Holocaust hero Wallenberg statue rededication set

After standing for nearly 25 years on the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Beverly Boulevard, a statue of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jewish lives in the Holocaust, will be rededicated on Aug. 5.

The event will come one day after what would have been Wallenberg’s 101st birthday. 

“We want to perpetuate the memory of a hero,” said Stan Treitel, who is helping to organize the rededication ceremony. Treitel is a member of the Raoul Wallenberg Centennial Celebration Commission, an effort spearheaded by the New York-based Friedlander Group, a government relations lobbying firm. 

The ceremony, hosted by Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS), L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz and Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, is open to the public and will begin at 10 a.m. at Fairfax and Beverly. Speakers will include L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Koretz and a number of Holocaust survivors saved by Wallenberg. David Siegel, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, also will be part of the event, which will be preceded by a 9 a.m. reception at the JFS Freda Mohr Multipurpose Center on North Fairfax Avenue. 

The statue was unveiled on Dec. 4, 1988. Designed by the late Italian artist Franco Assetto, it features a bronze silhouette of a man with his hand extended, flanked by two stainless steel wings, symbolizing Wallenberg’s role as an angel of mercy. The drive to create the monument was spearheaded by John Brooks, a Hungarian Jew who was saved by Wallenberg, and Yaroslavsky. In the year prior to the statue’s erection, the street corner on which it now stands was given the name Raoul Wallenberg Square.

“The Holocaust was one of the darkest periods in history, and Mr. Wallenberg’s manner and heroism should never be forgotten. We want to make sure people never forget the example he set,” said John Darnell, senior field deputy and social service advocate for Koretz. “Also, one day when all the Holocaust survivors are no longer with us, we can all look to the statue of Wallenberg and remember his existence.”

Wallenberg, a 31-year-old Swedish businessman, was asked by the United States’ War Refugee Board to travel to Hungary in 1944 and undertake a mission to rescue Jews from the Nazis. Wallenberg produced thousands of Swedish protective papers for Jews in peril. In addition, he established some 30 safe houses in Budapest that sheltered thousands of Jewish refugees, and he set up an international ghetto protected by neutral countries.

Wallenberg was arrested in January 1945 by Soviet officials and was never seen again. In his six months in Hungary, it is estimated that Wallenberg may have saved up to 100,000 Jewish lives. 

Wallenberg has been made an honorary citizen of the United States, Canada, Hungary, Australia and Israel. Israel has named Wallenberg one of the Righteous Among the Nations, and in 1989 the United States made Oct. 5 Raoul Wallenberg Recognition Day. In July 2012, Wallenberg was posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal to honor his heroic actions during the Holocaust.

Cyprus verdict could inhibit Hezbollah operations in Europe

The conviction in Cyprus of a Hezbollah operative plotting to attack Israelis could undercut efforts by the terrorist group to carry out additional attacks outside the Middle East.

Last week's conviction was the second confirmation in recent months that Hezbollah is active on European soil. The first was when Bulgarian authorities identified the Lebanon-based terrorist group as being behind the July 2012 bombing in Burgas that left six people dead, five of them Israelis. Hezbollah also is believed to be behind recent plots against Israelis and Jews in India, Thailand and Azerbaijan.

The Cyprus conviction makes Europe likelier to list Hezbollah as a terrorist group, and that would bring new restrictions on Hezbollah that would have immediate operational consequences for the group, says Daniel Benjamin, the top counterterrorism official at the State Department in President Obama’s first term.

“If Hezbollah has to increase its operational security in Europe, if it can't use Europe to fundraise or travel through, it will be challenged to innovate to avoid being caught by European authorities,” Benjamin, now the director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College, told JTA.

The Cyprus court found Hossam Taleb Yaacoub guilty of a plot to attack Israeli tourists in the Mediterranean island nation. Yaacoub, who holds Lebanese and Swedish passports, was trained in the use of weapons and scouted sites in Europe, including a Cypriot airport.

Yaacoub acknowledged membership in Hezbollah and staking out areas frequented by Israeli tourists, but said he did not know his work was part of a plot to kill Israelis. The court, which has yet to sentence him, rejected the denial.

The evidence that led to Yaacoub’s conviction helps tip the balance toward listing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, diplomats from two leading European Union member states told JTA. Hezbollah already is considered a terrorist group by the United States, Israel and several other countries.

