from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

No "Gentleman’s Agreement" for Jews in Sweden

January 25, 2015

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The book "Gentleman’s Agreement," by Laura Z. Hobson, appeared in 1947, followed by the film of the same name starring Gregory Peck (and winning three Oscars).

The plot is simple: a journalist assigned to write about anti-Semitism in the post-war United States decides to pose as a Jew and see what happens. He encounters a good deal of social anti-Semitism: country clubs, "restricted" neighborhoods, jobs that somehow are off-limits. He is not beaten or assaulted, nor does he face physical danger. Instead he faces quiet, unwritten "Gentleman’s Agreements" that exclude Jews.

Recently, a television reporter in Malmo, Sweden tried the same approach to discover what it is like to live as a Jew in Malmo. The entire hour-long show, in Swedish with subtitles, can be found here. Tom Gross, at his web site covering stories related to the Middle East and Jewish affairs, describes it this way:

Swedish TV on Wednesday showed footage of a non-Jewish reporter who walked around Malmo wearing a kippah to test attitudes toward Jews. He was punched in the arm and cursed at by passers-by before cutting short his journalistic experiment out of fear he would be subjected to more serious injury. Sveriges Television also showed footage of the journalist sitting at a café in central Malmo reading a newspaper, while passersby hurled anti-Semitic abuse at him.

Gross’s Facebook page is here and his website "Mideast Media Analyses" here.

In Malmo, there are no "Gentleman’s Agreements" and there is the clear threat of violence. Toward the end of the hour the reporter confronts a local official, who attributes the problem to the extreme right--something that the show has proved is obviously untrue, but that fits her preconceived notions better. Some Malmo officials now say they understand the threats better and will do more to protect the Jewish community, but it is difficult to be optimistic about that. Meanwhile, hate crimes against Jews rose 128% in London, reports Scotland Yard, so the problem is obviously not limited to Malmo--or to Paris, where an attack on a 13 year old Jewish boy just happened. Here is Gross: "In the latest of a long line of anti-Semitic attacks in France (most of which are not reported in the international media) a 13-year-old Jewish boy was sprayed in his eye with mace and pepper spray this week in a northeastern Paris suburb, by three young women shouting anti-Semitic slogans. The victim wore a kippah and tzitzit, making him easily identifiable as Jewish. The victim was blinded, and rushed by passers-by to hospital, where the police report said he suffered intense pain for some time."

Incidents such as there explain why Israel is preparing for a significant increase in immigration of European Jews who no longer feel secure in their home countries. In Europe, the problem for many Jews isn’t "Gentleman’s Agreements" keeping them out of select country clubs or restricted neighborhoods. The problem is that they cannot assure their children’s safety.

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