Copenhagen police forbid ‘peace ring’ at attacked synagogue

Copenhagen police denied a request by Danish Muslims to create a peace ring around a city synagogue that came under a deadly attack.

Police cited security concerns for rejecting the request by organizers, according to Danish media reports.

“We have chosen to say no because of a specific security assessment of the situation we have here right now,” Copenhagen police spokesman Mads Jensen told a Danish television station.

The Copenhagen organizers were hoping to duplicate a similar initiative that took place on Saturday night in Oslo, where reports said that more than 1,000 people, including many Muslims, formed a human chain around a synagogue in a show of support for Jews.

Niddal El-Jabri told the public broadcaster Denmark Radio that he would continue to discuss with police the possibility of holding a peace vigil at a later time.

“It is a really good initiative,” Dan Rosenberg Asmussen, the head of the Danish Jewish community, told DR, according to The “I think it is touching and beautiful.”

On Feb. 14, outside the central Copenhagen synagogue, a volunteer security guard, Dan Uzan, was shot and killed by a lone Islamist gunman who hours earlier had killed one in a shooting at a free speech event at a cultural center in the Danish capital.

Danish, Swedish Jews hold first joint Limmud conference

About 160 Swedes and Danes attended the first inter-Scandinavian Limmud Jewish learning event.

The March 11 event was held at an adult education center in Lund, a Swedish city situated 23 miles north of Copenhagen.

“Last year we held the first Lund Limmud and this is the first time that the event has gone international,” said the event’s co-organizer, Rabbi Rebecca Lillian.

“Many Swedes can understand Danish and visa versa, but to completely eliminate the language barrier each time bloc included at least one session in Danish or English,” said Lillian, an American Reconstructionist rabbi who immigrated to Malmo from Chicago two years ago.

The event was promoted on social media in Swedish, Danish and English. The 2014 Oresunds Limmud will be held at a bigger venue, Lillian said.

She added the majority of participants were Swedish but a few dozen Danes also came, including former Danish chief rabbi Bent Melchior. In his address, he encouraged Jewish communities to embrace families with only one Jewish spouse.

Danish Jews angered by request not to display Israeli flag

The organizers of a Copenhagen event celebrating diversity asked Danish Jews refrain from displaying the Israeli flag “for security reasons.”

The request came during preparations for the city-sponsored Mangfoldigheds festival held early last month, according to the Copenhagen-born Jonas Herzberg Karpantschof, former chairman of the European Union of Jewish Students.

The Danish Zionist Federation displayed the Israeli flags despite the requests. Several verbal confrontations occurred in front of the federation’s stand but they did not escalate into physical violence, Karpantschof wrote in a report for the website of CRIF, the umbrella organization of French Jews. Karpantschof said that “in reality, it [the request] was an attempt to block the group’s participation.”

Other groups also displayed country flags at the event, the Copenhagen Post reported, and had not been asked to refrain from displaying them.

One of the event organizers, Pernille Kjeldgaard, told the Post, “It is not that there is a flag policy. Specific associations were asked not to display their flags as a safety precaution.” His group, TaskForce Inklusion, had been tasked by the municipality to organize parts of the event.

Max Meyer, head of the Danish Zionist Federation, was quoted as saying, “It is a shame that one group is discriminated against, especially at a diversity celebration.”

In the festival, participants were supposed to offer visitors food and culture connected with their ethnicity. The festival featured a Kurdish stall and three Palestinian organizations, Meyer wrote. Jews, Muslims and Christians shared one stall at the event.

It was the first time that the Danish Zionist Federation participated in the festival.

Still rotten in Denmark

Five years after the infamous “cartoon crisis,” many Danes still seem confused about what constitutes free speech and why it is important to defend. The Danish public is tired of discussing the case, worried that the debate is becoming a sectarian issue between left and right rather than a rallying point for shared values. Meanwhile, the pressure on free speech continues with threats of violence, lawsuits, and changes in international law.

The cartoon crisis began in the fall of 2005 when the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, following a number of incidents in which illustrators refused to draw the Muslim prophet for fear of violent response from fundamentalists, published 12 cartoons, some of which depicted the prophet Mohammed. Through an unforeseeable chain of events, including the provocative actions of a group of Danish imams, Jyllands-Posten’s publication sparked a global crisis that culminated in early 2006 with violent demonstrations and attacks on Danish embassies in Syria and Lebanon and riots from Nigeria to Indonesia. Death threats and terrorist plots were directed against Flemming Rose, the editor at Jyllands-Posten who conceived the cartoon publication, and the illustrator Kurt Westergaard, who drew the now-infamous bomb-in-the-turban cartoon. In January 2010, Westergaard was attacked in his home by a would-be ax murderer but escaped by hiding in a panic room.

