It’s a familiar arc: A Jewish community is attacked or threatened by anti-Semites, after which recriminations and regrets are publicly aired and the Jewish world wonders what could have been done differently to ensure Jewish safety.
And then there is Gothenberg.
This Saturday—not coincidentally Yom Kippur—the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) will march through the coastal town of Gothenberg, Sweden, spreading its anti-Semitic hatred on the holiest day of the Jewish year. During the Holocaust, it was customary for the Nazis to carry out atrocities on days important to the Jewish calendar. The added benefit to the NRM of holding its hate march on Yom Kippur is that it is the day when even Jews who rarely worship are likely to attend synagogue.
Gothenberg authorities have already changed the NRM’s planned route to avoid proximity to the town’s synagogue, prompting 60 Nazi supporters to demonstrate in the city center on Sept. 17. The protesters railed against immigration and knocked down a woman who confronted them about their message. A spokesman for the NRM subsequently said that the group might choose to ignore orders to change the route of the march.
The NRM’s history of violence and intimidation suggests that whether Saturday’s march passes immediately by the synagogue or not, the threat posed to the Jewish community is real. The group openly espouses anti-Semitism and racism and has spoken admiringly about Adolph Hitler. Group members have advocated for mass deportation of refugees and immigrants. This summer a Gothenberg court sentenced three men with ties to the movement for carrying out bomb attacks on refugee shelters.
The presence of a majority of the city’s Jews in the center of town this Saturday increases the likelihood that they will become targets of the NRM’s hostility. It is also probable that some Jews, fearing for their safety, will opt not to attend Yom Kippur services this year.
American Jews are still reeling from the experience of a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month that led to one death and 19 injuries. Some of the marchers stood in front of the local synagogue with guns, forcing worshipers to leave through the back door. Hate mongers carrying flags and posters bearing swastikas shouted “Heil Hitler” and “blood and soil,” a Nazi slogan. Will Gothenberg become another Charlottesville? Only Swedish authorities can ensure this does not happen.
In a letter to Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, B’nai B’rith has urged the Swedish government to stop the Nazi march from occurring on Yom Kippur. This is not a matter of suppressing free speech. The city of Gothenberg has maintained it’s powerlessness to stop the event from taking place. But what about the government’s obligation to maintain public order and protect its citizens from threats and intimidation by hate groups? At the very least, the march could take place on a different day, when violent attacks are less likely to result.
It’s often said that hindsight is 20-20. But there is something to be said for keen foresight, as well. Sweden’s neo-Nazis are preparing to descend on Gothenberg this Saturday, as the town’s Jewish community braces itself for what is supposed to be a day of introspection and atonement but figures instead to be one of fear and dread, perhaps violence as well.
To Swedish authorities, the message should be clear: Don’t let it happen. Protect your citizens. Ensure public safety. Don’t make the day after Yom Kippur one on which the world asks, “How could this have been avoided?”
Eric Fusfield, Esq. has been B’nai B’rith International’s director of legislative affairs since 2003 and deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy since 2007. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University in history; an M.St. in modern Jewish studies from Oxford University; and a J.D./M.A. from American University in law and international affairs. Click here to read more from Fusfield.
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