Jewish leaders in Sweden have held a meeting with the chairman of the Social Democratic Party, Stefan Löfven, over controversial comments made by the mayor of the city of Malmö, Ilmar Reepalu, which many say were "anti-Semitic". Löfven told told the newspaper ‘Dagens Nyheter’ that Reepalu’s comments had been wrong but that he still backed the mayor, who is a member of his party.
Reepalu had suggested that there were "strong ties" between the Jewish community in Malmö and the Sweden Democrats, a political party with an anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim line which has its roots in Sweden's neo-Nazi movement. According to Reepalu, "Sweden Democrats have infiltrated the Jewish community in order to push their hate of Muslims". He later admitted he had “no basis” for the claims, but the comments sparked an angry reaction from the Jewish community, which wrote a letter to Löfven demanding action. The letter was signed by the heads of the Jewish communities of Malmö, Stockholm, and Gothenburg and said Reepalu no longer had any credibility among the Jews of Sweden.
"It was a very constructive meeting," Lena Posner Körösi, chairwoman of the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, told the TT news agency following the encounter with Löfven at the Social Democratic Party headquarters in Stockholm (pictured right). However, she added that it was now up to Reepalu to show he could live up to the Social Democratic values emphasized by Löfven during the meeting. "Now it remains for Ilmar Reepalu to prove it by his words and actions. Today I don't have any confidence in him," she said.
Löfven said after the meeting: "We have made it very clear that we are committed to our values, to equality and to religious freedom. I understand and respect the Jewish community's concern when they view these comments as an insult to these rights." He admitted that the Malmö mayor's comments were regrettable. "I want to improve dialogue with the Jewish community in Malmö for which Ilmar Reepalu has a great deal of responsibility," he said. "I have confidence in him, but it is clear that the statements he has made have not been good and I have been very clear that it's unfortunately that they were viewed as anything other than what the party stands for.
In 2010, Reepalu (pictured left) said that a group of Jews in Malmö who were attacked by Muslims during a peaceful protest in support of Israel brought the violence upon themselves for not distancing themselves from Israel and its actions during the war in Gaza in 2008/09. In 2010, Reepalu said that a group of Jews in Malmö who were attacked by Muslims during a peaceful protest in support of Israel brought the violence upon themselves for not distancing themselves from Israel and its actions during the war in Gaza. At the time, he said: “We accept neither Zionism nor anti-Semitism. They are extremes that put themselves above other groups, and believe they have a lower value." He also criticized the the city’s Jewish community for its support for Israel, declaring: “I would wish for the Jewish community to denounce Israeli violations against the civilian population in Gaza. Instead it decides to hold a [pro-Israeli] demonstration in the Main Square which could send the wrong signals.”
Jewish leaders responded that the demonstration Reepalu was referring to was a pro-peace rally arranged by the Jewish Community in Malmö "which came under attack from members of a violent counter demonstration." They accused Reepalu of "suggesting that the violence directed towards us is our own fault simply because we did not speak out against Israel."