While the threats are still real and the cartoon crisis refuses to die, a solid majority of Danes support the right to publish the cartoons, as did the Danish chief prosecutor and the Danish courts, which have turned down requests from Muslim organizations to prosecute Jyllands-Posten for blasphemy, hate speech and defamation.

But still, the cartoon crisis has not resulted in as much clarity about the value of freedom of expression and the inherent danger of criminalizing “offensive” expressions as one might have wished. In a recent survey, 69 percent of the Danish population supported keeping the country’s hate-speech laws on the books, despite the fact that they criminalize offensive stereotypes — the very complaint that many Muslims leveled against the cartoons.

Even more worryingly, freedom of expression has become a proxy debate for those on both the left and right, often becoming a debate about being either “for” or “against” Muslim immigration. On the multicultural left in Denmark, many leading figures still view the cartoons at best as an unnecessary and gratuitous offence against Muslims and, at worst, as a form of hate speech comparable to the infamous anti-Semitic cartoons found in Der Stürmer. That numerous foiled terrorist attempts (both by Muslims in Denmark and abroad) and death threats against Kurt Westergaard and Flemming Rose have proven Jyllands-Posten’s point about self-censorship seems entirely lost on this segment of the Danish population.

The leading center-left newspaper, Politiken — among the most critical of the cartoons — recently entered into a settlement agreement with a Saudi lawyer claiming to represent 95,000 descendants of the prophet Muhammad. In the agreement, struck immediately following the foiled terror plot against Westergaard, Politiken apologized for having offended Muslims by republishing the cartoons. Had the newspaper really just come to realize that it had offended Muslims and needed to make amends, as editor Tøger Seidenfaden purported, or was the newspaper mainly responding to a very real threat of violence and legal action? No matter their real motivation, all critics of the cartoons would be faced with this uncomfortable question: Are you acting out of respect or fear?

Leading Danish human rights organizations, such as the government-sponsored Danish Institute for Human Rights, have expressed their disappointment that Jyllands-Posten was not prosecuted under hate-speech laws. At the same time, Denmark is facing pressure from international organizations like the United Nations, where the Organization of the Islamic Conference and its acolytes push relentlessly for stricter limits on criticism of religion.

At a recent conference in Copenhagen, featuring Flemming Rose as well as Muslim bloggers, journalists and human rights activists, a prominent Danish anti-racism lawyer accused Rose of having launched an attack on a vulnerable minority by commissioning the cartoons. U.S.-based Egyptian blogger Mona Eltahawy spoke of the need to defend the right to offend whether through cartoons or even burning the Quran and that Muslims should be treated as adults, not “five year olds apt to throwing tantrums.” Asmaa Al-Ghoul, a Palestinian blogger from Gaza, lectured the bemused Danish lawyer that Hamas’ religious fundamentalism in Gaza shows what happens when religion is put before freedom of expression. These replies reveal the suicidal course of Europe’s multicultural left who view people as primarily belonging to various inescapable religious or cultural groups, rather than as individual citizens with equal rights before the law.

Not only do the multiculturalists fail to protect freedom of expression against the increasing threat of violence from religious fundamentalists — which is most often directed at the dissident voices of Muslim gays, women and apostates — but they infantilize Muslims by assuming that they require special protections from criticism and satire. This approach marginalizes the voice of liberal Muslims and legitimizes the voice of the fundamentalists already in ascendancy in many European countries. This problem is even more prevalent in neighboring Sweden, where the Danish debate on Islam and freedom of expression is widely regarded as a symptom of Danish racism and where the media colludes in keeping voices that are critical of multiculturalist immigration policies out of the public debate.

Unfortunately, the multiculturalist left is not the only problem. The conservative, nationalist right, which often adopted a libertarian defense of freedom of expression when defending the cartoons, has been less interested in upholding this right when it comes to issues that conflict with its own cherished values. In 2006, while the crisis was raging, the populist Danish People’s Party tabled a bill that would have criminalized the burning of Danish flags, since burning the flag would be offensive to Danes. In other words, almost exactly the same reason why Muslims in Denmark and abroad wanted to ban the cartoons.

