September 19, 2023 | The Algemeiner

Finland Takes Step to Combat Antisemitism, But More Can Be Done

September 19, 2023 | The Algemeiner

Finland Takes Step to Combat Antisemitism, But More Can Be Done

Finland’s scandal-ridden new government recently published a policy to combat racism and bigotry, including antisemitism and Holocaust denial. The government has dealt with numerous crises stemming from coalition members’ racist remarks. The welcome move will help Finland and other European nations in combating antisemitism, but more can be done.

The new government was inaugurated on June 20. Just 10 days later, Minister of Economic Affairs Vilhelm Junnila, of the far-right Finns Party, resigned after several blunders. This included the revelation that in 2019, Junnila delivered a speech praising the number 88. This was not a Sesame Street-style praise of letters and numbers. Eighty-eight is used by neo-Nazis as a code for “Heil Hitler” because “H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet.

Seeking to distance itself from this bigotry, the Finnish government prepared a new program that will criminalize hate crimes committed against religious groups, including Jews, and Holocaust denial. This will put Finland among more than a dozen countries with laws combating Holocaust denial.

Holocaust denial and other counterfactual conspiracy theories spread like wildfire on social media. Many of those who deny that the Holocaust occurred actually wish that it did happen, and would welcome a repeat of this atrocity. Fighting against Holocaust denial is therefore crucial to preventing this horror from being repeated.

Finland is a slightly surprising country to be having an antisemitism controversy. Fewer than 2,000 Jews reside in the country of 5.5 million. Compared to the rest of Europe, Finland’s Jews fared well during the Holocaust. And Finland’s record on antisemitism has arguably been better than that of its Scandinavian neighbors. There have been numerous attacks against Jews in Sweden, and Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the largest in the world, has moved to divest from Israeli banks, a step the Anti-Defamation League has called antisemitic.

Still, Finland has had its share of antisemitism.

In 2011, Ben Zyskowicz, a Jewish member of Finland’s parliament, narrowly avoided being hit in the face by an antisemitic assailant. Zyskowicz was not so lucky in March 2023, when a large man physically and verbally assaulted him. Between 2018 and 2019, Israel’s embassy in Helsinki was vandalized 15 times. In 2020, a member of Finland’s community bemoaned the rise in antisemitic attacks, “in which Jews are blamed for the coronavirus pandemic.”

Relatedly, Helsinki’s 1,200-strong Jewish community spent around half a million dollars on security in 2021. And in a move labeled antisemitic by the bishop of Helsinki, a Helsinki museum cut ties with an Israeli-Finnish sponsor after a boycott campaign directed at him by anti-Israel activists and Finnish artists for his support of the Jewish state and his family’s role in Israel’s arms industry.

Nevertheless, Finnish-Israeli military ties remain strong. In late 2022, Finland signed a deal to acquire long-range missiles from an Israeli company. And in April 2023, Finland became the first country to sign a deal with Israel to receive the country’s David’s Sling missile defense system.

Finland has also showed promising signs of fighting hate groups. Following a 2018 appeals court decision, Finland banned the neo-Nazi group Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM). A 2020 Supreme Court of Finland decision upheld the ban against the organization, which has branches across Scandinavia. Junnila, the disgraced Finnish politician, was the featured speaker at a 2019 rally organized by a coalition that included NRM.

Importantly, Finland has been a staunch supporter of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), a coalition of dozens of countries, including Finland, dedicated to educating about and combating antisemitism.

To aid in fighting the scourge of antisemitism, the IHRA drafted a working definition of Jew-hatred, adopted by Finland, including examples of how antisemitism is often manifested.

IHRA also supports the commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Most countries observe the day on January 27, the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Finland’s government has commemorated this day since 2002, but not according to its international name.

Instead, Helsinki calls it “Remembrance Day for the Victims of Persecutions,” making no mention of the Jews or the Holocaust. Finland should change the name of its commemoration to honor the Jewish victims, and not “all-lives-matter” them.

Finland can also speak out against antisemitism on an international stage. When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivered antisemitic remarks in August, in which he blamed the Jews for the Holocaust and attempted to erase the Jewish connection to Israel, Finland was not among the countries that condemned him.

And Finland currently sits on the United Nations Human Rights Council, a body that criticizes Israel as much as the rest of the world combined. Helsinki should use its position to oppose the council’s anti-Israel bias and speak out when antisemitism masquerades as opposition to Israel.

Finland’s commitment to criminalizing hate crimes against religious communities and Holocaust denial will help bolster Finland’s campaign against anti-Jewish bigotry. Helsinki is certainly on the right side of this fight, but there is more to be done. The Finnish government should use this crisis to explore new ways of combating the world’s oldest hatred.

David May is a research manager and senior research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). Follow David on X, formerly known as Twitter, @DavidSamuelMay. Follow FDD on X @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.