A recent CNN poll startled many with its central finding: Anti-Semitic stereotypes and sentiments are alive and well in Europe. Sadly, as someone who grew up in Sweden, this is nothing new to me.
The poll, which surveyed more than 7,000 people across France, Germany, Austria, Poland, Britain, Hungary, and Sweden, revealed that the anti-Semitism that was rampant across Europe over a thousand years ago is still a fixture of life on the continent.
Only 54 percent of respondents said that Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state. One in five said that Jews have too much influence in media and politics. More than a quarter said that they have outsize influence in business and finance, and almost a quarter said they have too much influence in conflict and wars.
Growing up in the suburbs of Stockholm, I heard all of these sentiments expressed again and again. Don’t get me wrong, Sweden has a great track record of fighting racism domestically and globally and it is considered a humanitarian powerhouse. But it also has a darker side — one that seldom gets the attention it needs.
During the earlier years of my childhood, I grew up in the more integrated neighborhoods in Stockholm that had a rich array of backgrounds among inhabitants — Swedish, Finnish, Middle Eastern, and Latino being among the most prevalent. The political bent in such neighborhoods was and remains distinctly left-of-center. On immigration and economic policies, the message is inclusion in society for all, especially the less fortunate. But when talking about injustice around the world, while suppression of basic democratic rights of ethnic groups and women receives attention, the majority of debate tends to center on the plight of Palestinians at the hands of Israel. An anti-Semitic bent is clearly present in both conversations that touch on influence in business and conflicts and also in conspiracy theories. It’s not difficult to see the connection.
Many of the Swedes I came across weren’t even aware that the rhetoric they so passionately spewed was anti-Semitic. I have been in conversations where acquaintances proudly talk about the anti-racist demonstrations and initiatives they have been active in, only to turn the conversation to how Jews control the world through a wide-reaching conspiracy.
It is no wonder Jews around Europe are often afraid to openly identify as Jewish. But Europe is not alone. In recent years, we have seen an increase in anti-Semitism across the United States.
There have been a greater number of hate crimes perpetrated against Jews, such as the ruthless murder of 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October. Swastikas have been spray-painted on the campuses of Columbia University and Cornell University. Furthermore, anti-Semitism can also be found in left-leaning circles. This anti-Semitism, as I’ve found to be true in Sweden and as Bari Weiss correctly puts it, “comes cloaked in the language of progressive values.”
There is a growing trend in American higher education of professors choosing to deny letters of recommendation for students who hope to study abroad in Israel. The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement has found support at college campuses across the nation, and some colleges, like Pitzer College, have even voted to bar their students from studying abroad in Israel altogether.
I haven’t seen comparable efforts to end study abroad programs in say, China, a nation that denies basic democratic rights to its citizens and violently oppresses its ethnic minorities. I don’t mean to draw any equivalencies between injustices or imply that all people who oppose Israel’s policies are anti-Semitic. I do, however, feel that all nations should be held to the same standards.
Over 16 percent of Penn students identify as Jewish, according to the Hillel International College Guide. Following the Pittsburgh shooting, Penn made the decision to increase security at Hillel, but that does not protect Jewish Penn students from the insidious, “cloaked” anti-Semitism they frequently encounter. We must address anti-Semitism in all forms, even from those who believe they have good intentions.
MICHAEL A. KESHMIRI is a College senior from Stockholm, Sweden studying political science. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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