Great café life, but hate stirs under the surface in Copenhagen

By Liam Hoare, February 15, 2013
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Copenhagen: attacks on Jews have risen sharply in the past 12 months (Photo: Orlando Radice)

Copenhagen: attacks on Jews have risen sharply in the past 12 months (Photo: Orlando Radice)

In contrast to life across the sound in Malmö — where the mayor once famously stated, “We accept neither antisemitism nor Zionism”, and the Jewish community centre was bombed last September — Copenhagen’s Jews have traditionally felt few threats. “A Jew in Denmark can live a life without problems or fear of being a Jew,” says Chief Rabbi Bent Lexner.

Indeed, this year’s commemoration of the 17th anniversary of the Rescue only serves to highlight the place of Jews within wider Danish society: in the presence of the Queen, the community will recall the escape to Sweden of 7,000 Jews in 1943, assisted by the resistance and ordinary Danes.

And yet, something is amiss in the state of Denmark. In the past 12 months, there has been a spike in recorded hate crimes against Jews.

In May, a male was assaulted in Fælledparken Park by a gang who shouted “dirty Jew” and “death to Israel”, leaving him with a concussion and black eye. Then, in September, a representative of Magen David Adom, who was wearing a kippah, was attacked outside Central Station by three men. The same month, Copenhagen’s Mayor for Employment and Integration, Anna Mee Allerslev, suggested that Israeli flags should not be displayed at a multicultural event in the city’s park, before rescinding her statement upon realising her insensitivity.

Such incidents are indicative of the city’s struggle to fully educate, integrate and assimilate Denmark’s 250,000-strong Muslim population. Unlike the Jews — who number 8,000 and maintain strong, centralised and active institutions — Denmark’s Muslims come from countries across North Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans and lack unified leadership. And among them are extremist elements — mostly young men — willing to commit hate crimes against Jews.

Lord Mayor of Copenhagen, Frank Jensen, told the JC: “One single incident of antisemitism or any other form of discrimination is one too many… I cannot stress that enough.” At present, the city government is focused on “the problems of discrimination against minority groups in many different ways, and we follow strategies using both ‘hard measures’ and a dialogue-based, educational approach.”

But as Rabbi Lexner as well as Finn Schwarz, President the Jewish Community in Denmark, both argue, such measures can only go so far. Rabbi Lexner regularly meets imams from the city’s mosques but remains worried that they say one thing to him but another to their congregants. Attempts to form dialogue groups are often fraught, too: while co-operation can be effective on circumcision and ritual slaughter, discussions often give way to the Israel-Palestine question.

In addition, the Socialist People’s Party, which is part of the city government, maintains staunch positions on Palestine and have made common cause with the Muslim community over it. Sadly, with municipal elections due in the next few months, the need for votes could lead to more suggestions like the one that dropped from the mouth of Ms Allerslev.

    Last updated: 11:45am, February 15 2013