Jews are at heart of Denmark's tolerance project. They must not be barricaded in

February 26, 2015 12:35

The attack on the synagogue in Copenhagen two weeks ago, which left a volunteer guard dead, is a challenge to the unusual relationship between Danish Jews and the rest of Danish society.

Jews have been well integrated for more than 200 years. This has resulted in a strong, commonly-held feeling that there is no contradiction between being Jewish and being Danish.

With the German occupation of Denmark in April 9, 1940, the nation's relationship with its Jewish minority was put to a fateful test.

The Danish government accepted that they had to rule the country under German "protection" and, in many areas, caved in to German interests. However, they did insist that there was no "Jewish problem" and that no measures needed to be taken against Danish Jews.

Resistance against the idea of discriminating against Danish Jews became a symbol of patriotism. When the government resigned in August 1943, the Nazi occupiers moved to deport the country's 7,000 Jews. A raid was organised, but few Jews were caught because Hitler's own representatives in Denmark had tipped them off, fearing the operation would provoke a strong Danish reaction. In total, less than 500 Jews were deported. The remainder sought refuge and managed to make it to safety in neutral Sweden, with the active help of their fellow countrymen.

The rescue was perceived as an act of patriotism and as a quiet rebellion against the occupation. The Danish exemption from Holocaust has become a national rallying cry and a part of Danish identity.

Today, there are many ways of being a Danish Jew, many views and attitudes - just as there are in the rest of the population. This diversity has, in itself, helped to counteract prejudices and stereotypes.

In recent decades, with growing - especially Muslim - immigration, prominent members of the Jewish community have been among the most prominent advocates of integrating these new Danes into society. Danish Jews have emphasised the dangers of exclusion, prejudice and the formation of parallel societies.

It was for this reason that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's call for aliyah was so offensive to Danes and Danish Jews. Mr Netanyahu, in effect, was belittling the unity so treasured by most Danes.

While antisemitism is not growing in Denmark, there are a number of radicalised second and third-generation immigrants who link the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Danish Jews, creating a latent threat of violence.

Handling this threat presents the Jewish minority and the rest of the society with a difficult dilemma.

The strategy of not establishing special conditions for Jews in Denmark has been highly successful for 200 years. On the other hand, since the threat from violent extremists is now undeniable, it is difficult not to provide special protection.

So how do we provide special protection when nobody wants the Jewish minority to be special?

The trick is not to sound the alarm, nor to erect walls and barriers. The aim should instead be to safeguard the continued freedom to decide individually what it means to be a Danish Jew. That's a much harder challenge - and a more important one.

February 26, 2015 12:35

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