Hiding Judaism in Copenhagen
In Denmark, known for its historic tolerance, Jews are now threatened and told to remove their ‘Jewish hats’
The threats were veiled, like thugs in a mafia protection racket. One of his anti-Semitic interlocutors explained that while “perhaps your religion tells you to wear this, it doesn’t tell you to get killed.” Another explained that the kippah was “not a problem for us, but my cousin killed a guy for wearing a ‘Jewish hat.’ ” Another demand was made for the “hat” to be removed. Krasnik refused—and beat a hasty retreat.
What alarms Krasnik about his interactions on Nørrebrogade is that, growing up as a Jew in Denmark, he experienced remarkably little anti-Semitism. The story of the Denmark’s potentate, King Christian X, affixing a yellow star to his uniform and riding on horseback through Copenhagen, in defiance of his country’s Nazi occupiers and in defense of his Jewish subjects might be apocryphal, but it’s nevertheless accurate that Denmark acquitted itself exceptionally well during World War II. Almost all Danish Jews were alive in 1946.
There have always been small pockets of neo-Nazi activity, Krasnik told me, but compared to France, Spain, Sweden, and Eastern Europe, anti-Jewish sentiment is virtually unknown here. But there has been, he discovered, a small but significant shift, imported from the Middle East. Krasnik stated plainly that Denmark now has “a huge minority that is vibrantly anti-Semitic,” one incapable of—or uninterested in—differentiating among the Israeli government, European Zionists, and Danish Jews. Those who confronted Krasnik, he believes, saw him as “symbol of Israel, and to be Israeli and Jewish is just the same.”
To differentiate between an ordinary Muslim and a knuckle-dragging Islamist is a distinction frequently underscored in Europe, but such nuance is rarely afforded to Jews. Indeed, Ilmar Reepalu, the mayor of immigrant-heavy Malmö, Sweden, justified a dramatic upswing in anti-Semitism as opposition to Israel’s domestic policies. But for a country without a deep history of institutional and cultural anti-Semitism, the recent spike in anti-Semitic incidents is especially alarming, and Krasnik worries that few in the media or government are treating the trend seriously. A report compiled by AKVAH, a group that monitors anti-Semitism in Denmark, said that it documented 40 anti-Semitic incidents in 2012, a twofold increase since 2009.
In November, a group of between 20 and 30 protesters, hoisting Palestinian flags, descended on the Israeli embassy in Copenhagen. They hurled stones and spray-painted the protective wall surrounding the embassy with the words børne dræbere: child killers. In a break with previous protocol, the attack was met with a stony silence from the Danish foreign ministry. Krasnik points out that the attack was “strangely under-reported” in the press, and the story only gained traction after the Israeli ambassador complained about the assault in a newspaper interview.
Lise Egholm, former principal of Rådmandsgades school in Nørrebro, told Danish Radio last year that they “have had some unfortunate incidents [at the school], which means that I have had to say to some parents it can be hard to have Jewish children in this area because there are many Palestinians.” When Krasnik asked Egholm if she would advise enrolling his own children in the school, she replied bluntly: “In principle yes, but in reality no.” (This isn’t a problem specific to Copenhagen either. In 2009, a headmaster in Odensee, Denmark’s third-largest city, recommended that Jewish students not enroll in his immigrant-heavy school either.)
At a recent government-sponsored “multicultural festival” in Nørrebro, intended to promote cultural “diversity,” a Jewish group was barred from displaying the Israeli flag. TaskForce Inclusion, one of the Orwellian-named organizers of the event, claimed that the measure was taken as a “safety precaution” (a precaution that applied, it seems, only to Jewish groups and a tacit admission that the mere sight of a Star of David would drive certain other attendees into spasms of violence). One government official later said that, initially, the Jewish group was to be completely excluded for fear of offending Muslim participants.
“We have to face the reality,” said Krasnik. Anti-Semitism is “an import of the Middle Eastern conflict to Copenhagen.” “Multiculturalism is simply not working as an ideology,” he said, pointing out that the immigrant ghetto of Mjølnerparken—where, according to 2003 census data, 92 percent of its residents were from “non-Western” backgrounds—has emerged as a “parallel society,” one that has little in common with the world he inhabits.
The problem of anti-Semitism seems to be getting worse, but fear of giving offense, fear of upsetting the delicate multicultural balance, of singling out an aggrieved minority group for criticism, means that newspaper editorialists denounce anti-Semitic attacks and government ministers express shock and disappointment, but nothing changes. “The mayor of Copenhagen says ‘we will not accept anti-Semitism, but that we shouldn’t overdramatize the situation,’” Krasnik sighs. “We should breathe calmly, he said. That was his expression.”
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This week, Roberta Kaplan will try to get the Supreme Court to overturn DOMA—ratifying her marriage, too