Malmo Synagogue Rocked by Explosion
Swedish city’s small Jewish community increasingly targeted by Muslim extremists.
According to reports from Swedish media, early Friday morning a substantial explosion took place outside the largest Synagogue in Malmö. The explosion was described by the Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan as being caused by “major fireworks.”
The attack occurred shortly before 2 a.m. on July 23, with residents saying that they heard a large explosion coupled with a bright flash near the synagogue.
Sydsvenskanreported that police found black charred residue at the scene but are not treating the incident as a major explosion. A police spokesperson, Göran Billberg, stated that the explosive device was likely “some kind of firecracker,” ruling out a bomb attack.
A handwritten bomb threat note was taped to the building some time before the incident occurred. Two weeks earlier, the synagogue also experience an explosion. No one was injured in either attack.
The attack is being treated as simple vandalism by police which has drawn the ire of many, including the Chairman of the Jewish Community, Fred Kahn, who views the explosion as an “attack or an attempted attack.”
“This is not the case where somebody accidently happened to set off some firecrackers,” he told Swedish newspaper Skånskan.
The powerful explosion was strong enough to blow out several synagogue windows.
Police have increased their surveillance and patrols near the synagogue but are stating that there was no indication of a specific threat against the synagogue prior to the attack occurring. While synagogues and churches of Malmo have been the subject of threats of violence in the past, according to Sydsvenskan, police said that no other incidents of a similar nature have been reported recently.
The attack has the 700 member Jewish community of Malmo worried. The city has had increasing levels of anti-Semitism in the last few years, with reports surfacing in international news stories of local Jews being targeted by Muslim extremists and neo-Nazis. At least 30 community members have already left for Stockholm, England or Israel and more are considering doing so.
Kahn told Sydsvenskan that it is “incredibly sad to see it happen again.”
He said that the worst part was the feeling that the Jewish community was once again being targeted.
“We thought it was over with this stuff,” said Kahn.
Bjorn Lagerback, Coordinator of the Dialogue Forum, an organization that fights hate crime, feels that the attack should be treated with utmost seriousness. “Such an event is not only directed against the synagogue, but also other objects that can be defined as ethnic or religious,” he was quoted as saying.
In 2009 the community’s chapel was firebombed, cemeteries were repeatedly vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti, Jews were harassed on their way home from synagogue, and on the streets there were incidents of masked men chanting “Hitler.”
“I never thought I would see hatred again in my lifetime, not in Sweden anyway,”Malmö resident and Holocaust survivor Judith Popinski told the Telegraph. “This new hatred comes from Muslim immigrants. The Jewish people are afraid now.”
The Jews of Malmö do not only place the blame squarely on the shoulders of extremist Muslims and other racists who subscribe to a neo-Nazi ideology. They also have harsh words for the city’s left wing mayor of 15 years, social democrat Ilmar Reepalu.
Reepalu has been criticized for failing to adequately protect his city’s Jewish population while excusing previous attacks as “anti-Israel attacks, connected to the war in Gaza.” He has also been quoted claiming that what Jews experience as anti-Semitism is just the net effect of Israel’s actions.
Reepalu told the Sunday Telegraph that “There haven’t been any attacks on Jewish people, and if Jews from the city want to move to Israel that is not a matter for Malmö.” While he claimed he was simply reiterating police reports and later met with members of the community to hear their concerns, he nonetheless stated that if Jews wanted to leave Sweden for Israel, it was more a matter for the country as a whole to look at, not specifically his city.
In 2009, hate crimes in Malmö doubled to 79, with the majority directed at Jews. Many more hate crimes likely went unreported.
“Many (Jews) feel the community and local politicians have shown a lack of understanding for how the city’s Jewish residents have been marginalized,” community member Fredrik Sieradzki stated in The Local, an English-language Swedish news publication.
He described the situation the Jews of Malmö face as a “downward spiral.”
“People want to maintain their Jewish traditions, but when they see others leave after being threatened, they begin to question whether or not they want to stay here.”
Raffi Zender, who made Aliyah from Malmö, told Haartez that “in Malmö, it is not a good idea to walk with a skull cap or wear a Star of David in the street.” He said that the riots that took place on several occasions – including at a pro-peace rally organized by the city’s Jews during the run-up to the Gaza war and a violent confrontation outside a Malmö tennis stadium where Israel was supposed to play Sweden in a Davis Cup match – were important factors that pushed he and his friends to leave.
While many Jews sought refuge in Sweden after World War II and have felt safe there until recently, the situation in Malmö has led the country’s Jewish community, roughly 18,000, to being to re-evaluate whether that situation of security was only temporary.
“I thought ‘this couldn’t happen in Sweden.’ Now I know otherwise,” Ulla-Lena Cavling, a 72-year old retired teacher told the Telegraph.