WASHINGTON (JTA) — The mayor of Malmo makes "recurring ignorant and bigoted statements," a Swedish minister said after meeting with the U.S. envoy to combat anti-Semitism.
Erik Ullenhag, Sweden’s integration minister, issued the statement just after meeting Thursday with Hannah Rosenthal.
"Mayor Ilmar Reepalu’s recurring ignorant and bigoted statements complicate the work to combat anti-Semitism," he said in an unusually sharp attack in Sweden’s political culture. "These statements not only have a negative impact on the image of Malmo but the entire country’s credibility in these issues.”
Rosenthal told Ullenhag in their meeting that the hourlong meeting she had Tuesday with Reepalu was essentially fruitless.
In an interview with JTA, Rosenthal described the frustrations of her meeting Reepalu.
"I went through and showed how he was using traditional anti-Semitic language, accusing Jews of being part of a conspiracy, denying Jewish people a homeland when he was vocal in support of other people for a homeland — namely, the Palestinians — blaming Jews for what goes on in another country," she said. "He kept saying he couldn’t understand why ‘they are doing this to me.’ It was ‘they, they, they.’ He could not hear where this was something ‘he’ has to deal with."
Reepalu told the media after his meeting with Rosenthal that the two had "a good conversation."
Rosenthal said she told Reepalu that unless he changed, his legacy following his expected departure from office in 2014 after 20 years would be as a bigot rather than one who has helped revive Malmo.
Rosenthal told JTA that she met with leaders of the Jewish, Roma and Muslim communities in Malmo who have joined to combat bigotry in the city. She said the Muslim and Roma leaders told her that Reepalu’s anti-Semitic statements troubled them in part because they created a hostile atmosphere and contributed to attacks on their communities.
Ullenhag briefed Rosenthal on his government’s efforts to combat xenophobia and noted its efforts to ensure Jewish security.
"We shared the view that all forms of xenophobia, whether it is anti-Semitism or Islamaphobia, is utterly unacceptable," he said in his statement. "I stressed that the Swedish government is united in standing up for an open and tolerant Sweden."
Rosenthal also attended events in Sweden marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who intervened to save the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust and later disappeared under Soviet occupation.
She also toured Latvia, where the envoy reviewed efforts to mark the Holocaust in that country. Rosenthal pressed the Latvian leadership on the country’s continued commemorations of Latvian participation in the Waffen SS, the military wing of the Nazi Party.
Rosenthal told JTA that she encountered resistance to her efforts to explain why such commemorations are offensive to Jews.
"They tried to tell me Latvians rounded up Jews but didn’t kill them," she said. "They said it was ‘complicated.’ I said it wasn’t complicated when it comes to killing Jews."