many other countries, the impact of the Holocaust led to a strong delegitimization of antisemitism in the dominant political culture of post-war Sweden. But long-held and deep-rooted prejudices did not totally disappear. An undoubtedly limited, yet significant, revival of anti-Jewish thinking could be discerned at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of 1970s, primarily within the context of extreme left-wing anti-Zionism. Yet, with time and with the emergence of a more critical stance toward Israel amongst broader segments of the public, similar tendencies could be observed within parts of mainstream political opinion. (4) The effects of these developments could be seen not least during Israel’s 1982 Lebanon War, which in Sweden, as in many other countries, (5) unleashed marked anti-Jewish reactions.

The Swedish debate on the 1982 war elucidates both the persistence and flexibility of anti-Jewish thinking. It shows how stereotypes and beliefs, largely absent from the public discourse for decades, can be easily revived and adapted to new circumstances. Although Sweden is one of the most secularised countries in Europe, the anti-Israel mood created by the Lebanon War unleashed a flood of age-old Christian anti-Jewish perceptions that were then woven into—and rationalized as—criticism of Israeli government policies. (6)

In general, it can be said that the original theological construct of Judaism as the antithesis of Christianity—the contrast between Christian love and forgiveness and Jewish unforgivingness and malevolence—constituted a leitmotif in the antisemitically tainted argumentation during the war. A recurring theme was that of a specific Jewish vengefulness and cruelty, an “Old Testament” wrath and bloodthirstiness, that was said to characterize Israeli behaviour. The Swedish debate also included other traditional antisemitic beliefs. Among them was the myth of Jewish control of world finance, politics and the media, and the conspiratorial fantasies that often accompany such ideas. In 1982 these specific ideas were primarily to be seen in radical anti-Zionist argumentation, although they were in evidence within the political mainstream.

Another prominent theme was the analogy between Israel and Nazi-Germany and between the Israeli invasion and the Holocaust. The debate sparked by the war showed that this motif was no longer, as it had been since the end of the 1960s, the preserve of anti-Zionist propaganda, but had gained legitimacy within a significant part of public opinion. There are probably several reasons for this change of climate. However, the problem of coming to terms with the mass murder of the European Jews and its historical, political and psychological consequences seems to have been the major factor behind the increased popularity and usage of such images. This process was facilitated by the fact that the taboo surrounding antisemitism also gradually weakened with the passing of time, something that increased the level of tolerance for expressions of hostility toward Jews.

The process at work ought to be understood as primarily a form of liberation demonology. The construction of Jews or ”Zionists” as Nazis and perpetrators of a new Holocaust, brings relief from feelings of guilt, it relativizes the Shoah, and it provides liberation from restrictions on anti-Jewish discourse. By constructing Jews as Nazis they again become legitimate targets of hostility, and anti-Jewish sentiments can be articulated under the banner of anti-racism. This interpretation appears to be plausible if we look at the argumentation which in many cases supported these representations in 1982—the recurring references to ”guilt”, to irritation over not being permitted to speak in unambiguous terms about Jews or Israel and generalizing assertions about the transformation of ”the Jews”. Moreover, it is given credence by the scope, intensity and, above all, selectivity, in the pattern of association. (7)

Anti-Jewish motifs in the public debate after 2000

The antisemitic mood that emerged in parts of Europe after the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000 was also evident in Swedish public debate, but more research is needed before its full impact can be adequately assessed. A limited examination of news coverage and public debate on Israel and the Middle East within parts of the mainstream media between 2000 and 2004 (8) (in some cases 2005), however, allows some preliminary conclusions to be drawn about how anti-Jewish prejudice is coloring some of the discussion. It should be pointed out that there is no indication that criticism against Israel in any general sense is tainted by antisemitism. Some of the criticism is, but it is not the dominant pattern.

While it is important to make clear that criticism of Israeli policies and actions is perfectly legitimate, it is also important to note that parts of the general criticism against Israel seems to be influenced by irrational motives. This is obviously the case, for instance, when the Jewish state is constructed as the root cause of global disharmony, but it can also be seen in the general obsession with Israel. The reasons for this preoccupation are no doubt complex, yet it to some extent probably does reflect historically transmitted thought patterns. As Adam Garfinkle has pointed out:

As Jews were for centuries at the epicenter of Christian theology in Europe, so today, in a largely post-Christian Europe, Israel is at the epicenter of the European political worldview. It is a secularized view, to be sure, but it is at the same time a vestige of a religious obsession so deeply rooted in the European psyche that it cannot be readily named. (9)

What is troubling is also the selectivity of indignation that can be seen in public reactions to international conflicts. There is a stark difference between the outrage that Israeli policies often unleash amongst public opinion in Sweden (and other countries) and the silence and indifference that normally marks reactions to the conflicts and atrocities taking place in, for instance, Chechnya, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Algeria, Somalia, Congo or Colombia.

