Obama sends antisemitism tsar to Malmo

By Nathalie Rothschild, April 26, 2012
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Hannah Rosenthal, Barack Obama's special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, has travelled to Malmö, Sweden, for a closed-doors meeting with the city's mayor who has been accused of fomenting hatred of Jews.

Ilmar Reepalu recently told Swedish magazine Neo that the far-right Sweden Democrat party has "infiltrated the Jewish community in order to push its hatred of Muslims".

In February, the US Ambassador to Sweden, Mark Brzezinski, criticised Mr Reepalu at a meeting with the Jewish community.

Ms Rosenthal also met representatives of the local Jewish community, including Chabad Rabbi Shneur Kesselman, who says he has personally experienced around 90 antisemitic incidents since moving to Malmö seven years ago. He believes Swedes with Middle Eastern backgrounds are behind the assaults.

"The US embassy has been monitoring the situation and it is worried," said Rabbi Kesselman. "We did not initiate the meeting with Ms Rosenthal. She wanted to hear our story. We didn't present any demands. This was about her getting a first-hand picture of the situation."

Mr Reepalu described his meeting with Ms Rosenthal as "open-hearted".

Lena Posner-Körösi, chair of the Jewish Community in Stockholm, has called Mr Reepalu's remarks about the far-right a "conspiracy theory founded on pure antisemitism". It was the latest in a series of controversial statements. In 2010, Mr Reepalu suggested that Malmö's Jews could avoid antisemitic attacks by condemning Israel's actions in Gaza and that they had sent "the wrong signals" by holding an Israel solidarity demonstration.

Last year, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre accused Mr Reepalu of not doing enough to protect Jewish citizens. Malmö had experienced a surge in antisemitic crimes, ranging from verbal assaults to the desecration of a shul.

Last updated: 2:38pm, April 26 2012