Interview: Michael Melchior

'Engage with Muslims to isolate the extremists'


Israel's best-known Danish immigrant has sworn that his shock over Sunday's attack will not deter his dialogue with Muslims.

Former politician Michael Melchior is the father of Denmark's Chief Rabbi, whose pulpit is at the synagogue where the attack took place. He said: "When it is the synagogue where I grew up, the synagogue where I prayed every day and every Shabbat and holiday, and where my family has been rabbi for generations and when my son is now rabbi, it hits you with particular shock and disgust."

But he said that the news was not a surprise.

Rabbi Melchior responded to the attack by releasing a joint statement with Abdullah Nimer Darwish, founder of Israel's mass-appeal Islamic Movement and now head if one of its two branches. "We are determined to continue our co-operative work, strengthening the positive forces within the two religions, and particularly amongst the young," stated the two men.

Sheikh Darwish, a former radical who has mellowed but remains a strong critic of Israeli policy, is engaged in ongoing dialogue with Rabbi Melchior, and the two men plan to make public appearances together.

Discussing his reaction to the Danish attacks in an interview, Rabbi Melchior said that he was taking a stand against all who respond with Islamophobia or despondency. "People say that Europe will now wake up and realise that the whole idea of multiculturalism was fake, but it's not so and the solution is not hating Islam or hating Muslims," he argued.

"Will we stop terrorism by hating Muslims? Besides being despicable from a moral point of view and a Jewish point of view, I don't understand from an instrumental point of view how it should work."

Engaging with Muslims, rather than disengaging, is the way to "isolate" radicals, he said, repeating an assertion made jointly with Sheikh Darwish in their statement.

Rabbi Melchior said that he was pleased by the response of the Danish people, saying: "The whole society is embracing the Jews - it's heartwarming for me and the Jews there to see this is not considered an episode that only regarded the Jewish community." He added: "It's not an episode - it's an earthquake for Denmark."

On the other hand, the reaction of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who issued a call for Jewish immigration from Europe, disappointed him.

"It's really a pity - I think we can expect more from the prime minister," Rabbi Melchior said.

As he saw it, "no single Jew will come to Israel" because of the comments, which were a ploy to impress the Israeli public. "He was speaking to the Israeli crowd and it's not worthy of our prime minister."

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