Spotlighting Anti-Semitism In Sweden — And Beyond


Annika Hernroth-Rothstein, 34, is a writer and political activist from Stockholm. Formerly a political adviser for the conservative coalition in Sweden, she now writes regularly about global anti-Semitism for such publications as The Jerusalem Post, Commentary and Mosaic magazine. From her perch in Stockholm, Hernroth-Rothstein has become a vociferous advocate for her local Jewish community — and more widely, for European Jewry —arguing that local and state governments need to be held accountable for anti-Semitic and anti-Israel legislation. The Jewish Week interviewed Hernroth-Rothstein by email. This is an edited transcript.

Q: How did you get involved in this line of work?

A: I care deeply about community, local and global, and I believe in tikkun olam, something I try to let influence my life both professionally and privately. For the past three years I have focused a lot of my energy on writing about global anti-Semitism as I believe it is, yet again, the defining issue of our time.

How big is the Jewish community in Sweden?

The Jewish community of Sweden consists of 15,000 people, compared to an overall population of roughly 9 million. The Jews of Sweden are traditionally very integrated with the non-Jewish society, and few are considered religious and/or observant. We also have a very high intermarriage rate, in the high 80s.

In 2013 you famously filed for asylum in your own country, seeking to hold the Swedish government accountable for what you saw as religious persecution. What sort of religious persecution did you experience?

I filed for asylum after I had been watching for years as the incidences of Swedish anti-Semitism rose steadily, as violent hate crimes against Jews increased, as moves were initiated in parliament and elsewhere to curtail or ban core Jewish ritual practices — like circumcision and kosher slaughter — and as nothing was done to counter or reverse these trends, either by the government, by politicians and human-rights activists, or by the Jewish community.

Has there been any change since then?

In the past years since I filed for asylum I have seen matters get worse, month by month. In a 2013 survey conducted by the European Union’s agency for fundamental rights, 76 percent of European Jews said that anti-Semitism had increased over the previous five years, and 29 percent said they contemplated emigrating. Perhaps most astonishing, of those who said they had suffered a physical attack, fully two-thirds had chosen not to report it since they were convinced the police would react passively. Anti-Semitism in Europe is not on the decline, but ever-rising, and it should be an issue on everyone’s mind.

The city of Malmo, in southern Sweden, has seen a rise in aliyah in recent years. Is that a trend you are seeing in Stockholm and across the country?

There is an overall trend of aliyah, all over the country. I would say, though, that as Swedish Jews are more assimilated than, for example, French Jews, they are less likely to make that move.

How did the Swedish Jewish community react to the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher attacks, and the Denmark synagogue shooting earlier this year?

The murders in France and Denmark hit us all very hard, and what we have seen is a broader security awareness and added funding for such measures. Now that there are policemen with automatic rifles outside our children’s schools, guards outside our synagogues, and no-go zones in our cities, the community has been shaken and awakened. This is no longer a matter of fighting a ban on kosher slaughter, or of retaining the right to circumcise our sons; at risk is the security of each and every Jew in the country. Our children’s winter camp was cancelled due to security concerns, and unfortunately I believe Jewish lives will continue to be altered and adapted as a result of these attacks.