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Is It Equally Unsafe in Denmark and Jordan?

Two dispatches tell the same story for Jews and Israelis

Adam Chandler
December 17, 2012
Petra, Jordan(AMNH)

Last week, two different stories about two entirely different places came across the wire that confused and startled me a little bit. The first one is about Jordan, where Jewish and Israeli tourists visiting the country have been instructed to…you know…not look so Jewish when they visit.

According to a copy of a ministry memo issued at the end of November, Amman instructed Jordanian tour operators to inform their Israeli counterparts to advise Israeli visitors not to wear “Jewish dress” or perform “religious rituals in public places” so as to prevent an unfriendly reaction by Jordanian citizens.

This isn’t entirely unexpected. The temperature in Jordan seems to be high running these days as King Abdullah is fighting to avoid becoming another casualty of the Arab Spring. This heightened alert also seems an obvious upshot of last month’s Operation Pillar of Defense since a huge percentage of Jordan’s population is Palestinian. Earlier this year (as in before Pillar of Defense), six Israelis were attacked by vendors at a market in southern Jordan. Later in the story, we learned this:

Israeli tour operators…had not been notified of any such directives. Kfir Schwartz, director of Ahalan Olympus, a tour company in Israel that organizes trips to Jordan, said that such advisories are “not something new” but have never been formal.

The very same day that the Jordanian notice went out, many several thousand miles west, another alert went out in Copenhagen. From the Israeli ambassador to Denmark:

“We advise Israelis who come to Denmark and want to go to the synagogue to wait to don their skull caps until they enter the building and not to wear them in the street, irrespective of whether the areas they are visiting are seen as being safe,” Amb. Arthur Avnon is quoted as telling AFP on Wednesday. The news agency reported that Avnon also advised visitors not to “speak Hebrew loudly” or demonstrably wear Star of David jewelry.

This came a month after the Israeli embassy in Denmark was defaced and attacked in the same week and a few months after it was rumored that Denmark was about to become the newest front in the public battle against ritual circumcision.

Add these two stories to an episode from earlier this year when a rabbi–one of the first to be ordained in Germany since the Second World War–was savagely attacked on the streets of Berlin, prompting a nearby rabbinic seminary in Potsdam to instruct its students–future Jewish religious leaders–to refrain from wearing Jewish items in public. One inspiring aspect of that story is that 1,000 Berliners gathered to march in solidarity with the Jewish community, donning kippot as they walked the streets.

The invitations to the solidarity marches have not gone out in Jordan and Denmark just yet. But the warnings stand.

So is the message here that it’s just as unsafe in 2012 to be a Jew in an Arab country in the Middle East as it is to be a Jew in a stereotypically placid (and historically Jew-friendly) place like Denmark? Or is the message that dislike for Jews has grown so intense that governments and various tourist operators and religious institutions are conceding that Jews cannot be protected? Or is it something else?

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.