The phenomenon can also be illustrated by the boycott and divestment campaigns that are directed against Israel. These campaigns – in Sweden backed up by the Church of Sweden and much of the radical left – are not simply based on principle. If they were, similar positions would be taken on other states that are occupying foreign territory (for example Morocco or China and until recently Syria) or violating human rights, in which case the list would be extensive and hardly headed by Israel when ranked on scale and severity.

To what extent these kinds of phenomena can be understood in terms of anti-Jewish prejudice and hostility is of course difficult to say, since in most cases, the underlying motives cannot be known. All kinds of anti-Israel sentiment cannot therefore simply be interpreted as forms of antisemitism. However, it would be equally wrong not to accept that prejudice and hostility against Jews could be and probably is one of several factors at play here. (10)

The philosopher Michael Walzer, a long time critic of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory, has correctly pointed out that ”there is an oddly disproportionate hostility toward Israel on the European left, which requires some explanation…Indeed, much of the criticism directed at Israel has more to do with the existence of the state than with the policies of any of its governments…” (11) Against this background the proposition put forward by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, like Walzer often critical of Israel’s policies, is worth considering: ”Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction—out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East—is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.” (12)

Christian anti-Jewish images

The anti-Jewish motifs manifest in elements of the contemporary media in Sweden are very similar to the ones that surfaced in 1982. This time around, Christian anti-Jewish images are also frequently woven into descriptions of, or criticism against, Israel’s policy and actions—particularly the idea of an Old Testament vengefulness, an image often codified in the words ”an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. This is not a phenomenon to be observed solely in anti-Israel biased media. The liberal newspaper Expressen, for example, explained at the beginning of the new intifada that Israel, in its response to Palestinian violence, was ”implementing the primitive teaching of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. (13)

However in papers like Aftonbladet, social democratic and Sweden’s largest daily, which is markedly anti-Israel and has a history of antisemitic stereotyping when criticizing and reporting on Israel, the image of Israel’s policies as a reflection of a specific vengefulness rooted in Judaism has been a recurring theme. From its Middle East correspondent Aftonbladet’s readers have learned that Israel under the leadership of Ehud Barak was striking at the Palestinians in accordance with the principle of ”an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”, that Israel’s prime minister Ariel Sharon had ”tried the eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth method since coming to power”, and that in order to stop Palestinian terror Israel’s government ”must give up its eye for eye, tooth for a tooth tactics”. (14)

How easily these images are activated could be seen also in connection with the controversy that unfolded in January 2004 when Israel’s ambassador to Sweden protested against and attacked the installation ”Snow white and the madness of truth” (depicting an Islamic Jihad terrorist in a basin of blood) at the Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm, accusing it of glorifying suicide bombers. Under the heading ”A tragic proof that Israel is stuck in hatred and violence” Aftonbladet’s Middle East correspondent explained: ”The Israeli ambassador’s violent behavior elucidates the situation in the Middle East. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.” (15) In the web publication Dagens PS the prominent journalist Peppe Engberg described what had happened at the museum as ”God’s people” acting with their ”reptilian brain” and claimed that the Israeli ambassador was inspired by ”the vengeful God of the Old Testament”. (16)

These examples illustrate another basic characteristic of all forms of prejudice: the collectivization of responsibility or guilt. Israel’s ambassador is transformed into all Israelis or all Jews. How these transformations take place, and how an event such as the Israeli ambassador’s protest serves as a stimulus for different kinds of anti-Jewish projections, is also demonstrated in an article published on the web site, which is a portal for Swedish cultural periodicals, sponsored by the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs. Under the heading ”Report from the Museum of National Antiquities” the following reflection was made: ”In the 1930s the Nazis destroyed art they looked upon as not being real art. Now, it is those who were hardest hit by the Nazis—the Jews—who claim the right to decide what constitutes art and what doesn’t and to destroy what they don’t appreciate.” (17) Here the Israeli ambassador not only is transformed into all Jews, but the Jews—as a collectivity—are also transformed into contemporary Nazis repeating the crimes of Nazi-Germany.