In October 2010, the leader of the Danish Peoples’ Party, Pia Kjaersgaard, proposed a ban on satellite dishes in order to block immigrants from viewing Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera which, she says, spread “hatred against the Western world.” When it became clear that the proposal would be impossible to implement, she suggested banning “only” the above-mentioned channels, including Internet access to them. Only a few months earlier, the Danish Peoples’ Party tabled a (sensible) bill that would abolish Denmark’s hate-speech provision from the criminal code, arguing that only totalitarian states ban expression, whereas democracies ban actions.

Very few Danes and Europeans — on either the right or left — seem to have realized that if freedom of expression does not include the right to reject, criticize or ridicule the things and ideas we cherish the most, then freedom of expression will always be held ransom to the heckler’s veto. While most people feel that freedom of speech is great for themselves and those with whom they agree, the real point of freedom of speech is to protect even those kinds of speech we would rather not listen to — the views we find stupid, offensive or reprehensible. Maybe the truth is that Danes see freedom of speech as such a self-evident value that they don’t see any reason to defend it. Who, after all, would want to take it away?

Jacob Mchangama is head of legal affairs for the Danish think tank CEPOS and spokesperson for Fri Debat, a Danish network committed to freedom of expression.

Danish filmmaker finds hope despite family’s dark history

Susanne Bier, whose Danish film, “In a Better World,” is a favorite for Oscar honors, is an anomaly.

She is a woman director in an overwhelmingly male profession, and she is emphatically Jewish in a country and industry in which such affirmation is hardly the norm.

After a Golden Globe win for helming the year’s best foreign-language film, Bier, who studied for two years in Jerusalem, is in a strong position to repeat in the same Academy Award category. However, she faces stiff competition from the other four finalists, who represent Algeria, Canada, Greece and Mexico.

Israel, which seemed close to its first Oscar when its entries made the final five cut in each of the last three years, struck out early this year with “The Human Resources Manager.”

Bier, youthful and animated at 50, was born in peaceful Denmark, but the fates and persecutions of forebears in Nazi Germany and Czarist Russia have deeply affected her personal and artistic outlooks.

Her paternal grandfather, a real estate executive in Berlin, was farsighted enough to leave Germany for Denmark in 1933, when his son, Susanne’s future father, was 2 years old.

Three decades earlier, her mother’s family arrived in Denmark in 1903, the year of the infamous Kishinev pogrom.

But the secure refuge in Denmark was shattered in 1940, when Nazi armies invaded the country. Both families were saved in the celebrated 1943 boatlift to Sweden, which saved almost all of Denmark’s Jews.

Susanne’s father, then 12, vividly recalled the experience to his daughter. The car in which the family was driving to the boat rendezvous ran out of gas, next to a German command post. After a very anxious time, a passing Danish motorist supplied the refugees with fuel.

After the Allied victory, both families returned to Denmark, but from their backgrounds and experiences they transmitted two life lessons to Susanne.

“I felt early on that even in the most secure life, there is always the potential for catastrophe,” she said during an interview at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

From left: Toke Lars Bjarke as Morten, Mikael Persbrandt as Anton, Markus Rygaard as Elias and William Jøhnk Nielsen as Christian. Photo by Per Arnesen, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

On the reverse side, her parents taught her “to address the world in a positive way,” to look for the good even in evil times, and to deal morally and righteously with others.

Bier grew up as somewhat of a tomboy, preferring soccer scrimmages with the lads to playing with dolls; she was socially awkward, an avid reader and had a creative bent.

But upon finishing high school, she decided to explore her Jewish roots by studying in Israel. She spent half a year at the Hebrew University and one-and-a-half years at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design.

She left Jerusalem, after “two years of partying,” with a working knowledge of Hebrew and a vague sense that she would eventually marry a nice Jewish lawyer and have six kids.

Her religiously observant parents, whom she phones at least once a day, approved of this tentative life path. However, Bier discovered that “all the nice Jewish boys I encountered were just too boring” and she was more attracted to not-so-nice non-Jewish boys.

In her actual marital life, Bier has struck somewhat of a compromise, explaining, “My first husband was non-Jewish, my second husband was a nice Jewish boy, and I am now in a relationship with a non-Jewish man.” She is the mother of Gabriel, 21, and Alice Esther, 15.