“Our position is that we've always said that if we have proof that holds up in court, we can enter the procedure,” said Karl-Matthias Klause, the spokesman for the German Embassy in Washington. “There is a general readiness into looking into forbidding the military wing of Hezbollah.”

The other diplomat, whose country has been among those resisting such a classification, said the Cyprus conviction would make it harder not to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

“Bulgaria and Cyprus changes the equation,” said the diplomat, who insisted on anonymity. “The topic becomes one of European solidarity.”

Matthew Levitt, a former counterterrorism analyst at the FBI and a senior terrorism analyst at the Treasury Department in the George W. Bush administration, said he had just returned from meetings in Europe with security and foreign affairs officials.

“No one is debating anymore whether they are terrorists,” said Levitt, who is now a senior fellow analyzing counterterrorism at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Now it’s more, will designating them as terrorist group undermine security in Lebanon? I can have that conversation; it’s a better one than 'are they terrorists?' “

The timing is propitious, said Levitt: Hezbollah is reactivating outside the Middle East for the first time in more than a decade, partly because of pressures on its two main sponsors, Iran and Syria. Its recent plots have been more hits than misses, which Levitt attributes to Hezbollah being out of practice and because Iran is rushing the group into staging attacks.

“Now you see in Cyprus what happens when they go back to tradecraft,” Levitt said, referring to Yaacoub’s careful monitoring of the comings and goings of Israeli tourists.

U.S. and Israeli officials for months have been pressing Europe to list Hezbollah as a terrorist group. Obama repeated the call last week during his Israel visit.

“When I think about Israel’s security, I think about five Israelis who boarded a bus in Bulgaria, who were blown up because of where they came from; robbed of the ability to live, and love, and raise families,” Obama told a convention center in Jerusalem packed with cheering university students. “That’s why every country that values justice should call Hezbollah what it truly is: a terrorist organization.”

The diplomat from the country reluctant until recently to list Hezbollah as terrorist said the issue is complicated by the fact that Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government. Cutting off the group would curtail European influence in Lebanon at an especially sensitive time: Lebanon is absorbing refugees from the Syrian civil war, and there are concerns that the fighting in Syria may spill over into Lebanon.

“We have to keep in mind that Lebanon is very fragile and we have to avoid what could further destabilize it,” the diplomat said.

One possible solution touted in Europe would be to designate Hezbollah’s so-called military wing as terrorist while maintaining ties with its political operation in Lebanon.

The United States recognizes no such distinction, Levitt said, but if Europe wanted to do so, there likely would be no U.S. objection.

“They want to make the distinction for convenience, they want to have leverage, so fine,” he said.

One outcome U.S. officials should oppose, Levitt said, would be to designate only individuals with Hezbollah but not the group as a whole as terrorist.

Benjamin said sparing Hezbollah’s political wing would not be a problem as long as the ban on the military wing made it harder to raise money and run agents.

“A designation worth anything will include a ban on solicitation and fundraising in Europe, and provide the legal predicate for terrorism prosecutions,” he said.

Should Europe take those steps, it could embolden other countries to do so as well, Benjamin said.

“Hezbollah being designated by Europe will embolden other countries to step up cooperation around the world,” he said.

Danish, Swedish Jews hold first joint Limmud conference

About 160 Swedes and Danes attended the first inter-Scandinavian Limmud Jewish learning event.

The March 11 event was held at an adult education center in Lund, a Swedish city situated 23 miles north of Copenhagen.

“Last year we held the first Lund Limmud and this is the first time that the event has gone international,” said the event’s co-organizer, Rabbi Rebecca Lillian.

“Many Swedes can understand Danish and visa versa, but to completely eliminate the language barrier each time bloc included at least one session in Danish or English,” said Lillian, an American Reconstructionist rabbi who immigrated to Malmo from Chicago two years ago.

The event was promoted on social media in Swedish, Danish and English. The 2014 Oresunds Limmud will be held at a bigger venue, Lillian said.

She added the majority of participants were Swedish but a few dozen Danes also came, including former Danish chief rabbi Bent Melchior. In his address, he encouraged Jewish communities to embrace families with only one Jewish spouse.

Swedish solidarity ‘kippah walk’ unites Jews, non-Jews

Kippah-wearing Jews and non-Jews are expected to march Saturday in Sweden as a sign of solidarity with Malmo’s Jews.