The image of Jewish vengefulness has not been the only stereotype rooted in Christian anti-Judaism that has colored the debate on Israel. The conservative Svenska Dagbladet published a letter that invoked the image of Jews as child murderers in that it described the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as acting in accordance with his ”biblical equivalent—the king of the Jews of that time, Herod—with his infamous child slaughter”. (18) During Easter 2002 Aftonbladet—intentionally or not—revived the accusation of Christ killing when it, on its editorial page, condemned Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians under the heading: ”The Crucifixion of Arafat”. (19)

One could argue that crucifixion is a general metaphor in Western culture and that it therefore must not be understood as anti-Jewish even when used as in this example. But speaking against this interpretation is, among other things, the fact that Aftonbladet never uses such metaphors when discussing or criticizing other states. It is an association that awakens only when the Jewish state is being discussed. Moreover, applying such images on the government of a Jewish state has, for historical reasons, a different meaning than if done on, say, that of Luxemburg or New Zealand.

The fact that the image of Jews as Christ killers surfaces during Easter—something that happened also for instance in the Italian newspaper La Stampa (20) —again signifies that the image is rooted in age-old anti-Jewish thinking. Nor was this the first time that Aftonbladet made this association: the paper condemned Israel’s invasion southern Lebanon in 1978 in a similar manner. An editorial, also published during Easter, headlined ”Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” was illustrated by a drawing showing the victims of Israel’s invasion as the suffering Christ. (21) During the 1982 Lebanon War another image was chosen. This time Aftonbladet’s editoral page portrayed the Israeli prime minister as the ”Angel of Death” of the Old Testament (referring to the Destroyer in the book of Exodus). (22)

Power, manipulation and conspiracies

Another theme that has re-emerged, and much more strongly so than in 1982, is the myth of Jewish power and Jewish manipulation of politics and the media. Today, these ideas seem to be more attractive and tolerated more within the mainstream of political opinion. This can be seen in the frequent fantasy-like descriptions of the omnipotence of the so-called ”Jewish lobby” in the United States, a lobby that in the minds of some Swedish observers single-handedly runs American foreign policy, or in the insinuations that the U.S. war on Iraq was secretly masterminded by Jews and conducted in the interests of Israel.

The myth of the Iraq war as a ”Zionist” conspiracy is normally presented in subtle terms. The argumentation is characterized by an obsession with those who happen to be Jews within the American administration. In this specific genre of articles the concept ”neoconservative” does not primarily designate an ideological position, but serves as a code-word for Jews. Sometimes, however, the idea of a Jewish cabal is put forward in a more outright fashion. In the run-up to the Iraq war, the US correspondent of Aftonbladet, answering a question from a reader, explained that the Americans were sure about winning the war but they also ”feared that someone would strike back with more terror. Someone who doesn’t like the Zionist conspiracy”. (23)

The writer Israel Shamir, who is a Swedish citizen, even borrows neo-Nazi terminology when describing the conspiracy. In his book, Blommor från Galiléen [Flowers from Galilee], which was published in Sweden in 2003, he writes that ”The occupation regime in Iraq was installed by the US army in the interests of Zionists, and it may be rightly called ZOG, Zionist Occupation Government…”(24) Shamir would have been of little interest if his book, which (like his web site) is full of antisemitic statements, had not been published by a respected publisher, Alhambra, and if he had not been praised as a brave critic of Israel by part of the left. The Palestine Solidarity Association in Sweden, the major pro-Palestinian organization in the country, not only has engaged Shamir as a speaker at an anti-Israel rally but also for a while helped promote and sell his book. (25) In an article published in late 2004 Shamir’s book was recommended by Evert Svensson, a former social democratic MP and for twenty years (until 2003) chairman of The International League of Religious Socialists. (26)

The entering of the myth of Jewish omnipotence and manipulation into the mainstream can also be observed in other contexts. A frequently repeated charge is that Israel is protected from criticism, that truths about Israel are treated as taboo and censored. According to this mythology, politicians and media in Sweden and other Western countries are either controlled by Jewish or ”Zionist” interests or so afraid of these ”powerful forces” or ”lobby groups”—the two dominant code-words for Jewish power in the Swedish discourse—that they don’t dare to ”speak their mind”.