Still searching for a fulfilling career, she studied architecture in London and then attended Denmark’s National Film School, graduating in 1987.

After these eclectic preparations, her movie career took off auspiciously with the Swedish film “Freud Leaves Home,” which won critical acclaim.

From left: Mikael Persbrandt as Anton and Trine Dyrholm as Marianne. Photo by Per Arnesen, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Her next effort, “Family Matters,” flopped badly, but Bier recovered, and her subsequent nine films, released at the rate of about one every two years, have been generally popular and well received by critics.

With the beginning of the 21st century, Bier really hit her stride as director and screenwriter. Her 2004 movie, “Brothers,” was a box office and artistic hit and was remade in an English version.

Two years later, she scored even better with “After the Wedding,” which made the final cut for an Academy Award. Now Hollywood came calling, and in 2007 she directed “Things We Lost in the Fire” with Halle Berry, Benicio Del Toro and David Duchovny.

Her current Oscar contender, “In a Better World,” was released in her native country as “Hoevnen,” Danish for “Revenge,” which seems a more pointed title.

The film stars some of the leading Scandinavian actors and a remarkable 12-year-old boy, William Johnk Nielsen, whom Bier discovered.

Like many of the director’s movies, “Better World” deals with complex family relationships, this one between two fathers and their respective sons, and the intense bond between the two boys.

Also typical of Bier’s outlook, the movie ends on a note of hope. “Too many European films celebrate pessimism,” Bier said, “but desolation is no good. It is better to communicate that there’s some hope in the world.”

A few years ago, Bier and her frequent writing collaborator, Anders Thomas Jensen, worked on a project centering on the Holocaust, but couldn’t get the script right and shelved the project.

She hopes to deal with the topic in a future film and rejects the notion of “Holocaust fatigue” among the public and movie producers.

That notion gained some currency this year when not a single feature movie or documentary dealing with the Holocaust, the Nazi era or World War II was submitted in the Oscar and Golden Globe competitions. Nevertheless, Bier is confident that in the future, Hollywood and European producers will return to that subject.

Al Qaeda urges Israel attacks; Israeli Arab lawmakers represent Hamas in court

Al Qaeda Urges Israel Attacks

Cartoon Riots Spark Sweet Backlash

In the wake of a Danish newspaper’s decision to publish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, Danish flags and embassies are beset by violent protesters in heavily Muslim countries. But a chocolate store in the windmill-filled, Danish American tourist village of Solvang has enjoyed a small spike in its mail-order business.

And it’s not just because of Valentine’s Day, though that always helps, said chocolatemaker Bent Pedersen.

“One comment was that they were buying in support of Denmark,” said Pedersen, who owns Ingeborg’s World Famous Danish Chocolates, which does a brisk business online from its Copenhagen Drive store.

Pedersen said that since anti-Danish rioting began, several people have called in long-distance orders and mentioned their desire to “buy Danish.” Consumers in heavily Muslim countries, in contrast, are boycotting Danish products, reportedly costing Danish business up to $1 million a day. In response, European and American free-speech supporters have been advocating a less well-known “Buy Danish” campaign.

Local law enforcement has, in recent days, become more focused on Solvang, which lies about 4 miles west of Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, in case it should become a target. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department issued an advisory about the rioting overseas to deputies on patrol.

“We’re on a heightened state of awareness, but we’re not on tactical alert,” said sheriff’s Lt. Phil Willis, Solvang station commander.

The only possible local targeting of Danish interests appears to be online. Before the anti-cartoon protests began, Denmark’s L.A. consulate, along with Danish embassies and consulates worldwide, received thousands of e-mails about the cartoons, overloading the Danish Foreign Ministry’s Internet systems.

“They were of just a magnitude that did create some problems in our e-mails,” said a diplomat at Denmark’s embassy in Washington, D.C. “We got several thousand of them. They were not hostile necessarily. Some of them, the ones that we could identify as being from the U.S., were sort of 50/50.”

A Northridge-based Danish American newspaper has no plans to reprint the cartoons that originally were published last fall. “We don’t need all that controversy,” said Gert Madsen, editor-in-chief of the national weekly Bien.

Pedersen in Solvang appreciated the handful of pro-Danish chocolate orders, which ran about $50 each, but thought it odd to get phone requests all the way from Maryland.

“It still was strange,” Pedersen said of one of the Danish chocolate lovers. “I don’t know how he found us.”