Sweden’s current relationship with Israel and Jews is tumultuous and somewhat bipolar, with the county’s officials making both pro and anti-Israel statements and different points in time. However, a step forward was taken recently when the Swedish government commissioned the National Agency for Education to formulate a Jewish Studies curriculum for high school students that will be implemented this fall.
The government asked municipalities about their preferences regarding such a curriculum and most municipalities answered in the affirmative. The resulting curriculum will consist of Jewish culture, history and religion together with either Yiddish or Hebrew, which are officially recognized as minority languages in Sweden.
In the capital city, Stockholm, the plan has been approved and will be implemented. In fact, one Stockholm public school has had a Jewish studies curriculum since 2001 that has received high marks from the National Agency for Education. The Agency praised the program, saying that “the students are highly motivated and receive high marks.” However, the mayor of Malmo, Ilmar Reepalu, opposed the implementation of any sort of Jewish education in his city, which is the third largest in the country.
Reepalu has been accused of anti-Semitism and apathy to anti-Semitic crimes in the past. This past December, the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles issued a warning to Jews worldwide that Malmo is unsafe for Jews, citing a string of anti-Semitic incidents. Reepalu shrugged off those accusations, saying that he was unaware any such activity. However, the mayor’s written response to the suggestion that claimed such instruction would “open to possibility of other minorities demanding to study their cultures” and blur lines between science, history, religion and geography shows the exact opposite. It actually underscores the problems the Jewish community has recently faced, both from the mayor and the relatively large Muslim population in the city.
Swedish schools are allowed to teach special subjects for a limited period of time. This means that despite Reepalu’s protestations, both public and private schools in Malmo – and all over the country – will be able teach Jewish studies with the government’s approval.