Needless to say, the claim that Israel should somehow enjoy preferential treatment in the Swedish media has little to do with reality. Anyone following the reporting and debate on Israel in Sweden knows that criticism against Israeli policies is widespread, open and sharp. In an article titled ”Worst in the world?” Nathan Shachar, for many years Middle East correspondent for the liberal daily Dagens Nyheter, drew attention to a report showing that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the years 1996-98 as a subject not only represented 23,5 percent of all articles dealing with international conflicts in that paper’s cultural section, Israel was also ”the largest country in the world measured by the level of indignation”. 77 percent of all articles published on Israel were negative. (27) It is not unlikely that we would find a similar pattern in much of the Swedish media, nor that the percentage of articles dealing with or criticizing Israel would have risen since 2000.

A typical example of the kind of mythology described above can be found in the writings of Herman Lindqvist, one of Sweden’s most well known journalists and an author of best-selling popular history books. In an article inAftonbladet in late 2000, Lindqvist claimed that most Swedish journalists visiting Israel are ”shocked by the Israeli arrogance and racism towards the Arabs”. This, however, is never reported to the Swedish public, he continued, the reason being that few dared to write about it, knowing that those who did ”immediately become sprayed with poison by powerful and influential pro-Israeli lobby groups”. (28) As always in articles repeating this theme the ”influential lobby groups” remain anonymous.

Another example can be found in the program Mediemagasinet, produced and broadcast by Swedish public service TV, Swedish Television. In 2001 the program, specializing in examining the media, claimed that the full truth about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was never revealed in the Swedish press. And the reason for this, it was explained, was that some of the Swedish correspondents in the Middle East were Jews—which was presented as in itself a cause for suspicion—and that pressure from the ”Jewish lobby” made Swedish newspapers censor certain information that might be negative for Israel. (29)

In 2005 Ordfront Magasin, probably the most influential left-wing periodical in Sweden, carried an article that in an unusually naked manner sought to invoke the image of a Jewish conspiracy manipulating the media. Under the heading ”Swedish media is controlled by the Israeli regime” journalist Johannes Wahlström claimed that the Israeli government with the help of a powerful and secretive ”lobby” and through the use of pressure, threats and intimidation made Swedish newspapers, radio and television suppress certain information that could be damaging for Israel. These activities, Wahlström argued, was part of a global plan for media control drawn up in Jerusalem. (30) The article was simultaneously published on Israel Shamir’s web site. Shamir, reportedly, is Wahlström’s father. (31)

When the piece first was published, few protests were heard. To the contrary, the article was enthusiastically received by parts of the radical left. It was not until some of the Swedish correspondents interviewed by Wahlström explained that their words and views had been distorted in order to support his thesis that a reaction emerged. (32) The editor in chief of Ordfront Magasin now distanced himself from the article and apologized for having published it. (33) However, in the ensuing debate the fact that Ordfront Magasin had published an article clearly colored by antisemitic mythology played little role and was never admitted by the editor. It seems highly unlikely that the publication would have drawn much criticism at all had not Wahlström’s interviewees publicly protested. Even after they had made clear that their statements had been falsified, Wahlström’s claims were defended as basically correct by the radical leftist historian Åsa Lindeborg in Aftonbladet. (34)

The Ordfront affair is another indication that there today is a growing readiness to accept images of Jewish omnipotence and manipulation. The latter is also illustrated by the case of stand up comedian Magnus Betnér. Betnér regularly appears on various TV-shows and has repeatedly made “jokes” about Jews. On October 30, 2005, in ”Parlamentet”, a popular comedy program broadcast by TV4, Betnér stated: “One group I believe suffers from discrimination in Sweden is the Jews. They own only 45 per cent of the media in Sweden, that’s not even half goddammit!” In Expressen on November 4, 2005, Willy Silberstein, a well known Swedish-Jewish journalist, criticized Betnér for exploiting anti-Jewish stereotypes. Betnér replied that he stood by his statement. Although Silberstein had not mentioned Israel or Betnér’s views on the Middle East conflict in his critique, Betnér—following a common strategy of argumentation—also explained that he was actually being attacked for criticizing “the state of Israel”. (35) Apart from this there was little public reaction.

