Jewish Journal


October 20, 2013

Swedish Jew Says No to Assimilation, Immigration– and is Seeking Religious Asylum



A Stockholm rally in solidarity with Malmo's Jewish community
October 7, 2012. Photo by Annika Henroth-Rothstein

Annika Hernroth-Rothstein is a political advisor, writer, and activist in support of Israel. She is from Sweden, and is working to promote “a strong traditional Jewish community" in her native country. In September 2012 she organized the first public pro-Israel demonstration in Sweden in seven years – an event that drew 1500 people. A couple of months ago she wrote an article for Mosaic, on how to survive as a Jew in Sweden (Mosaic ran an important series of articles on the fate of European Jewry). But perhaps survival is proving to be a non-option. With circumcision under attack, Kosher food under attack, and a general sense of insecurity on the rise, the traditional Jew is gradually being outlawed in Sweden.

Last week, Hernroth sent a letter to my JPPI colleague Dov Maimon, our point man on Jewish European affairs. Maimon just recently wrote an important – and disturbing – report on the fate of contemporary European Jewry for JPPI’s annual assessment. “The campaigns to restrict Jewish rites we are observing today”, he wrote, “seem to be part of a wider cultural mega-trend that is not disconnected from the political, economic, and demographic European identity crisis. It is worthwhile considering whether current approaches and strategies utilized by Jewish communities – of winning short-term votes and attaining back-door agreements, but not always engaging with wider developments in public opinion – can protect Jewish practices over the long-term”. The Jerusalem Post was convinced- by Dov's paper, among others – that it is time for Israel to get ready "to absorb thousands of European Jews". 

Maimon shared Hernroth’s letter with some colleagues, and with her permission I’m now sharing parts of it with our readers. "In my community", she wrote, "the traditional Jewish community of Stockholm, we discuss the possibility and consequences of Aliyah all the time. The main factor that holds people back is, honestly, the long term cost of relocation from a developed country. At this point, not only is the process almost laughed at for its bureaucracy, but one is also concerned about the downgrade in living - and working conditions".

She then moves on to discuss the state of Swedish Jewry and what she calls "the horrific situation not only in my country but in Europe as a whole":

In Sweden, kosher slaughter is outlawed. This, in a country that has one of the most liberal hunting laws in the world (where private slaughter is permitted during hunting) and that also permits halal slaughter. Brit milah is under attack. I personally am (today, actually) handling the 2nd bill in 6 months demanding the outlawing of all circumcision that is not deemed medically necessary and acute. Anti-Semitic attacks are constant. Most not being filed and processed. I have done the research and seen the statistics. It's frightening. The people around me cannot walk the streets being visibly Jewish. The men cannot don kippot until within the synagogue; we are heavily guarded as we enter. At Rosh Hashanah 7 policemen guarded us as we walked to the stream for tashlich, a 5 minute walk in the most well off neighborhood in Stockholm. We are living in a silent terror, and accepting it with bowed heads. However, I cannot accept it any longer.

So I have decided to seek asylum in my own country. I realize how strange it must sound, but in a reality lacking logic it makes perfect sense.

I have read and re-read the terms and basis for seeking asylum in my country, as well as in the European Union. The law states that a person should be granted asylum in Sweden if he or she "has reason to believe that she will be persecuted due to religion, ethnicity, political views and/or sexual orientation and gender.” My plan for action is to seek asylum on the basis of religious persecution. As Jews, we meet these demands.

In another letter I received from Hernroth-Rothstein late last week, she writes that "I do realize the absurdity of what I am writing, what I am asking". Still, she says, "the situation is beyond absurdity, beyond op-eds and strongly worded letters. This situation calls for action, reaction, and a statement from Swedish Jewry that it refuses to choose between fear and assimilation".

The JPost, quoting from the survey of European Jewry conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, has the numbers from all over Europe. "In Hungary, 91% of respondents said anti-Semitism has increased in the past five years. That figure was 88% in France, 87% in Belgium and 80% in Sweden. In Germany, Italy and Britain, some 60% identified a growth in anti- Semitism, compared to 39% in Latvia". This doesn't mean that these Jews will soon immigrate to Israel. "In order to avoid friction with their environment, Jews take various steps – the more practicing Jews relocate in self-segregated neighborhoods, the more idealistic ones make Aliyah, and the most ambitious ones quit Europe for more promising horizons", wrote Maimon in his recent paper. I guess Hernroth-Rothstein is the exception: she's going all out against her own government, knowing that the chances for success are low, but feeling that fleeing without a fight just isn't the right thing to do.

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