“The idea is to show ourselves and others that we refuse to be afraid or hide our Jewish affiliation,” Fredrik Sieradzki, director of communications for the Jewish community of Malmo, told JTA. He said he expected at least 100 marchers.

Earlier this year, a rabbi from Malmo was physically assaulted.

In 2010, Malmo’s mayor, Ilmar Reepalu, said that a group of Jews in Malmo who were attacked by Swedish 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 month-long Gaza War in 2008-09.

The first walk began in Malmo in January when members of the local synagogue decided to keep on their kippot upon exiting their synagogue. Reports about the march on Facebook helped draw more marchers in. The walk on Saturday is the fourth such event in Malmo, a city with a population of approximately 1,800 Jews.

It will be the first time that a kippah walk is organized by Stokholm’s much larger Jewish community.

On Friday, the newspaper Sydsvenskan ran an op-ed by Sweden’s minister for European Affairs, Brigitta Ohlsson, in praise of the kippah walk.

Sieradzki wrote that members of the community were being regularly harassed “predominantly but not exclusively” by young members of Malmo’s large population of residents of Muslim or Middle Eastern background. Anti-Semitic incidents involving members of the community who are visibly Jewish can occur on a daily basis, he said.

“The statement is that Jews should be free to walk in Malmo without fear, and that is sadly not the case right now,” Lena Posner-Korosi, president of the Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, told JTA. “Many Jews are frightened to show their affiliation. We in Stockholm are having a kippah march in solidarity with the Malmo community, but for our own sake as well. It`s a signal which says, `We are here, we don’t harm you so don’t harm us.’”

Anti-Semitism in Malmo first drew international attention in 2009, when riots broke out due to the presence of Israeli tennis players in the city, which hosted the Wimbledon Cup.

Remove guest tweeter, head of Swedish Jewish community says

The president of Sweden’s Jewish communities said the country’s tourism agency should replace this week’s guest operator of the national Twitter account.

The operator, Sonja Abrahamsson, during her stint on @Sweden has caused a stir with some references she made about Jews. She offered a crude comment about how to identify Jewish men and said it was difficult to tell Jews apart from non-Jews.

“This woman’s tweets are more stupid than anti-Semitic,” Lena Posner-Korosi, president of the Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, told JTA on Thursday. “What is disconcerting is that VisitSweden has not terminated Abrahamsson’s stint even after her silly remarks. Letting Abrahamsson tweet for all of us will not make Sweden appear more attractive.”

Abrahammson, 27, is a guest tweeter for VisitSweden, a government-owned corporation; the guests change every week. The corporation hopes to make Sweden more attractive abroad by having ordinary Swedes write short messages on Twitter.

An employee of VisitSweden said Thursday that no one from the corporation was available for comment on the matter.

Abrahammson’s tweets on Jews began Tuesday when she discussed how to identify a Jewish male. She then wrote, “In nazi German they even had to sew stars on their sleeves. If they didn’t, they could never now who was a jew and who was not a jew.”

“Once I asked a co-worker what a jew is. He was ‘part jew,’ whatever that means. He’s like ‘uuuuh … jews are.. uh.. well educated..?” she wrote and mentioned that she grew up in a place with no Jews. Abrahamsson then apologized if her words were seen as offensive and said she didn’t understand why people hated Jews.

Tommy Sollen, social media manager at VisitSweden, told The Wall Street Journal that the tourism agency would not interrupt Abrahamsson’s stint as national tweeter.

Swedish minister rebukes Malmo mayor as ‘ignorant and bigoted’

The mayor of Malmo makes “recurring ignorant and bigoted statements,” a Swedish minister said after meeting with the U.S. envoy to combat anti-Semitism.

Erik Ullenhag, Sweden’s integration minister, issued the statement just after meeting Thursday with Hannah Rosenthal.

“Mayor Ilmar Reepalu’s recurring ignorant and bigoted statements complicate the work to combat anti-Semitism,” he said in an unusually sharp attack in Sweden’s political culture. “These statements not only have a negative impact on the image of Malmo but the entire country’s credibility in these issues.”

Rosenthal told Ullenhag in their meeting that the hourlong meeting she had Tuesday with Reepalu was essentially fruitless.

In an interview with JTA, Rosenthal described the frustrations of her meeting Reepalu.

