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Swedish Ambassador, Minnesota Jewish leaders meet to discuss surge in hate crimes

September 18, 2018

Rising anti-Semitism in Europe and a surge of it here in America brought together the new Swedish Ambassador to the United States and Minnesotas Jewish community leaders.

Ambassador Karin Olofsdotter has sought out meetings with Jewish leaders across the U.S. since taking office a year ago to address the problem head on and discuss ways that Sweden trying to counteract it.

On Tuesday hours before the start of Judaisms most holy day, Yom Kippur Olofsdotter met with Minneapolis Jewish Federation CEO James Cohen and Steve Hunegs, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.

She said an influx of asylum-seekers and refugees from the Middle East that have settled in Sweden sometimes bring anti-Jewish feelings with them.

Weve seen a rise of anti-Semitism in the big cities, Olofsdotter said. People dont change when they cross the border. They carry their old values.

Swedens national plan to stamp out anti-Semitism includes research, education and coordination that reaches into the classroom, the criminal justice system and even on social media. That is where a lot of hate flourishes, she said.

Sweden has also increased state security around Jewish institutions after an attack on a synagogue in December. In addition, Sweden is planning a Holocaust remembrance conference in 2020 similar to one held more than two decades ago, Olofsdotter said.

Olofsdotters two-day visit to Minnesota comes just weeks after Swedish national elections where the far-right, anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats gained ground in its national legislature, finishing third with the 17.6 percent of the vote. The party has its roots in the neo-Nazi movement and has been on the rise in recent years.

Tuesdays meeting around a conference table at the at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis was amicable exchanges of gifts and ideas, but Cohen did press the ambassador on Swedens pro-Palestinian politics and questioned whether that could be fueling anti-Semitism. Sweden was one of the first countries to recognize Palestine as a state.

Olofsdotter said thes governments programs stress that differing political views shouldnt translate to a dislike of entire groups of people but indicated they cant stifle the exchange of ideas.

Olofsdotter then turned the question on her American hosts: How is anti-Semitism here?

After years of decline, reports of anti-Semitic incidents spiked nearly 60 percent last year to 1,986, according to The Anti-Defamation Leagues annual audit. This was the second highest number reported since the league started tracking it in 1979.

Hoenigs and Cohen described U.S. educational efforts, including a traveling exhibit called Transfer of Memory, which includes portraits and the stories of Holocaust survivors who settled in Minnesota.

One of those survivors Judy Baron, flanked by her two adult children, met with Olofsdotter.

Baron, a Jew originally from Hungary, was imprisoned at Auschwitz and later Bergen Belsen.

When she was liberated, Baron, in critical condition, was taken to an emergency hospital in Sweden. She recovered there and met her husband and fellow survivor, Fred Baron. They eventually settled in Minnesota.

Baron, 90, presented the ambassador a published book of her watercolor paintings and thanked her for the aid Sweden provided to her and her husband 70 years ago.

Barons son Gary said its meaningful that the ambassador is meeting with Jewish leaders and Holocaust survivors against the backdrop of rising anti-Semitism in Europe.

Gary Baron said his mother and his late father have always held Sweden is the highest regard.

They didnt encounter any anti-Semitism there. Quite the opposite, he said.

Shannon Prather 612-673-4804

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