The mythology of Jewish control of the media can at times also be applied on a global level. In April 2004 the social democratic daily Dala-Demokraten in its cultural section published an article, headlined ”Israel is a Gulag”, in which it was stated that ”No information about the crimes that are taking place [in Israel and the occupied territories] can reach us since the world’s media from New York to Moscow via Paris and London are secured for Israel’s cause. The Israeli invasion of Ramallah and Bethlehem was camouflaged in the Jewish controlled press and media, like CNN…” (36)

The image of powerful Jews manipulating the media was also invoked during the Hillersberg controversy in 2001. This debate was unleashed by a Swedish government decision in late 2000 to award the artist Lars Hillersberg (1937–2004) with a life-long income guarantee by the state as a reward for his artistic achievements. The decision drew criticism from a number of historians and intellectuals who pointed out that Hillersberg, a left-wing anti-Zionist, since the late sixties had produced a number of clearly antisemitic pictures. It was also noted that the artist had been a supporter of the strongly antisemitic and “revisionist” radio station Radio Islam (nowadays a web site) and had drawn a picture used on the cover of a book written by Radio Islam editor Ahmed Rami. This particular Hillersberg drawing showed Rami being crucified by Jews. (37)

Very soon, however, it became clear that Hillersberg was supported by a substantial number of Swedish intellectuals who explained that the pictures that had drawn criticism were not at all anti-Jewish. Many lined up behind the interpretation offered by Lars Lönnroth, a professor of literature and chairman of the committee that had nominated Hillersberg for the award, who stated that the pictures should be seen as ”left-wing anti-capitalist and anti-Israel satire”. (38) One of those taking the same position was Folke Edwards, for many years head of the Gothenburg Art Museum, who described the critics as ”torpedoes for powerful interests”. (39) Gunnar Fredriksson, a columnist inAftonbladet and a former editor-in-chief of that newspaper, also acquitted Hillersberg’s pictures from antisemitism and condemned the ”powerful group” that had voiced criticism against the artist. (40)

The Hillersberg controversy, on a more general level, pointed to the gradual erosion of the postwar taboo on antisemitism in public space, and indicated the increase in the level of tolerance and attraction toward such ideas within parts of the mainstream political opinion. It demonstrated that antisemitism can now be defended in public without any political risks, if cloaked in anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, anti-capitalist or anti-American rhetoric. Another example illustrating the same tendency was the reception of the American writer and political scientist Norman Finkelstein’s book The Holocaust Industry. If this book to some extent points to some very real (if not unknown) problems concerning the use and misuse of the Holocaust, it no doubt also invokes the idea of a global ”Zionist” conspiracy driven by greed and sinister political motives. If Finkelstein in Germany was applauded primarily by conservative and right-wing extremist circles, his most enthusiastic supporters in Sweden were to be found within the radical left. (41)

That fantasies of Jewish omnipotence and conspiracies are again gaining acceptance within the mainstream media was also demonstrated by the broadcast of a satirical program called ”The third power” on Swedish public service television in August 2002. In a feature it was argued that it is not always bad being a victim. The point was illustrated by the Holocaust: images of murdered Jews in Nazi concentration camps, of stocks of gold barrels and jubilant Israelis were accompanied by a text explaining that the Holocaust wasn’t so bad for the Jews after all, since it gave them a state and billions of dollars from Germany and the Swiss banks. As a consequence, it was argued, the position of the Jews was now stronger than ever. The feature ended with an image of the World Trade Center and an insinuation that there might be a connection between Jewish power and the attacks on September 11. (42)

An unambiguous use of the myth of Jewish control of Western and Swedish media is also to be found on some of the web sites belonging to certain groups within the Swedish anti-globalization movement, a movement that sometimes combines anti-capitalism with radical anti-Zionism. (43)

”Progressive” antisemitism

A further theme in evidence at the time of the Lebanon war, the projection of Nazism and the Holocaust onto Israel or Jews, is also present in the current debate. Within the radical left it constitutes a central element in the anti-Israel propaganda. In publications and on web sites belonging to radical left-wing groups, cartoons equating the Star of David with the swastika or the suffering of the Palestinians with the Holocaust are common place. These groups have also exploited the day commemorating the Nazi pogrom against the Jews on November 9, 1938, in order to draw parallels between the Nazi persecution of the Jews and the Israeli treatment of Palestinians. (44)

For the militant anti-Zionist left these images serve a number of purposes. Primarily they help delegitimize Zionism and the state of Israel. Yet, an important reason for their attraction is also that they transform Israelis and ”Zionists” to legitimate targets of hostility—which they of course become when constructed as Nazis—and they enable antisemitism to be presented and legitimized as anti-racism, anti-Fascism and anti-Nazism. It is a formula to make hostility against Jews and Israel look progressive.

