Dark Continent

STOCKHOLM – Rabbi Shneur Kesselman estimates that he has been the victim of 100 or so anti-Semitic confrontations since he arrived in the southern Swedish city of Malmö in 2004. The latest was just a few days ago, when some young immigrants in a car spotted him on his way home after the evening service at the synagogue. The driver accelerated up onto the sidewalk as if trying to run him over.

Kesselman leads the Jewish congregation in Malmö, a town where many Jews are now afraid to wear a yarmulke or a Star of David in public. With his big beard and black hat, he stands out as an orthodox Jew, and is constantly spat upon, cursed at, and threatened. About a dozen families in his congregation have decided to leave the city for Israel or the United States, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, named after the famous Nazi-hunter, has issued a warning for Jews visiting the town.

But Malmö’s problems are not unique to Sweden. Anti-Semitic hate crimes are on the rise in many parts of Europe. In Germany and Austria, most such crimes are still committed by right-wing extremists, but, elsewhere in Western Europe, the increase reflects attitudes among young immigrant males – a finding documented by an exhaustive report released by the US State Department in 2005.

The recent murders of four Jews – a rabbi and three schoolchildren – in Toulouse constitute one of the worst anti-Semitic crimes of the last decade in Europe. We still know too little about Mohammed Merah, who killed seven people in total during his rampage, to ascertain whether he was affiliated with al-Qaeda, as he claimed, and we should be careful to draw conclusions about the cause and nature of his crime before the investigation has run its course. But, in the reactions to his killing spree, we see values and ideas that are all too familiar.