On Monday evening, a huge memorial rally was held in Copenhagen for the victims of the weekend’s shootings, in which a gunman killed two people, including a security guard at a synagogue. Barukh Binah, the current Israeli ambassador to Denmark and former Israeli Deputy Chief of Mission in Washington from 2011 to 2013, spoke afterwards by Skype to Moment senior editor Dina Gold.
Q: What is life like for Jews in Denmark?
There are 6,000 to 7,000 Jews living in Denmark, as well as a few hundred Israelis married to Danes, usually who were one-time volunteers on kibbutzim.
Life for Danes in general is good, and therefore life for Jewish Danes is also very pleasant. Danish Jews were the first Jews in Europe to be emancipated, in 1814–a fact that is much cherished and a source of great pride. Jews are seen as being Danes first and foremost and, as a recent book by Bo Lidegaard called Countrymen illustrates, they were saved from the Nazis because they were viewed as fellow Danes–not because they were Jews. The Danish Jewish Museum, in Copenhagen, currently has an exhibition called “Home” depicting how Jews have lived in Denmark over the centuries and how they were welcomed back to the country after the war
Q: Has the atmosphere changed recently?
I am an Israeli, a civil servant and an officer of the state of Israel, and as such I have not felt any antagonism personally. But I hear secondhand from people that they are harassed on the streets if they are identifiable as Jewish–for example, if they are wearing a Star of David or a kippah.
People tell me they started to feel uneasy during the military operation, known as Operation Protective Edge, against rocket fire from Gaza, which began in July last year. That is when the atmosphere for Jews in Denmark deteriorated. Let me give you an example: Last summer Danish Jews wanted to demonstrate in support of Israel, but there was fierce opposition from the Muslim community. A rally was held where I was scheduled to speak but the police decided it was too dangerous and I was prevented from addressing the crowd.
There is, however, a sense of fair play in Denmark. Many politicians and journalists contacted me to apologize for the silencing. In fact, the speech I was due to give was published in its entirety in the daily [newspaper] Politiken.
Q: Were you surprised by the two attacks this weekend?
No, not really. The writing was on the wall. But that is true all over Europe these days. There is what I call a malignant atmosphere with increasing anti-Semitism growing like a metastatic cancer with copycat incidents. The similarity of the attacks is striking–Brussels, Toulouse, Paris and now here in Copenhagen.
Q: Is this a manifestation of age old anti-Semitism or a new form?
It is not the 1930s. It is a newly invented form of Islamic anti-Semitism that detests Israel, combined with European self-righteousness and belief in their own moral superiority. It is extremely disturbing.
The native Danish population is very supportive, as the reaction of the general public shows. More than 30,000 people joined the rally, including the prime minister, the leader of the Jewish community and the mayor of Copenhagen, who all spoke, and we sang Resistance songs from the last war. I was standing next to the Crown Prince, the prime minister, the foreign minister and the head of the opposition. They all expressed their support and condolences.
Since the attacks on Saturday, there have been some 112,000 impressions on our Twitter accounts about the rally this evening, and more than 120,000 impressions, including more than 3,000 “likes” on the Israeli embassy in Denmark’s Facebook page.
Q: Do you see a contradiction between the call by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for Jews to immigrate to Israel and Denmark’s chief rabbi Jair Melchior’s statement that terror is not a reason to move to Israel?
I see no contradiction whatsoever. Rabbi Melchior is entitled to his own opinion, but Benjamin Netanyahu represents the state of Israel. It is natural that he should reiterate that Israel is the Jewish state and one aspect of its mission is to absorb Jews. If Jews don’t feel secure and protected where they live now, then they are very welcome to go to Israel.
It is incumbent on local European governments now to do whatever is needed to defend their Jewish communities.
Q: Are Danish Jews leaving Denmark?
There are very strong cultural and family connections between the Danish Jewish community and Israel. Many Jews already own an apartment in Israel. Some Jews may think about leaving the country, but as far as I can tell not many have. Those who do leave tend to move to other European countries.