“I went through and showed how he was using traditional anti-Semitic language, accusing Jews of being part of a conspiracy, denying Jewish people a homeland when he was vocal of support for other people for a homeland—namely, the Palestinians—blaming Jews for what goes on in another country,” she said. “He kept saying he couldn’t understand why ‘they are doing this to me.’ It was ‘they, they, they.’ He could not hear where this was something ‘he’ has to deal with.”

Reepalu told the media after his meeting with Rosenthal that the two had “a good conversation.”

Rosenthal said she told Reepalu that unless he changed, his legacy following his expected departure from office in 2014 after 20 years would be as a bigot rather than one who has helped revive Malmo.

Rosenthal told JTA that she met with leaders of the Jewish, Roma and Muslim communities in Malmo who have joined to combat bigotry in the city. She said the Muslim and Roma leaders told her that Reepalu’s anti-Semitic statements troubled them in part because they created a hostile atmosphere and contributed to attacks on their communities.

Ullenhag briefed Rosenthal on his government’s efforts to combat xenophobia and noted its efforts to ensure Jewish security.

“We shared the view that all forms of xenophobia, whether it is anti-Semitism or Islamaphobia, is utterly unacceptable,” he said in his statement. “I stressed that the Swedish government is united in standing up for an open and tolerant Sweden.”

Rosenthal also attended events in Sweden marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who intervened to save the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust and later disappeared under Soviet occupation.

She also toured Latvia, where the envoy reviewed efforts to mark the Holocaust in that country. Rosenthal pressed the Latvian leadership on the country’s continued commemorations of Latvian participation in the Waffen SS, the military wing of the Nazi Party.

Rosenthal told JTA that she encountered resistance to her efforts to explain why such commemorations are offensive to Jews.

“They tried to tell me Latvians rounded up Jews but didn’t kill them,” she said. “They said it was ‘complicated.’ I said it wasn’t complicated when it comes to killing Jews.”

Party head says Swedish mayor’s comments were ‘wrong’

Anti-Semitic comments made by Malmo Mayor Ilmar Reepalu were “wrong,” the head of his Swedish Social Democratic Party said while expressing confidence in Reepalu.

Stefan Lofven made his remarks following a meeting Monday with Jewish community leaders at Social Democrat headquarters in Stockholm.

“I have confidence in him, but it’s clear that the statements he’s made haven’t been good and I’ve been very clear that it’s unfortunately that they were viewed as anything other than what the party stands for,” Lofven said of Reepalu. “I want to improve dialogue with the Jewish community in Malmo, for which Ilmar Reepalu has a great deal of responsibility.”

Lena Posner Korosi, chair of the Jewish Community in Stockholm, called the meeting “constructive,” according to reports.

Reepalu last month told a Swedish magazine that the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim Sweden Democrats party had “infiltrated” the city’s Jewish community in order to turn it against Muslims. Reepalu later said he had no basis for his remarks and that he “shouldn’t have said it that way.”

In a letter to Lofven last month calling for the meeting, heads of the Jewish communities of Malmo, Stockholm and Gothenburg said Reepalu no longer had any credibility among the Jews of Sweden.

“Regardless of what he says and does from now on, we don’t trust him,” the letter said.

Swedish academics call for boycott of Israeli institutions

More than 200 professors and students from Sweden have signed on to a call for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions.

The boycott petition was initiated by the Action Group for the Boycott of Israel at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

According to the petition, “Israeli academic institutions are deeply complicit in Israel’s occupation of Palestine. They cooperate closely with the security-military establishment. They offer advice to military intelligence and assist in developing weapon technologies for the Occupation forces. So far, none of the Israeli academic institutions have dissociated themselves from the occupation regime, or condemned the entrenched system of discrimination of Palestinians.”

The petition adds that the boycott is not aimed at individuals but against institutions. It calls on the Swedish academics to refuse to participate in collaborations with Israel universities; to refrain from attending academic activities at Israeli universities; to suspend all funding to Israeli universities; to promote divestment from Israel by academic institutions; and to foster initiatives that support Palestinian educational institutions.

The Royal Institute of Technology has an ongoing relationship with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, home to Israel’s latest Nobel Prize winner.

European Jewish Congress President Dr. Moshe Kantor slammed the boycott call.

“It is incongruous that in the week that an Israeli scientist was awarded the Nobel Prize by The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, a group of Swedish academics are calling for a boycott of Israeli educational institutions,” Kantor said.

“This merely demonstrates that those who are involved with calling for boycotts against Israel are uninterested in the free transmission of values, education and progress.”