An elucidating example of how this works is the Swedish periodical Mana and its reception. Mana was launched at the end of the 1990s by a group of socialist Swedish-Iranians. It markets itself as ”the worlds best anti-racist publication”. With time anti-Zionism became a central issue in the magazine. Articles carried headlines like ”Hate Israel” and urged understanding for Palestinian suicide terror. The antisemitic outbursts that accompanied the UN conference on racism in Durban in 2001 were described as legitimate criticism of Zionism and Israel, as were the anti-Jewish statements made by the German politician Jürgen Möllemann in 2002. (45)

When the editor-in-chief, Babak Rahimi, in 2003 addressed the issue of antisemitism and the Holocaust the meaning of both concepts were falsified. Antisemitism was said to mean Jewish hatred against Arabs and the Holocaust to signify an Israeli crime against the Palestinians. The Holocaust, Rahimi explained, was an ongoing Israeli mass murder against ”people of semitic origin”. Even Holocaust-denial was given a new twist. It meant denying ”the Holocaust” against the Palestinans and falling prey to ”the Zionist version” of the Holocaust. (46) Soon after this, Mana was being hailed by well-known left-wing intellectuals as Sweden’s preeminent anti-racist publication. Per Wirtén, editor at the socialist magazine Arena, praised it as an important ”anti-racist and radical political voice”. In Dagens Nyheter journalist Karolina Ramqvist applauded ”the anti-racist cultural magazine Mana”. Equally enthusiastic about, what she called, the ”anti-racist magazine” was historian Åsa Linderborg. (47)

The case of Mana shows the success of the formula of ”progressive” antisemitism within parts of the left. The readiness to accept it no doubt also has to do with the self-image of the left. As the German sociologist Werner Bergman has pointed out, ”Typical for ’anti-racist anti-Semitism’ is its clean conscience and a self-image that sees antisemitism as principally incompatible with a leftist outlook.” (48)

It is also quite clear that the construct of Jews as new Nazis and perpetrators of a new Holocaust continues to attract because of its ability to relieve feelings of guilt from, and to relativize, the Shoah. Commenting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Ordfront Magasin in 2002, the well-known journalist and celebrated author Katarina Mazetti suggested that: ”Maybe it is time to stop the efforts of taking Swedish youngsters to Auschwitz in order to teach them the consequences of racism and ethnic cleansing. Maybe we shall invite them for a Christmas trip to Betlehem instead, so that they can have a look at what the grandchildren of the victims of Auschwitz are up to when they are devoting themselves to ethnic cleansing!” (49) That Mazetti attacked not the Israeli government, nor the Israeli army, but ”the grandchildren of the victims of Auschwitz” and implied that this group was now repeating the crimes of the Holocaust, is of course telling. Again, the role of Israel as the ”collective Jew”, and as a stand-in for the Jews who were murdered by the Nazis, is obvious in many of these fantasies.

Old-new antisemitism

With reference to the discussion on the character of contemporary antisemitism in Europe—whether it is in a significant way new or basically traditional—a preliminary conclusion that can be drawn from this limited examination of Swedish public debate is it that anti-Jewish thinking in many cases seem to reflect historically and culturally rooted images. Certainly new elements that nourish, activate and sometimes modify these images have entered the scene. And new contexts emerge in which they come to expression.

However, it is also important to be perceptive of new, in some cases old-new, tendencies now taking place. It should be noted that in Sweden, like in many other European countries, the consequences of the Holocaust clearly play a crucial role in shaping the features of postwar anti-Jewish thinking. The projection of Nazism and the Holocaust onto the Jewish state, or onto Jews in general, constitutes a central element in contemporary anti-Jewish discourse.

Furthermore, much evidence suggests that there is an increased acceptance of, and attraction to, anti-Jewish beliefs—specifically ideas of Jewish power and manipulation—within the broader political culture, and primarily within left-wing circles. Other changes, also with regards to the content of anti-Jewish thinking, might of course be taking place. A question that ought to be examined is how antisemitism propagated by radical Islamists – a problem that has become increasingly visible also in Sweden during later years – might affect discourses on Israel and Jews within the political mainstream as well as within the extreme left and the radical right. In order to provide answers to this and other relevant questions, and to better determine the character of contemporary antisemitism in Sweden, more research is needed.

