The JC: As Sweden goes to the polls, Jewish groups warn against rising extremist threats

The nationalist Sweden Democrats party is expected to perform strongly in Sunday’s election

Sweden is facing a political upset in an election this Sunday that looks likely to generate the governing Social Democrats’s lowest share of the vote in more than a century.

Parliamentary deadlock appears to be the more likely scenario after this weekend’s vote, with neither Prime Minister Stefan Löfven’s left-wing bloc nor the opposition centre-right looking set to win a majority.

But polls suggest the right-wing nationalist Sweden Democrats (SD) party is set to perform strongly, winning as much as 20 per cent of the vote — up from nearly 13 per cent in 2014. That result would make it the second largest party in the country’s parliament.

The SD’s founders were involved in neo-Nazi movements before forming the party in the late 1980s. It now says it operates a “zero tolerance policy” on racism and, according to anti-racist magazine Expo, there have been 215 cases of “racist and intolerant” statements from party representatives since 2014, with several members expelled.

But the negative publicity has so far failed to stop the party from doubling support in every election since 2006 and it is not clear if this trend will change following recent reports in the Swedish media that have revealed racist views among party members, who have been found to share white-power music, antisemitic memes and conspiracy theories online.

Swedish voters identify migration and integration among the most important issues in this election and the SD wants the country to stop granting asylum permits, at least temporarily, and halt the admission of the refugees the government had agreed with the UN to resettle.

It also encourages repatriation and limiting immigrants’ access to welfare.

But this election will not just be about the Sweden Democrats. Smaller radical groups like the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement and the far-right Alternative for Sweden — who both regard the SD as “tame” — have been given air-time recently after holding demonstrations that saw clashes with anti-racist groups and generated an outpouring of moral indignation in the media.

Some had argued that the attention has been disproportionate and only helped to give such groups more influence than they deserve over the national conversation.

The Stockholm Jewish Community’s assembly gathered last week for an emergency briefing on the threats posed to Swedish Jews, with representatives from Expo, the Swedish Defence University and the Swedish police and security service in attendance.

After the meeting, community chairman Aron Verständig wrote on Facebook: “It is clear that Jews face threats from both right- and left-wing extremists as well as from violent Islamists.

“Since our community is to a large part made up of Holocaust survivors and their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, we are naturally horrified at the rise of the Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM).”

Mr Verständig called for Swedish politicians to ban NRM and similar groups.

He also praised the Stockholm’s city council for cancelling a permit for Alternative for Sweden to hold an election event at a square located just around the corner from Stockholm’s Great Synagogue.

Salafism is gaining ground in Sweden, which took in a record number of asylum seekers during the 2015 refugee crisis. Out of the roughly 160,000 people who applied for asylum that year, a majority were from Syria, followed by Afghanistan and Iraq.

A recent report from the Swedish Defence University described Gothenburg, Sweden’s second city, as a Salafist stronghold.

The west-coast city is also, per capita, one of the biggest exporters of jihadists in Europe and in December grabbed international headlines when three people of Syrian and Palestinian origins were arrested for firebombing the local synagogue.

Last month, masked gangs set fire to up to 80 cars in parts of Gothenburg in an act of mass arson that some in Sweden have ascribed to rising community tensions.

It is against this backdrop that the Living History Forum, a government agency, and the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism launched a free digital learning kit for secondary and upper-secondary schools focusing on “antisemitism then and now” in time for the start of the new school year.

The material was developed because studies point to a rise in antisemitism in Sweden and Europe.

Both organisations said they had received requests for study material from teachers, who say it is hard to broach the subjects of antisemitism and the Holocaust in their classrooms because pupils tend to question the information or to disrupt lessons.

With the issue of immigration dominating much of the political debate, Swedish Jewish communities have been caught in the debates among mainstream parties to ban or restrict faith schools in the name of improving integration.