A final conclusion, based also on previous research on Swedish public discourse, is that there is an intimate relationship between antisemitism and perceptions, attitudes and reactions to Israel and the Middle East conflict, and that the public debate on Israel is a major forum for antisemitism within the political mainstream. An important reason for this seems to be that Israeli policies and actions, and the criticism they draw, serve as a stimulus for pre-existing anti-Jewish sentiments and prejudice to become manifest. But the debate on Israel also becomes an important forum for anti-Jewish prejudice because it constitutes a public arena where negative attitudes toward Jews can be legitimately articulated, since in this context they can easily be packaged and rationalized as criticism of Israel or Zionism. After 9/11 and, even more so, after the Iraq war, antisemitic ideas have also entered the debate on US foreign policy.

Henrik Bachner has a Ph. D. from the Department of History of Ideas and Science, Lund University. His publications include Återkomsten. Antisemitism i Sverige efter 1945 [Resurgence. Antisemitism in Sweden after 1945], Natur och Kultur 1999 (paperback 2004) and Antisemitiska attityder och föreställningar i Sverige [Antisemitic attitudes and images in Sweden] (with Jonas Ring), Forum för levande historia and Brottsförebyggande rådet 2006.


(1) The number of reported crimes with antisemitic motives have been fairly stable between 1999 and 2004. See the annual reports Brottslighet kopplad till rikets inre säkerhet, published by the Swedish Security Service, Stockholm,
(2) The focus of this article is anti-Jewish stereotypes in the broader political culture. Antisemitism within the extreme right and radical Islamism will not be treated. Nor will the prevalence of anti-Jewish attitudes within the general population be discussed. A survey of antisemitic attitudes in Sweden was published in 2006. However, since this was the first study of its kind there is no material that enables a change over time comparison. For results from the survey, including an English summary, see Henrik Bachner and Jonas Ring, Antisemitiska attityder och föreställningar i Sverige, Forum för levande historia och Brottsförebyggande rådet, Stockholm, 2006,
(3) Lars M. Andersson, En jude är en jude är en jude… Representationer av “juden” i svensk skämtpress 1900-1930, Nordic Academic Press, Lund, 2000, Steven Koblik, The Stones Cry Out. Sweden’s Response to the Persecution of the Jews. 1933–1945, Holocaust Library, New York, 1988, Paul A. Levine, From Indifference to Activism. Swedish Diplomacy and the Holocaust; 1938–1944, Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, Uppsala, 1996, Ingvar Svanberg & Mattias Tydén, Sverige och Förintelsen. Debatt och dokument om Europas judar 1933–1945 Arena, Stockholm, 1997, Rochelle Wright, The Visible Wall. Jews and Other Ethnic Outsiders in Swedish Film Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale/Edwardsville, 1998.
(4) Henrik Bachner, Återkomsten. Antisemitism i Sverige efter 1945 [Resurgence. Antisemitism in Sweden after 1945], Natur och Kultur, Stockholm, 1999, pp. 236-330, 354-368.
(5) Bernard Wasserstein, Vanishing Diaspora. The Jews in Europe since 1945, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1996, pp. 231–232, Robert Wistrich, Hitler’s Apocalypse. Jews and the Nazi Legacy, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1985, pp. 236-255. Se also Simon Epstein, Cyclical Patterns in Antisemitism: The Dynamics of Anti-Jewish Violence in Western Countries since the 1950s, ACTA. 2, 1993, pp. 4-6.
(6) For an analysis of the 1982 debate see chapter 6 in Bachner, Återkomsten, and Henrik Bachner, “Anti-Jewish motifs in the public debate on Israel. Sweden: A case study”, Antisemitism Worldwide 2001/2,The Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism and Racism, Tel Aviv University, 2003, It should be underlined that most of the debate in 1982, which in the main was sharply critical of Israel, cannot be judged as antisemitic. Nevertheless, a substantial number of articles did contain antisemitic elements.
(7) See Bachner, Återkomsten, 1999, pp. 413-440. See also Wistrich, Hitler’s Apocalypse, 1985, pp. 237-240.
(8) Henrik Bachner, ”Efterord: Antijudiska motiv i svensk Mellanösterndebatt efter 2000”, in Bachner, Återkomsten (paperback edition), Natur & Kultur, Stockholm, 2004, pp. 555-600.
(9) Adam Garfinkle, “The Madness of Jewcentricity”, The American Interest, No. 2, 2006.
(10) See Edward H. Kaplan and Charles A. Small, “Anti-Israel Sentiment Predicts Anti-Semitism in Europe”, Journal of Conflict Resolution, No. 4, 2006, p. 548-561.
(11) Interviewed in Imprints, No. 1, 2003.
(12) New York Times, 16 October 2002.
(13) Expressen, 13 October 2000.
(14) Wolfgang Hansson, Aftonbladet, 13 October 2000, 22 March 2002, 20 May 2002.
(15) Wolfgang Hansson, Aftonbladet, 18 January 2004.
(16) Dagens PS, 16 January 2004.
(17) Anders Hedman,, 20 January 2004.
(18) Peter Tornborg, Svenska Dagbladet, 25 February 2002.
(19) Aftonbladet, 1 April 2002.
(20) La Stampa, 3 April 2002.
(21) Aftonbladet, 27 March 1978.
(22)EWK, Aftonbladet, 17 June 1982.
(23) Fredrik Virtanen, Aftonbladet, (web edition), 29 March 2003.
(24) Israel Adam Shamir, Blommor i Galiléen, Alhambra, Stockholm, 2003, p. 186.
(25) See ”’Israelkritiker’ rekommenderar antisemitisk bok”, Nyhetsbrev April 2005, Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism, and articles on Shamir at
(26) Evert Svensson,, 5 November 2004.
(27) Dagens Nyheter, 19 October 1998.
(28) Aftonbladet,, 26 November 2000.
(29) Mediemagasinet, Swedish Television, 1 November 2001.
(30) Johannes Wahlström, Ordfront Magasin, No. 12, 2005.
(31) See Richard Slätt, Neo, No. 2, 2006.
(32) Lotta Schüllerqvist, Dagens Nyheter, 13 January, 2006 and Peter Löfgren, Expressen, 13 January, 2006.
(33) The apology was published on the Ordfront Magasin website in January 2006.
(34) Åsa Linderborg, Aftonbladet, 17 January 2006.
(35) Magnus Betnér, Expressen, 7 November, 2005.
(36) Jörgen Dicander, Dala-Demokraten, 1 April 2004. In this particular case the editor-in-chief, after protests from the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism, acknowledged the article as prejudiced and apologized for publishing it. Göran Greider, Dala-Demokraten, 21 April 2004.
(37) See for example Kristian Gerner, Svenska Dagbladet, 22 January 2001, Jackie Jakubowski, Dagens Nyheter, 2 March 2001, Henrik Bachner, Dagens Nyheter, 7 March 2001, Lars M Andersson et al., Dagens Nyheter, 15 March 2001. Several Hillersberg drawings are reprinted in Bachner, Återkomsten, 2004.
(38) Svenska Dagbladet, 22 January 2001. For a discussion on the Hillersberg controversy, see Bachner, Återkomsten, 2004, s 564-577.
(39) Göteborgs-Tidningen, 19 April 2001.
(40) Aftonbladet,, 11 March 2002.
(41)For the Swedish reception of Finkelstein, see Henrik Bachner, Expressen, 2 December 2001. For the German debate, see for example Rolf Surmann, ed., Das Finkelstein-Alibi. “Holocaust-Industrie” und Tätergesellschaft, Papyrossa, Köln, 2001.
(42) Tredje makten, Swedish Television, 7 August 2002.
(43) Images of this kind were for instance used on certain web sites during 2002.
(44) See Kristian Gerner, Nyhetsbrev februari 2002, Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism, 2002, and Maria Svensson and Mikael Tossavainen, Expressen, 21 November 2001.
(45) See Mana, No. 6-7, 2001, No. 2, 2002, No. 3, 2002 and No. 5-6, 2003.
(46) Babak Rahimi, ”Araben är juden”, Mana, No. 1, 2003.
(47) Per Wirtén, Journalisten, 11-16 June 2003 and Arena, 18 October 2004 , Karolina Ramqvist, Dagens Nyheter, 4 December 2004, Åsa Linderborg, LO-tidningen, No. 29, 2004.
(48) Werner Bergmann, ”Neuer alter Antisemitismus in Europa (2002-2003)”, paper, Universität Zürich, 3 Feburary 2004, p. 8.
(49) Katarina Mazetti, Ordfront Magasin, No. 12, 2002.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: