From left: Joel Basman as Helmut Morbach and Louis Hofmann as Sebastian Schumann Photo by Henrik Petit in "Land of Mine." Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Denmark’s ‘Land of Mine’ is a tale of retribution, national hatred


In any standard World War II movie, it is safe to assume that the Germans will be the beastly villains who vent their sadistic fury on the hapless — or heroic — citizens of Nazi-occupied countries.

And if a poll on the nicest nation in Europe were taken at the end of World War II, it is likely that Denmark would rank at the top and Germany at or near the bottom.

“Land of Mine,” Denmark’s nominee in the Oscar race for foreign-language film, shatters the mold.

During the nearly five years after Hitler’s invasion of Denmark, German sappers seeded the Scandinavian country’s west coast with some 2 million land mines in anticipation of an eventual Allied invasion, which never happened.

With the Nazis defeated in 1945, the reconstituted Danish army decided to clear the beaches, forcing German prisoners of war to do the dangerous job. The POWs comprised a wide range of ages, but in the film, it falls to a group of 14 teenagers to do the job. The young soldiers, between 15 and 18, were drafted in Hitler’s last, desperate stand of the war.

Their overseer is Danish Sgt. Carl Rasmussen (Roland Moller), who sees his assignment as a chance to get even with the detested Germans for their wartime rule, which was relatively mild until 1943, when the Danes rescued some 7,200 of the country’s 8,000 Jews by ferrying them to neutral Sweden and safety.

Rasmussen locks up his charges at night, lets them go hungry for days at a time, and cares not a whit that the untrained German youngsters are regularly blown up while trying to defuse the mines, buried only a few inches deep. (The film’s Danish title translates as “Under the Sand,” which gets lost in the English title’s rather heavy-handed play on words.)

In one nail-biting scene, the young POWs are made to walk, arms linked, across a still mine-infested beach.

When the sergeant’s attitude toward his charges gradually softens — he even steals some bread from the commissary for them — he is upbraided by his commanding officer.

Martin Zandvliet, the highly regarded Danish director and screenwriter, acknowledges that he received some hate mail after the film was released in his country. However, at 46, he and most of his fellow citizens were born well after the war and can view it at some emotional distance.

During a phone interview, Zandvliet described two aspects of his film as drawing some general observations on human nature and in re-examining the attitudes of his countrymen during the Nazi occupation.

One facet of the film is the enduring nature of national hatred, even in a country like Denmark, which “pictures itself as a happy country,” he said. How do we deal with such hatred, pervasive throughout the world, he asked, how do we find a way to talk to one another?

Zandvliet shows no reluctance in questioning some of the laudatory beliefs about his country’s role during World War II.

In almost any recollection of the Holocaust, one of the few bright spots is the rescue of 7,200 of Denmark’s Jews, who escaped the Nazi clutches when they were ferried out of the country by Danish underground fighters and fishermen. The director lauds the risks taken by many Danes in this clandestine operation, but notes that quite a few Jews had to hand over considerable amounts of money for their rescues.

Overall, he observed, the Danes, as fellow “Aryans,” were treated better by the Nazis than the people of any other occupied country. But on the whole, Zandvliet said, his countrymen didn’t really “turn against the Germans until they started losing the war.”

To illustrate the endurance of national hatreds, Zandvliet looked further back into history. The Danes, he said, had never forgiven the Germans for the outcome of an 1864 war, when the Prussians incorporated some Danish territory as the spoils of victory.

One other conclusion from his film, he observed, is that “when adults go to war, it’s often the kids who pay the price. … Of course, you can’t compare this to the 6 million who perished in the Holocaust,” but in the case of the young German soldiers depicted in the film, “we have to remember that they were only 9 to 11 years old when World War II started.”

In general, “Land of Mine” has been well received in Denmark, despite the few hate mails, Zandvliet said, adding, “On the whole, Danes seemed to understand what I was trying to say.”

 

“Land of Mine” opens Feb. 10 at the Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles and Feb. 17 at Playhouse 7 in Pasadena and Town Center 5 in Encino.

4 acquitted in Denmark synagogue attack


Four Danish citizens accused of assisting the gunman in two deadly attacks in Copenhagen last year, including one outside a synagogue that left a Jewish security guard dead, were acquitted.

On Tuesday, a Danish court found that the actions of the four men were “not of such a character that the actions can lead to a conviction for complicity,” according to the verdict, the French news agency AFP reported.

Bhostan Khan Hossein, Liban Ahmed Saleban Elmi, Ibrahim Khalil Abbas and Mahmoud Rabea were accused of helping Omar El-Hussein carry out the attack against Copenhagen’s main synagogue on Feb. 15, 2015. They had faced life in prison if convicted.

El-Hussein, 22, was killed in a shootout with police hours after killing the guard, Dan Uzan, 37, in the attack.

Hossein and Elmi were convicted on the lesser charge of disposing of the assault rifle El-Hussein used hours earlier to kill Danish filmmaker Finn Noergaard and wound three police officers at a Copenhagen cafe. They will be sentenced at a later date.

 

Norway’s Muslims form protective human shield around synagogue


More than 1,000 Muslims formed a human shield around Oslo's synagogue on Saturday, offering symbolic protection for the city's Jewish community and condemning an attack on a synagogue in neighboring Denmark last weekend.

Chanting “No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia,” Norway's Muslims formed what they called a ring of peace a week after Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, a Danish-born son of Palestinian immigrants, killed two people at a synagogue and an event promoting free speech in Copenhagen last weekend.

“Humanity is one and we are here to demonstrate that,” Zeeshan Abdullah, one of the protest's organizers told a crowd of Muslim immigrants and ethnic Norwegians who filled the small street around Oslo's only functioning synagogue.

“There are many more peace mongers than warmongers,” Abdullah said as organizers and Jewish community leaders stood side by side. “There’s still hope for humanity, for peace and love, across religious differences and backgrounds.”

Norway's Jewish community is one of Europe's smallest, numbering around 1000, and the Muslim population, which has been growing steadily through immigration, is 150,000 to 200,000. Norway has a population of about 5.2 million.

The debate over immigration in the country came to the forefront in 2011 when Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people and accused the government and the then-ruling Labour party of facilitating Muslim immigration and adulterating pure Norwegian blood.

Support for immigration has been rising steadily since those attacks, however, and an opinion poll late last year found that 77 percent of people thought immigrants made an important contribution to Norwegian society.

Muslims offer to protect Oslo synagogue with ‘peace ring’


Hajrad Arshad, the event’s 17-year-old organizer, told Norway’s state broadcaster NRK that the group aimed to “extinguish the prejudices people have against Jews and against Muslims.”

“We think that after the terrorist attacks in Copenhagen, it is the perfect time for us Muslims to distance ourselves from the harassment of Jews that is happening,” she said.

Ervin Kohn, the leader of Oslo’s Jewish community welcomed the initiative.

Read more at The Local.

Copenhagen attacks challenge soft Nordic approach to radicals


Known for a soft approach to security that emphasizes helping radical Muslim youths with housing and jobs, Denmark may face pressure after the Copenhagen attacks to prioritize tougher laws and more resources for the police.

The weekend's deadly shootings at a cafe and synagogue came at a time when the Nordic countries, worried about an increasing number of immigrant youths traveling to fight in Iraq or Syria, have already been considering tougher laws.

Countries like Sweden and Denmark have given up traditional Scandinavian neutrality to participate in military missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Meanwhile, right-wing political groups that challenge the traditional Nordic approach to security are gaining influence.

“For a while Denmark tried the soft approach but after this weekend we believe it's time for the tough approach,” Peter Skaarup, the deputy chairman and justice spokesman for the right-wing populist Danish People's Party told Reuters.

His party is likely to be the kingmaker after an election this year. Its popularity reflects many voters' anger amid perceptions about rising crime and immigration.

A lone gunman sprayed a Copenhagen cafe with bullets on Saturday, killing a participant at a freedom of speech event, and then fired shots at a synagogue, killing a guard, before being shot dead by police.

“Once the investigation of the weekend's events is finished, it'll be to evaluate if the police force has the right equipment to fight terrorists and gangs,” Skaarup added.

Denmark's approach is typified by initiatives like a de-radicalization program that began in the second largest city Aarhus and was rolled out last year across the country.

Drop-in centers and hotlines are available to provide counseling and public assistance for those tempted by radicalism. They are also encouraged to talk to imams at the Aarhus's main mosque, which some right-wing politicians call a “jihadi factory”.

The Danish intelligence service says the program has helped bring down the number of Danes traveling to Syria to fight.

“TRAITORS”

Center-left Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt has urged tolerance. But her Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said tougher measures were being looked at and her justice minister suggested last year that jihadist fighters returning from battlefields should be treated as “traitors”.

Neighboring Sweden may pass a law this year to criminalize travel to take part in conflict as well as the organizing and funding of such activities.

Proponents of tougher measures there point to a botched suicide bombing in Stockholm four years ago and the conviction in 2012 of three Swedes for plotting to kill people at a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.

Finland is also preparing a bill to allow police to search homes and computers without notifying suspects in advance.

In Norway, three people suspected of aiding Islamic State were arrested last year.

Still, supporters of the softer approach say the story of the suspected Copenhagen shooter shows the importance of reaching out to disaffected youths, rather than responding to radicals solely with the force of the law.

Like two of the gunmen in the Paris attacks last month, Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, the suspected Danish gunman, spent time in jail. He may have been radicalised while serving a year's sentence for a stabbing.

“It is a flawed premise to say that the softer approach has failed because this has happened,” said Magnus Ranstorp, counter-terrorism expert at the Swedish Defense University, arguing that the attacks show the need not only to identify potentially dangerous people but to pull them back into society.

“This is what the French are struggling with because they have the repressive measures but there are no de-radicalization programs in place.”

Denmark revisited: Hatred and violence in the ‘Righteous among the Nations’


“One of the world’s most attractive nations for immigrants and tourists alike has become a very dangerous place for the Jews.” Giulio Meotti, “Expose: Denmark Unsafe for Jews.” Arutz Sheva, Israeli National News, May 2013

Did Shakespeare get it all wrong?

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” declares an officer in Hamlet, and this is where I thought the Bard was gravely mistaken.  In May 2014, my husband and I visited Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.  Everything we encountered there looked beautiful, and in spite of the cold and rain, this beauty seemed almost surreal.  In the Nyhavn part of Copenhagen, brightly painted houses along the canal sparkled like jewels in the rare moments of sunlight. In Elsinore, the brooding Kronborg castle, the fictional home of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, was an image of somber beauty and overwhelming power as if still threatening Sweden across the narrow gulf.

In the magnificent Copenhagen, we did not see many cars: a sky-high tax of almost 180% on cars made bicycles, buses and ferries much more attractive. The Danes are highly conscious of their environment: over half of their garbage is recycled and more than 20 percent of their energy needs are provided by windmills.  “Copenhagen to be the World’s First Carbon-Neutral capital,” Newsweek declared in August 2014. Indeed, this part of Europe is arguably one of the most sophisticated on the continent, and Scandinavians are among the most educated and prosperous Europeans, with the least income disparity. Denmark, like other Scandinavian countries, is also the most highly taxed and socialistic, but their people, the happiest we ever met, think it works: They consider their home countries the best places in the world.  All three nations – Denmark, Sweden, and Norway – regularly top every survey of wealth and quality of life. However, as we discovered during our visit, this highly sophisticated, perfectly organized, everything-for-the-people civilization has its dark sides.  Perhaps Shakespeare did know what he was talking about. 

In retrospect, reflecting on our May 2014 visit, our meetings and our conversations that took place in all three Scandinavian capitals, it seems that the February 2015 violence in Copenhagen was not as unexpected and shocking.

Painful Journey: Collecting Jewish stories of Scandinavia

A few weeks prior to our May 2014 trip, I came across a December 2012 issue of Standpoint. Norway, I learned from that British magazine, could soon top one shocking ranking: the first country in Europe to become “Judenfrei,” the Nazi term for the ethnic cleansing of Jews.  Then a friend emailed me intriguing 2013 documents:  “Anti-Semitism in Norway? – The Attitudes of the Norwegian Population towards Jews and Other Minorities” and “FRA (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights) Survey: Discrimination and Hate Crimes against Jews in EU Member States. “ The Jews of Scandinavia seemed to be talking to me daily from my computer screen. “How to Survive as a Jew in Sweden: Shut up and Fade into the Woods,” wrote Annika Hernroth-Rothstein in the Mosaic Journal. “Hiding Judaism in Copenhagen,” Michael Moynihan corroborated in an article in Tablet.  I knew that our trip would contain another facet: a painful journey into the past and present of Scandinavian Jewry.

In our attempt to understand the complex realities of the Scandinavian Jewish story, Denmark was at the center of our visit.  After all, this was the only country in the world that defied Hitler and saved its Jewish community almost in its entirety.

Denmark – past

Denmark became the first of the Scandinavian countries where Jews were permitted to settle.  In 1622, the Renaissance Danish King Christian IV, ever a pragmatist, sent a message to the Sephardic (or as they were called in Denmark, “Portuguese”) Jews of Amsterdam and Hamburg inviting them to come to his kingdom and settle, not in his capital of course, but in the newly-established town of Glukstadt. The king had his mint there, but no mintmaster.  The Jews came, and quickly succeeded in everything they were permitted to do, from running the royal mint to trading and manufacturing, to finance and jewelry making. As documented in the royal archives, Benjamin Mussafa was a physician to the royal family in 1646. His son-in-law rose to become a governor of the Danish West Indies in 1684 (alas, arrested and convicted few years later for misappropriation of funds). In Denmark, unlike any other European country, rabbis were permitted to openly practice and teach Judaism to their communities.  Following the costly Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), Frederik III encouraged a larger Jewish immigration into his realm to improve his international trade status.  By 1780, there were approximately 1,600 Jews in Denmark, though all were admitted on the basis of personal wealth. But the Jews of Denmark were not required to live in ghettos and had a significant degree of self-governance.  In the late 18th century, the king instituted a number of reforms. Jews were allowed to join guilds, study at the university, buy real estate, and establish schools. The Napoleonic Wars brought about a complete emancipation of Danish Jews.

The 19th century saw a flourishing of Danish-Jewish cultural life. The Great Synagogue of Copenhagen was built, designed by the renowned architect G. F. Hetsch. A number of Jewish cultural personalities rose to prominence.  Among them were art benefactor and collector Mendel Levin Nathanson, popular writer Meir Aron Goldschmidt, and literary critic Georg Brandes, who had a strong influence on Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.  In the outbreak of World War I, the great Jewish Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem and his family found a refuge in Copenhagen fleeing from violent anti-Semitism in Russia and Ukraine.  There, Sholem Aleichem began writing his tragicomedy “It’s Hard to be a Jew.” While enjoying an open and inclusive atmosphere in the Danish capital city, the Jewish writer, with his typical sardonic irony, placed the action of this play in “a city in Czarist Russia where Jews were not permitted to reside.” Denmark proved to be a different story.

Denmark during World War II: Rescue of the Danish Jews

In 1933, the year Hitler came to power in Germany, Christian X of Denmark became the first Scandinavian monarch to visit a synagogue. He wanted to honor the centennial anniversary of the Great Synagogue of Copenhagen. This king became the subject of a persistent legend: Christian X had the yellow Star of David sewn to his clothes and had gone to the city streets during the Nazi occupation. That never really happened, and the Danish Jews were not required to wear yellow stars.  But this is how Christian X, who personally financed the secret transport of his kingdom’s Jews to safety into a neutral Sweden, is forever remembered in history.  

Nazi occupation in Denmark was relatively mild for the first three years (1940-43), at least compared to other European countries. The Germans even referred to Denmark as “the model protectorate.” The King retained his throne and the Rigsdag (parliament) continued to function. The Danish government persistently stated that there was no “Jewish problem” in their country.

However, by the end of the summer in 1943, the tide of war turned. The Nazi lost under Stalingrad, their attack at Kursk failed, the Allies landed in Sicily, and Hamburg was bombed by the U.S. and the British. The Danish Resistance forces, anticipating the war end, increased their activities. The German policies in Denmark sharply changed. In August 1943, the Nazi arrested 100 prominent Danes.  In response, the Danish government resigned, the Nazi took over and immediately began planning the deportation of Danish Jews.  The German diplomat Georg Duckwitz, who is now commemorated in Israel’s Yad Vashem as a Righteous Gentile, secretly tried to reach the agreement with Sweden in creating a safe place there to harbor Danish Jews.  When the Swedes responded that they needed the Nazi’s approval, Niels Bohr, the world-famous Danish physicist and a Jew, made a personal appeal for his countrymen to the Swedish King.  Bohr was hiding in Sweden at that time on his way to the United States to work on the Manhattan project.  Bohr refused to go to the U.S. until the Swedish government decided the “Jewish question”.  Whether Bohr did play a pivotal role in Sweden’s making their decision or not, in October 1943, Sweden agreed to shelter the entire Danish Jewish community, and close to 8,000 people were smuggled out of Denmark over the Oresund strait to Sweden.  One of the fishing boats that transported Danish Jews to freedom is exhibited in the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and another- in Yad Vashem in Israel. There an entire country is honored as “Righteous among the Nations” for the unprecedented heroism and selfless good will.

There were numerous possible explanations given by European historians of why the Danes behaved drastically different from all other nations in relation to their Jewish compatriots. The rescue operation was very easy logistically, since the Jewish population was so small and most Jews lived in and near Copenhagen. Jews were so strongly integrated into the Danish society that the Danes did not see them as “others.” The importance of small, close-knit community was an integral part of Danish national consciousness. Whatever were the reasons, the Danes as one nation stood up against evil when the rest of the world turned away.

How did it happen then, that Denmark, a heroic exception in the history of the Holocaust, is becoming, as expressed by an Italian journalist Giulio Meotti, a “bit of an exception once again, in Europe’s post-Holocaust anti-Semitism?” I called the Great Synagogue in Copenhagen and was connected to their Chief Cantor, Atzmor. After I stated the reason for my call and the “Danish paradox” question that bothered me a great deal, Atzmor said: “Nothing is straightforward. Let’s talk.”   

Denmark – present

As a curious historic coincidence, the main synagogue in Copenhagen is located in close proximity to major historical landmarks of the Danish capital, including the royal Rosenborg Palace and the observatory called Round Tower, both representing favorite building projects of the King Christian IV, who was the first Scandinavian ruler to open his country to Jews.  During the Nazi occupation, the Torah scrolls of the synagogue were hidden at the Trinitatis Church, right next to the Round Tower. After marveling at the Hebrew lettering on the Round Tower that, as we were told, signified the name of God, we went to the Krystalgade Street, where Atzmor waited for us at the synagogue.

Conversations with the Chief Cantor of the Great Synagogue

Atzmor gave us a brief tour of this magnificent building where he and the chief rabbi work and live. The synagogue building, he explained, is one of the very few of its period (1830s) to abandon the classical tradition. The architect G. F. Hetsch used Egyptian elements in the columns, and his design was defined by the building’s unique architecture around the Ark of the Law with Egyptian motives on the ceiling and cornice over the Ark itself.  Perhaps the architect, a non-Jew, wanted to emphasize that the Exodus from Egypt was a definite episode in forming Jewish identity, I said.  “Or,” replied, Cantor Atzmor, “perhaps he just preferred pseudo-Oriental style over the Greek or Roman.”  “Nothing is straightforward here,” he repeated. The Cantor planned to start our visit in the main sanctuary, but on that weekday morning, the sanctuary was occupied by a study group of about 30 to 40 people who had their Jewish history class. All of them are non-Jews, Atzmor said.  Registering our surprised faces, he explained, “Non-Jewish Danes take a growing interest in Judaism. Some even come to the services on a regular basis.” He invited us to talk in the conference room first and visit the sanctuary when the class is over.

An Israeli by birth, Atzmor was educated as an opera singer in Vienna and as a wind instrument player in Berlin. Over 20 years ago, a friend from Copenhagen invited Atzmor to come from Vienna and interview for the job of the chief cantor, the position he has been holding ever since. Atzmor is a typical European intellectual with a profound knowledge of literature, theater and of course, music. Learning about our Russian origin, Atzmor beautifully sang an aria from Prince Igor. “My Master Thesis,” he explained.  Effortlessly changing from the operatic part to that of a cantor in a major synagogue, Atzmor continued with the Danish Jewish story.       

There are about 7,000-8,000 Jews living in Denmark today, with less than one percent of then residing in Odense and Aarhus.  2,000 people belong to the Great Synagogue and about 1,000 constitute members of the other three much smaller congregations.  This vibrant community supports an active Zionist Federation, Women’s International Zionist organization, B’nai B’rith, Jewish school, and several publications, with Joedisk Orientering being the leading Jewish magazine in the country.  Almost all the Jews who were rescued during the war returned back home, but the birth rate is low and the numbers keeps diminishing. I shared the main reason for our visit, my “Danish Paradox collection” with Atzmor and asked him to tell us his own perspective.

In January 2013, seventeen-year old Moran Jacob testified at a Copenhagen City Hall hearing on growing anti-Semitism in Danish capital and described the harassment he experienced for years while living in Norrebro, a heavily Muslim neighborhood of his home town. His testimony was corroborated by Max Mayer, president of the Danish Zionist Federation, who stated, “Danish Jews learned to keep a low profile in the city. “To pretend not to exist” (Front Page Magazine, October 1, 2013). I had clippings from various publications stating that the Danish Jewish community documented 40 violent anti-Semitic incidents in 2013, almost double compared to 2009. Some journalists traced the beginning of open anti-Semitic hatred to 2001, when an anonymous poster in Arabic was pinned to the bulletin board in one of the colleges in Copenhagen. The poster promised $35,000 to anyone who would kill a Jew.  An Italian journalist, Giulio Meotti, wrote that it is just as unsafe in 2013 to be a Jew in Copenhagen as it is to be a Jew in most Middle-Eastern countries.

“Yes,” agreed Cantor Atzmor,” barbed wire and security guards surround the Jewish school in Copenhagen. And yes, there is a network of ‘no-go’ zones in our city. That would be highly unusual 10 years or so ago.”  Some young people from his congregation are either planning to leave Denmark or have already left for Israel, the United States, or Australia.  But this “situation,” Orin emphasized the quote signs, “should not be exaggerated and elevated to an emergency crisis level.” “This is no more than a temporary issue,” he insisted, “and the best way to deal with it now is to ignore it. ““Ignore it?” I thought I misunderstood our new friend. “Oh, yes,” he said.  He then proceeded to tell us about his recent experience that he thought was rather humorous. 

While going shopping at one of the exclusive department stores, Cantor Atzmor was confronted at the store entrance by a group of young Middle-Eastern men. “Are you Jewish?” they angrily asked. “From Israel?”  Atzmor, who, as an undergrad, majored in Arabic studies in Tel-Aviv, confirmed in pure Arabic that he indeed was from Israel but that he was an Arab. Enjoying this role-playing, Atzmor recited a verse from Koran right in front of the perplexed youths, “There is no God but Allah…” “They left,” said Atzmor. We were impressed but not amused. “Listen,” I said,” what if you happen to be a non-Arabic-major regular Jewish guy, what then?”  Our new friend smiled: “Oh, I might’ve been beat up.”

Otherwise, Atzmor did not experience any harassment and did know personally anyone who did. The issue of kosher slaughter been outlawed in Denmark, just like in Sweden or Norway, did not bother him at all. “I am a vegetarian anyway,” he said. His personal concern was more with an inability of a “foreigner” to get accepted by the Danish Jewish community, even if this foreigner was invited to serve as a Chief Cantor for the Great Synagogue of Copenhagen. So, another Atzmor’s story was that of a royalty, Jewish royalty, to be precise. “I am not a Dane so [I am] able to present an outsider’s perspective,” he said. Atzmor sees the Jewish community of Copenhagen as a parallel reality to the gentile society of Denmark with its profound respect and admiration for their royal family, one of the oldest continuous monarchies in the world. The Danish Jews have their own royalty, the Melhiors, whose ancestor was one of the first Jews invited by King Christian IV to settle in Denmark. “This is our reigning dynasty,” said the Cantor. “The rabbis of the Great Synagogue and the decision-making Board, all have to come from or be closely-related to the family. Otherwise you are not really an ‘in-person.’” Atzmor did not think that his twenty-plus years among the clergy of the largest Danish congregation made him less of an outsider. Atzmor thinks he will retire soon: his plans are to leave Denmark and go to the music capitals of Europe, either Vienna or Berlin, and continue his career as a musician. We promised to come to his first recital there.  

Our new friend, both a citizen of Denmark and a citizen-of-the-world, polyglot and erudite, a dedicated Jewish clergy and a passionate European musician, left us with more disturbing questions than definitive answers. But we were not done with Denmark’s Jewish narrative, not yet. We headed to the Jewish Museum. 

Reflecting on architecture telling the story: The Jewish Museum of Denmark

Located within both a historic and contemporary architectural complex (the Renaissance Royal Boat House-turned the Nordic Romantic Royal Library-turned Post-Modern Black Diamond building), the museum tells its story even before you even enter. In the seventeenth century, King Christian IV built his Royal Boat House, which was renovated in the early 1900s to become a part of the adjacent Royal Library. At the end of the twentieth century, the Black Diamond building, nicknamed for its shiny black glass walls, designed to serve as a cultural center and an exhibition space, connected both the old and new libraries and instantly became one of the most beloved landmarks of contemporary Copenhagen.  In the 1990s, the Society for Danish Jewish History hired the world-renowned Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind to create the Danish Jewish Museum. Libeskind thought the complex of the Royal Boat House/Library/Black Diamond contained a unique intellectual context in which the Danish Jewish Museum would represent a deep historical legacy. In June 2004, one of the most unusual of museums opened its doors.

The architect designed the museum’s layout to incorporate a pedestrian walk between the new and old libraries, outdoor summer seating for a café, and intimate conversation spaces at the ground level of the entrance. When you enter the exhibition itself, you are inside a…Word. This word is in Hebrew: Mitzvah, meaning “good deed.”   My advice is to start with an introductory movie before you venture ahead. This is where you learn not only the Jewish history of Denmark but also the architect’s way of immortalizing it in his design.  In the movie, Libeskind explains: “The Danish Jewish Museum will become a destination which will reveal the deep tradition and its future in the …space of Mitzvah… a dynamic dialogue between architecture of the past and of the future – the newness of the old and the agelessness of the new. The Danish Jewish Museum differs from all other European Jewish Museums because Danish Jews were, by and large, saved through the effort of their compatriots and neighbors during the tragic years of the Shoa. It is this deeply human response that differentiates the Danish Jewish community and is manifested in the form, structure and light of the new museum. Mitzvah is the guiding light of this project. “

And indeed, the entire exhibition space is full of light coming through the stained glass windows. Libeskind wanted us to feel “a microcosm of Mitzvah transforming light across the day.” The architect organized the building inside as a series of planes, each corresponding to a particular field of historic and religious narrative: Exodus, Wilderness, The Giving of the Law, and The Promised Land. Interior corridors consist of fractured passageways and slanted floors. This is how the corridors, which serve as the museum’s exhibition spaces, whirl us around and form the Hebrew letters for the word Mitzvah. As museum’s website states, the form of the building becomes a commentary on the artifacts it presents, paralleling how accompanying texts often illuminate different aspects of the Talmud. Libeskind describes the space as a “sort of text running within a frame made up of many other surfaces – walls, inner spaces, showcases, virtual perspectives.” You, as a visitor, literally walk inside the four huge Hebrew letters, a landscape both enigmatic and expressive. Guided by the architect’s genius and the uniqueness of the Danish Jewish narrative, you create your own experience, at once deeply memorable and highly personal.

A chat at the Jewish Museum: the flag of Israel as a provocation

The museum was closing but a few young women working at the cloakroom and the bookstore kindly agreed to chat with us.  We felt overwhelmed by the museum experience and wanted to share our feelings. However, the conversation turned to today’s Denmark and the growing tensions between the Jewish and new immigrant communities.  One girl shared how she, a year or so ago, participated in the “Taste the World” festival as a member of the Danish Zionist Federation (DZF).  The festival was supposed to demonstrate the diversity and inclusiveness of Denmark and to feature the foods and cultures of various nations living in Copenhagen.   The city council, however, believed that the DZF displaying Israeli food would be a mistake. The DZF decided to participate anyway, and the council requested they do not display the Israeli flag. “Taste the World” was held in Norrebro, a large borough home to the city’s North African, Middle Eastern, and Balkan immigrants. The DZF were the only vendors without the flag identifying the food products’ origin. The council believed that an Israeli flag might be a provocation.   

A Sense of History – European-Style

Two years ago, Irish journalist Liam Hoare wrote: “Despite their image of moral innocence and best intentions, the lands of the north have become home to a scary, new form of anti-Semitism,” “The Scandal of Scandinavia,” The Tower (UK), April 2013. Unlike majority of the American Jews, the Jews of Scandinavia and indeed of most of Europe are largely children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors or, very few now, survivors themselves. A smaller percentage of European Jews are also survivors but of the near-complete expulsion of Jews from North African or Middle-Eastern countries that happened during the second half of the last century. Most European Jews are bound to know all too well, from either personal experiences or inherited knowledge, how a normal, secure, and comfortable life could be destroyed overnight.  So, perhaps, this is why when they see anti-Semitic incidents rising, some cannot help but feel that history is getting ready to repeat itself.  At the same time, there is a prevalent attempt to dismiss these incidents as a non-entity, not to “elevate them to the crisis level.” A renowned Danish journalist and a TV personality Martin Krasnik is quoted in “Hiding Judaism in Copenhagen:” “Anti-Semitism is strictly endemic to only new immigrant neighborhoods. It’s the same in London, it’s the same in Paris.” (Michael Moynihan, Tablet Magazine, March 2013). Anti-Jewish sentiment is virtually unknown in Denmark, so what’s happening is a “small shift imported from the Middle East,” insists Krasnik.  

Norwegian Jo Nesbo, one of the most popular crime fiction writers in Europe, stated that Norwegians, as indeed most Scandinavians, are “in love with their restrained response to tragedy or violence,” considering themselves “so calm, wise, and full of love.”  As history shows, Scandinavians have been much more accepting and respectful of “others” and much less traditionally anti-Semitic than other Europeans. In his quoted above piece “The Scandinavian Scandal,” Liam Haare stated, “the problem today is not widespread traditional anti-Semitism but rather a new kind of hate, derived mainly from the failure to distinguish between Israel, Zionism, and local Jewish communities in political discourse… anti-Zionism has rechanneled anti-Semitism.” As he and other journalists point out, this issue is especially acute in small Scandinavian countries, where Jews who are the smallest of the minorities but well-integrated into their home countries live in close proximity to much larger and non –integrated immigrant communities from North Africa and the Middle East that often display extremist anti-Israel and anti-Jewish feelings.  

Shall we choose to ignore the incidents of violence and hatred, as Atzmor, the Chief Cantor of Copenhagen advised? Or shall we hope then, as John Gradowski, the Head of Information for the Jewish Community of Stockholm suggested, for the “first track?” By that Mr. Gradowski meant the socio-economic way of new immigrants’ development toward accepting an openness and inclusiveness of Swedish values.  

Indeed, all Scandinavian countries, the least church going and the most secular in Europe, made Jewish studies and Holocaust education a way to open up minds and increase awareness. Non-Jews come to synagogues and museums to learn about Judaism, and schools bring their students to Holocaust and Jewish history museums as an integral part of their curriculums. At the same time, certain cultural attitudes, such as animal or children rights, led to governments’ prohibition of kosher slaughter and circumcision, which for observant Jews are nothing short of anti-Semitic acts since they touch on central traditions of Jewish life.

Given the demographic changes with the fast-growing new immigrant communities and current intensity of anti-Israel campaigns throughout Europe, could all these trends promote a disturbing sense of “otherness” toward the Jews? The same “otherness” that encourage seeing the Jews, with their connection to a foreign state and their “strange” traditions, as markedly and conspicuously different from everybody else and less acceptable because of it? Then, it would not matter how much the Jews contributed to or how well they were integrated into their home-countries’ gentile societies.

Were the February 2015 shootings just a singled-out crime, a mad loner acting alone?

Or was it an expression of rabid hatred toward intellectual freedom in general and Jews as “others” in particular, a logical development of the already visible trends?

Why Jews must stay in Europe


If, God forbid, some crazy Muslim were to shoot and kill a security guard outside a synagogue in Sherman Oaks, would you pack up and move to Israel?

No, of course not. One crazed gunman does not a pogrom make.

Unless you’re Benjamin Netanyahu.

That seemed to be the logic behind the Israeli prime minister’s statement the day after Saturday’s terror attacks in Denmark. When a Muslim man shot up a free-speech gathering and then a synagogue, killing a Danish film director at the first and a Jewish security guard at the second site, Netanyahu immediately called on the Jews of Europe to immigrate en masse to Israel.

“Jews were killed on European land just because they were Jewish,” he said. “This wave of attacks will continue. I say to the Jews of Europe — Israel is your home.”

His analysis is mostly right — victims in Toulouse, Paris and Denmark were singled out because they were Jewish. The scourge of Islamic violence isn’t going away anytime soon — attacks like these most likely will happen again. And Israel is the Jewish home.

So, if Bibi got all his facts right, why have so many people — from the prime minister of Denmark, to the country’s chief rabbi, to American Jewish leader Malcolm Hoenlein, to former Israeli President Shimon Peres, to just about every European and American Jew I’ve spoken with — lambasted his conclusion?

Because it’s cowardly.

I’m not saying that choosing to immigrate to Israel in the face of what is certainly increased anti-Semitism in Europe shows a lack of spine. For many people, it’s simply a better choice. 

But the idea that when trouble comes, we run to Israel just doesn’t sit right for many reasons.

First, Israel is not safer for Jews. I can think of many good, positive reasons to immigrate to Israel, but avoiding terrorism isn’t one of them. Statistically, you are far less likely to die violently from war or terror in Denmark, Paris or London than in Israel. That goes for your children as well.

If Bibi were concerned solely with the safety of Europe’s Jews, he would urge them to go to the United States, where anti-Semitism is negligible, and where, since 1948, some 330,000 Israelis have found safe, comfortable homes. It surely doesn’t help Bibi’s cause to be spending half his time telling Jews to run to Israel, and the other half warning that any day now, an Iranian nuke could obliterate Tel Aviv.

The idea that when trouble comes, we run to Israel just doesn’t sit right for many reasons.

And, by the way, has Bibi looked at a map lately? Those ISIS maniacs are within eyesight of the Golan Heights. They are swarming Iraq; surrounding Egypt; taking over Libya; and cultivating followers in Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza. If you want to stay far away from ISIS, stay far away from the Middle East, period.

Second, Jews cannot let hundreds of years of European Jewish history, tradition and culture come to a screeching halt because of some Islamic thugs. The popular narrative — or at least the one in Bibi’s brain — is that this is 1938, and Jews had better get out while they can. But the reality is quite different: Jews have the backing of Europe’s governments and its leaders, as well as public opinion. The mass rally this past weekend in Denmark was yet another sign of that. I know it’s hard for us to comprehend, but this time, all Shushan has risen up against Haman.

 “There is a real threat to life and limb,” University of London history professor David Cesarani wrote in the Huffington Post, “however from a tiny number of Jihadists and extreme Islamists. But they are a threat to every liberal democratic society, and they target the state, the police, the military and, as we saw in France, organisations that practice and symbolize freedom of expression. Hence, Jews are not isolated, as they were in the 1930s and 1940s, but find themselves enjoying unprecedented solidarity. This comes, too, from Muslims who are struggling against the extremism in their own faith communities. We need to celebrate and build on this solidarity, not sow seeds of alarm.”

Cesarani’s last point may be the most important reason Bibi is wrong. Bibi’s comments undermine the larger truth about Islamic extremism in Europe: This is not just a Jewish fight. To say it’s the Jews who must run away is to say we are not part of humanity’s struggle against an ideology that has claimed more Muslim and Christian victims in recent years than Jewish ones.

“Raising the spectre of ‘anti-Semitism’ will not help anyone cope with the threat posed by Jihadists and extreme Islamists,” Cesarani wrote. “We all face a specific menace that demands targeted counter-measures.”

Finally, a strong Diaspora, and a strong Israel, is better for the world, and for Jews.  Jews carry values and traditions that usually end up imporving the places where they live.  And Judaism itself is the result of what the Israeli strategist Gidi Grinstein likes to call the “rolling mess” of Jewish life.  Judaism has survived and thrived precisely because Jews have constantly been exchanging ideas, values and knowledge across cultures and times.   Were we all to just huddle beneath the Iron Dome, between the Mediterranean and the Security Barrier, we would wither as a living, breathing culture.

I know it’s easy for me to dispense prescriptions from cozy America. Jews in Europe these days face a constant level of threat and intimidation, which we here can’t fathom. But the civilized world has faced down fanaticism before on European soil, and it can do so again. The battle is not yet lost, so why does Netanyahu sound like he’s surrendering?


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Shots fired at Copenhagen synagogue


Three people were reportedly shot in an attack at a synagogue in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The shooting occurred just hours after a fatal shooting at an event featuring a Danish cartoonist, Lars Vilks, who is under police protection because of his cartoons caricaturing Mohammed. It is not yet clear if the two shootings are related.

Multiple reports said two policemen and a civilian were shot in the synagogue attack, which reportedly occurred shortly after midnight on Saturday. A civilian was killed and three policemen were wounded in the earlier attack at a cafe.

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the Danish prime minister, said the attack on the cafe was a terrorist attack. Copenhagen was on high alert.

The Secure Community Network, the security arm of the U.S. Jewish community, was in touch with its European counterparts, its director, Paul Goldenberg, told JTA.

Poll: Majority of Denmark citizens want circumcision banned


A new poll indicates that 74 percent of Denmark’s citizens believe circumcision should be fully or partially banned.

The survey was released Tuesday, the day before a parliamentary hearing believed to be a potential first step in implementing a circumcision ban. Two Danish parties favor a ban, while others are divided on the issue. Only 10 percent of the 1,000 people surveyed believed the decision should be left to parents.

“As I see it, [circumcision] goes against the [United Nations] Convention on the Rights of the Child to circumcise children. I’m leaning toward a ban until the person is of legal age,” Hans Christian Schmidt, a former health minister and now a Venstre member of parliament, told Metroxpress, the newspaper that conducted the poll, according to Denmark’s The Local.

In 2013, the Danish Health and Medicines Authority determined that there was not enough evidence to merit either banning or encouraging the practice. The authority made its determination following a study on the health risks and benefits of circumcision.

According to Danish health officials, between 1,000 and 2,000 circumcisions are performed in Denmark annually, primarily on Jewish and Muslim boys. Both faiths require the circumcision of boys.

Sweden and Norway also are discussing circumcision bans. Earlier this year, Norway’s association of nurses urged the government to outlaw the procedure.

Vandals target Jewish school in Denmark


A Jewish school in Denmark’s capital city was vandalized this week — its windows broken and anti-Semitic graffiti spray-painted on the building.

Scrawled on the walls of the historic Caroline school in Copenhagen were the words “No peace in Gaza” and “No peace to you Zionist pigs,” AFP is reporting.

Headmaster Jan Hansen told the news agency that some parents kept their children home from school Friday, and that there were some children who “were sad and a bit afraid who we had to send home.”

The incident comes a few weeks after Hansen, citing security concerns,  asked pupils to refrain from wearing religious symbols near school grounds.

Europe has seen a rise of anti-Jewish sentiment and incidents since the start of the latest Israel-Gaza conflict.

Last week, hundreds of demonstrators — many wearing traditional Jewish head coverings and other religious symbols — took to the streets in a heavily Muslim neighborhood of Copenhagen to protest anti-Semitism. Organizers called the demonstration the “yarmulke protest.”

The Caroline school was founded in 1805 and bills itself as the world’s oldest still functioning school.

Citing security concerns, Copenhagen Jewish school forbids religious symbols


A Jewish school in Denmark informed parents that its pupils are no longer allowed to wear religious symbols near school grounds.

The private Caroline School in Copenhagen informed parents of the policy in a recent letter, the Jyllands-Posten daily reported Friday.  The letter said it was not permissible for students of the 7th, 8th and 9th grades to leave school premises if they are wearing visible Jewish symbols.

“If a boy wears a kippah, we will ask him to put in a cap so it is no longer visible,” principal Jan Hansen said.

Hansen said the measures were part of his schools “level of security, which is higher than in normal schools.” He added: “Unfortunately, it is the consequence of being a Jewish institution, but it something that we and the students are used to.” 

Hansen also said the move was “pure preventative.” He added: “I know there has been an increase in the number of Jews who have been accosted over the summer in connection with the conflict in Gaza.”

In 2012, the Israeli embassy in Copenhagen warned Jewish tourists to refrain from wearing Jewish symbols on the street or speaking Hebrew loudly.

New regulations won’t outlaw all ritual slaughter, Denmark Jewish leader says


The president of Denmark’s Jewish community disputed a government minister’s claims that new regulations would outlaw all kosher slaughter in the country.

“We find this an odd statement,” Finn Schwarz, the community’s president, told JTA on Thursday about statements made earlier in the week by Agriculture Minister Dan Jorgensen to the Ritzau news agency.

Jorgensen was speaking about slaughter without prior stunning — a requirement for kosher certification of meat in Jewish Orthodox law and for halal certification of meat for observant Muslims.

“There has sometimes been demand for this type of slaughter, and I want to ensure that it’s not going to happen in Denmark,” Jorgensen said, referencing a regulation that is scheduled to go into effect on Feb. 17 against slaughter without prior stunning.

But Danish Jews already agreed in 1998 to the certification as kosher of meat from cattle that were stunned with non-penetrative captive bolt pistols, Schwarz said, adding that the decision was made in consultation with the British Chief Rabbi’s office. The new regulation will not ban the slaughter of animals after stunning with non-penetrative captive bolts, he said.

Jewish Orthodox law and Muslim law require animals be intact and conscious when they are killed. Non-penetrative captive bolts were permitted because they do not wound the animal, which is slaughtered immediately after being knocked on the head.

Danish Jews took issue with the minister’s statements this week, however, because he cited the need to observe animals’ welfare, thus suggesting shechitah is cruel. He also cited the rareness of kosher slaughter, or shechitah, in Denmark as justification for a ban.

“The ministry has not banned other rarely practiced customs, so is there a focus on minorities?” Schwarz asked.

Why did Israel’s promising electric car maker fail?


It was supposed to be the car of the future, a near-silent, battery-powered vehicle that would wean the West off its dependence on Middle Eastern oil and save the environment in the process.

And an Israeli company seemed destined to build it.

Better Place, founded in 2007 by the exuberantly confident entrepreneur Shai Agassi, was trumpeted as the king of Israeli startups, a company that would keep the air clean and the streets quiet while saving money for its users.

Six years and more than $850 million in venture capital later, the dream lies in tatters.

On May 26, Better Place declared bankruptcy, its management transferred to a liquidator and the future of its 38 battery switching stations in Israel thrown into peril. Thousands of vehicles built specifically for the company’s network sit unsold in lots, their future uncertain.

“We stand by the original vision as formulated by Shai Agassi of creating a green alternative that would lessen our dependence on highly polluting transportation technologies,” said a statement from the company’s board of directors. “The technical challenges we overcame successfully, but the other obstacles we were not able to overcome, despite the massive effort and resources that were deployed to that end.”

Better Place had raised hopes that someone had finally figured out how to bring an electric vehicle into mass usage. The company appeared to have hit on an innovative solution to problems that had long bedeviled electric car makers: limited range, lengthy recharge times and consumer reluctance to shell out big money for an experimental technology.

The company adopted a model similar to the cell phone industry: Drivers would pay a monthly fee for access to a network of stations where they could swap batteries in about the amount of time it would take to fill a tank with gasoline. Customers also could charge their cars at home for free.

Agassi was the face of the company, a relentless booster who was named to several lists of the world’s most influential people. But what is arguably the highest-profile flop in a country legendary for successful startups comes as no surprise, those familiar with the company’s operations say.

Former employees, customers and industry experts paint a picture of a company that grew too big, too fast, built a car too expensive and impractical, and chafed under management with a penchant for burning through cash.

“I don’t think Better Place failed due to a mistake in technology,” said Sam Solomon, a venture capitalist and the chairman of Mobideo Technologies, which sold charge-station software to Better Place. “It ran too fast with too much. They did not get enough of a critical mass in a single market in order to demonstrate success.”

The company’s downward spiral began last year; Better Place lost more than $450 million in 2012. Agassi was ousted as CEO in October, and the company would go through two more chief executives before falling under control of a state-appointed liquidator.

Israel was the company’s principal market, its system seemingly well suited to a country where most drivers stay within a densely populated central region and the price of gas is high.

Investors believed in Agassi’s vision, buoying him with $850 million in funding. Even before the Israeli venture launched, Agassi had started a second network in Denmark and was planning others — in Australia, the Netherlands, China, Japan and the United States, in San Francisco and Hawaii.

Solomon said it was Agassi’s first and possibly biggest mistake, that the company should have focused on Israel before going global.

“What he needed to do was focus on a small core success,” said Solomon, who drives a Better Place car. “He basically ran it like a big company when he had to run it like a lean startup. It was way over-expanded. He was trying to run too many projects at once.”

Agassi exuded confidence, predicting that by 2010 there would be 100,000 Better Place cars on the road. The actual number turned out to be zero. The first charging station was opened in 2008, but the cars, manufactured by the French company Renault but sold by Better Place, were not available for purchase until 2012. And instead of building a compact car meant to travel short distances, Better Place offered only a family sedan.

“They needed a smaller car built for cities, a cheaper car,” said Yoav Kaveh, an automotive columnist for Haaretz.

Better Place sold fewer than 1,000 cars in Israel. And when sales hadn’t picked up by the end of 2012, the board cut spending and replaced Agassi, who is not speaking to the media.

But one of his defenders, former Better Place director of policy Yariv Nornberg, said Israel could have done more to help the venture get off the ground by providing tax credits for electric car drivers. Denmark offers a $40,000 tax break to promote electric cars.

“We could have expected better from the public interest,” Nornberg said. “Things would have looked different if there was more help for the user.”

Better Place’s 38 switching stations in Israel may close by June, but some customers say they’ll still happily drive their cars, which they say provide a cleaner, quieter and smoother ride. Without the stations, they will have to charge their cars at home.

“The service I’ve had up until now makes it a complete replacement for a petrol car,” said Brian Thomas, who bought his car a year ago. “It’s so quiet and fast and nice to drive.”

Despite the setback, Nornberg still sees a bright future for the electric car industry. Better Place, he says, was ahead of if its time. And even though it failed commercially, it succeeded in getting battery-powered rubber to meet the road.

“It’s not about buying the gadget,” he said. “It’s another means of transportation that’s better for the general public.

“The dream is not over. It’s only the beginning.”

Danish Jews report record level of anti-Semitic attacks


The Jewish community of Denmark documented 40 anti-Semitic incidents in 2012, almost double those in 2009, a year that marked a sharp upturn in such attacks.

A report released on Feb. 25 by AKVAH, the security unit of Denmark's Jewish community of 8,000, counted six physical attacks on Jews last year.

In one of them, in November, several men of Middle Eastern descent hit an elderly Israeli man in the Copenhagen suburb of Norrebro and tore off a Star of David pendant from around the victim's neck.

AKVAH documented two attempted assaults and 10 incidents in which Jews were verbally abused for being Jews. Other incidents included intimidation and threats.

In 2009, which began with an Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip, the community reported 21 incidents, a substantial increase over the average of three incidents in the previous six years.

The report did not say how many such incidents were documented in 2011. The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) has said it received no data on attacks in 2011 and 2010 from institutions belonging to Denmark’s Jewish community. The FRA report from last year only contains data for the years 2003-2009.

FRA said last year that Danish authorities offered no disaggregated statistical data on hate crimes, but said there was an even distribution of offences targeting Muslims, Christians and Jews.

EU diplomats seek visa ban for ‘violent’ Israeli settlers


European diplomats recommended imposing visa bans on “violent” Israeli settlers, as Denmark helped organize a workshop on labeling settlement goods in the European Union.

The Political and Security Committee — a group of EU ambassadors dealing with conflict zones — suggested the ban at a meeting in Brussels on Nov. 16, according to the news site E.U. Observer. According to the committee memo, “Individual E.U. member states could explore possibilities of denying access of known violent settlers to the E.U.”

Meanwhile, DanChurchAid, a Danish Christian nonprofit, invited European Council officials to a workshop on labeling goods from Israeli settlements. The invitation to the closed meeting on Wednesday said participants would discuss “possible practical actions” by EU states to “avoid inadvertently supporting the viability and growth of settlements.”

According to the invitation, the initiative is “supported by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

The Jerusalem Post reported that Rafi Schutz, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general for Europe, has complained to the Danish Foreign Ministry and several other EU governments that the labeling drive “unfairly singled out and discriminated against Israel.”

Denmark upgrading Palestinian delegation


Denmark said it will upgrade the status of the Palestinian delegation to a mission.

Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen at a news conference Wednesday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the status of Palestinian diplomats will advance from “Palestinian general representation” to the “Palestinian mission to Denmark,” the French news agency AFP reported.”

Abbas, who was visiting Copenhagen, thanked Rasmussen for his decision, which the Palestinian leader said reflected “the deep commitment between the two countries.”

Denmark’s announcement comes two days after Britain offered the same status upgrade. Several other countries, including European Union members France, Ireland, Portugal and Spain, have made the same move in recent months.

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.

MUSIC VIDEO: Klezmer — Denmark’s Channe Nussbaum ‘Where Can I Go?’


Denmark’s red hot Jewish momma Channe Nussbaum and Klezmofobia: ‘Vi ahin zol ikh geyn? Where can I go?’

Seeing Red


There’s no escaping Middle East politics, even living in Denmark, as this writer does. This tolerant nation of 5.3 million, of whom 3 percent are Muslim, finds itself, to its amazement, the target of a boycott and attacks on its embassies, corporations, soldiers and citizens across the Muslim world.

The spark was provided by the newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, which published a series of cartoons last September showing representations of the prophet Mohammed. One of them showed a likeness of the prophet with a bomb fuse attached to his turban. Another showed him, in heaven, frantically waving off an approaching line of suicide bombers, telling them: “Stop! Stop! We ran out of virgins.”

This display was part of a contest proposed by the newspaper’s culture editor, Flemming Rose, to test, he said, whether fear of radical Islam was causing self-censorship among cartoonists. The cartoons provoked little public response until they were recently reprinted in a Norwegian journal.

But in the interval since September, some Danish Muslim leaders toured the Middle East, drumming up opposition both to the actual cartoons and to drawings that the Danish paper never produced nor published, including a cartoon of Mohammed with porcine features, and claiming other offenses against Islam, as well. Their campaign has now borne fruit.

Crowds of angry Muslims in several Arab countries burned the Danish flag, a mob attacked European Union offices in Gaza and at least two Danes were beaten in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador from Denmark, Libya closed its embassy and Iraq, Iran, Jordan and Sudan lodged official protests.

A meeting of Arab interior ministers in Tunis demanded that Denmark punish the “authors” of the offense. Danish products were taken off the shelves in Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Kuwait, Bahrain and other countries. In Afghanistan, at least 11 demonstrators lost their lives in violent clashes.

The orchestrated, sometimes violent demonstrations in Middle Eastern autocracies have upset the Danes. But what has truly shocked them has been the support of many immigrant and Danish-born Muslims for these actions. Danes have discovered that their generous immigration policies — welcoming in tens of thousands of Muslims over the last few decades — and their typically European pro-Palestinian politics have not rendered them immune to attacks from the Muslim world, including many Muslims in their own country.

Additionally, some Muslim leaders have gone beyond the legitimate complaint that the cartoons conflate Islamic terrorism with the religion itself. They are demanding that Danes abide by the Muslim proscription against any depiction of the prophet.

This is nothing less than a declaration of culture war: The Danes are to relinquish their right of free expression in order not to offend Muslim sensibilities.

Writing from Denmark, it seems clear that is not a position that Danes will support, to say the least. Denmark is a country where free speech and a free press are as jealously guarded as anywhere. The cartoons were offensive. The paper has apologized for giving offense. But it did not apologize for publishing the cartoons, citing the inalienable right of news organizations to free expression.

Although the Danish government took a similar tack, it had nothing to do with the original publication of the drawings. Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen took strong exception to the content of the cartoons but reiterated the right of the press to free expression. Rasmussen’s position is being treated in much of the Muslim world as too little, too late.

The Danish Parliament has been uncharacteristically united behind the government as it tries to weather the storm. Those calling for further penance for free expression are receiving little support. Former Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, who proposed the firing of the Jyllands-Posten editor, has been excoriated by left and right alike, including his own party.

At the same time, Danes are angry at what they see as betrayal by Britain and the United States by their official criticism of the cartoons, especially with Danish troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The demand for Danish adherence to Muslim sharia law — in terms of representations of Mohammed — has brought to the surface a long-simmering resentment felt by many Danes toward their large and largely nonintegrated Muslim population. Despite, or perhaps because of, the constant harangues from leftist politicians and academics that the fault lies with Danish racism, people here tend to compare the Muslim immigration with the Jewish immigration from communist Poland in the late ’60s.

They ask why the Jews have all integrated, while many Muslims have not. They ask why the Jews have all given their children Danish citizenship (an opt-in procedure for the children of immigrants), while many Muslims have chosen to let their children be “second-generation immigrants.”

As the violence has grown, so has the split among Danish Muslims. A friend who is a Muslim immigrant from Algeria takes strong exception to the charge of “Danish racism” claimed by her fellow Muslims and by the Danish left. She says that she has never felt a trace of prejudice since her arrival: not in housing, employment or personal interactions.

Perhaps it is because she is educated, middle class and religiously moderate. Perhaps she has been lucky. But she represents a large segment of Danish Muslims who have come to Denmark to integrate, not to reproduce the culture they left behind.

Moderate Muslims, such as leftist parliamentarian Naser Khader, have condemned the violence and called for calm dialogue. Last week, 300 Danes, Muslims and non-Muslims demonstrated in a Copenhagen park, calling for unity and reconciliation.

The demonstrators strongly condemned the anti-Danish actions across the world and in their own country, even while also opposing the offensive cartoons. Demonstration leaders emphasized that immigrants were just as upset about the torching of Danish embassies and Danish flags as were native Danes. Imam Radwan Mansour demanded “respect for the Danish passport,” which they had struggled to earn.

It was the leadership of the nonintegrated Muslim community, including Imam Abu Bashar, a chaplain at Nyborg State Prison, who helped spread the calumny that the cartoons showed Mohammed with a pig’s nose and ears. This segment of the community is receptive to the demand that all Danes (indeed all non-Muslims) abide by the proscriptions of Muslim law, prompting Danes to ask: Just what does immigration mean? Does it mean, “I will accept the culture of my adopted homeland, while striving to keep my own roots reasonably intact, unless they violate the law”? Or does it mean, “Thanks for a piece of your territory, and now I will teach you, or force you, to conform to my norms”?

A Bitter Pill for Europe to Swallow


A Danish employee of the European Union in Brussels confides that she is so fearful of Muslim anger over the now-infamous cartoons of the prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper that she is afraid to go home.

Unnerved Danish members of the European Parliament refuse to comment on the violent protests in the Arab world and even normally chatty European analysts said in interviews that they are withholding speculation for fear of fanning the flames.

“This is the first time there is a profound argument between modern Europe and the Islamic world,” said Emanuele Ottolenghi, a fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies and at the Middle East Centre of St. Antony’s College at Oxford University. “Now Europe is getting a taste of what Israel and the U.S. have long had to contend with.”

The furor has prompted all sorts of speculation. Many Europeans are wondering what Europe’s grappling with Islamic anger might mean to the delicate balance of E.U.-Middle East relations. Meanwhile, some analysts hypothesized that the protests were part of a wider Islamic effort to pressure the European Union into a softer approach on Islam, and in particular Iran.

Whatever the case, shock and sometimes even fear gripped the 25-member European bloc following days of anti-Danish and anti-European demonstrations during which Muslims vented their rage — in several cases setting fire to embassies — over 12 cartoons that appeared in Jyllands-Posten last fall.

The cartoons satirized the relationship between Islam and terrorism, in one case showing the prophet telling terrorists that there were no more virgins left to reward them for their acts. Numerous other newspapers across Europe have reprinted the cartoons in recent days to show solidarity with the Danes and to support freedom of speech.

As the protests grew more severe, with angry mobs in London and the Middle East calling for the beheading of the Danish newspaper’s editor and the cartoonist, Danish leaders and the newspaper apologized.

But their words have not quelled the anger in some quarters. In Iran, the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khomeini claimed that a Zionist conspiracy was behind the cartoons while stones and petrol bombs were tossed at the Danish and Austrian embassies. Austria holds the E.U. presidency.

Elsewhere, Norwegian peacekeeping troops were fired on in Afghanistan, gunmen threatened to attack a French learning center in Nablus and, for the Danes, the most shocking incident was the police failure to halt the burning of their embassy in Damascus.

These developments come at a precarious time for European-Middle East relations, with Europeans grappling how to deal with Iran’s nuclear threat and future funding of the Palestinians, now that Hamas has come to power.

Ottolenghi noted that the Muslim demonstrations were occurring nearly five months after the cartoons appeared.

“So why now? There is nothing spontaneous about what is happening,” he said. “Denmark is going to be the chair of the U.N. Security Council when the decision about Iran’s nuclear activities is made and these protests are intended to make the Danes feel the heat.”

Ottolenghi said he suspects the riots are also intended as a message to those E.U. leaders hoping to maintain a hard line with Hamas.

“This violence is clearly intended to intimidate Denmark in particular and Europe in general and to push them to have a more accommodating attitude toward Hamas,” he said.

Such forecasts do not sit well with Jans Peter Bonde, a Danish member of the European Parliament.

“The Danish apology should be accepted and we can all have normal relations again. I think these violent elements are not the view of the majority in the Arab world. There is only one way forward: dialogue and peace. It will all be settled and then things will be back to normal,” he said.

Ottolenghi scorned the Dane’s “wishful thinking” that he said typified the European “whitewashing” of political Islam.

“They want to see it as kosher because they have no idea how to respond to the threat of Islamic violence,” he said.

If the European elite appeases the masses of angry protesters with continued apologies and promises of greater press respect for Islam, Ottolenghi said, some Muslims will feel that violence pays off.

The question of how to handle political Islam looms large within E.U. borders following the Al Qaeda attack on a Madrid train in 2004, the London train and bus bombings last summer attributed to Islamists and the 2004 murder of a Dutch filmmaker who criticized Islam’s treatment of women.

“It is clear now the European governments do not have a common position on what to do when they are haunted by political Islam,” said Richard Whitman, head of the European program for Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

The French Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy decried the firing of a French newspaper editor who ran the Mohammed cartoon. Britain’s foreign secretary, Jack Straw, took a different tack, calling the reprinting of the cartoons in various newspapers “disrespectful.”

There are approximately 14 million Muslims in Europe and the number is growing rapidly as they have a much higher birthrate than non-Muslim Europeans.

France has the largest Muslim and Jewish population in the European Union, with 5 million Muslims and 600,000 Jews. Germany, Britain, Austria and the Netherlands also have sizeable Muslim populations.

Most analysts agreed that leaders in E.U. countries were more concerned about the impact of the cartoon row on relations with Muslims within their borders than with relations with the Palestinians. But some said that an awareness of Islamic violence might create greater sympathies for Jewish issues.

“When Europeans see E.U. flags being burned in Palestine, people are asking themselves if this is the reward for spending all that money there,” said Marc Hecker of the French Institute of International Relations.

Ottolenghi was harsher on what he perceived as European hypocrisy.

“The Europeans have for years been deriding Israel for the way it behaves, saying how much more sensitive they are to the Muslims, but now that it’s Norwegian soldiers being stoned in Afghanistan, not Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, they might view things a bit differently.”

 

Europe’s Jews Caught in Cartoon Furor


European Jews have expressed a mixture of anger and frustration as the furor over a Muslim cartoon erupted into violence in Europe and the Middle East.

As frequent targets of anti-Semitic cartoons — many of them in the Arab press — Jews on one hand sympathized with the Muslim outrage over depictions of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, which is considered by Muslims to be blasphemous.

But Jews joined many others in expressing shock at the level of violence the controversy sparked.

“Of course, we condemn all forms of propaganda that carry prejudice toward any faith. But people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” said Serge Cwajgenbaum, the secretary-general of the European Jewish Congress.

In Denmark, Jews felt solidarity with their country as it came under attack after a Danish newspaper printed the controversial cartoons, including one that depicted the Islamic prophet Mohammed as wearing a turban shaped as a bomb.

“Usually the Jews are always in the center of things, but here we feel we are part of the Danish population,” said Rabbi Bent Lexner, Denmark’s chief rabbi.

Other newspapers across the world — in France, in Australia and in the United States — printed one or more of the cartoons. In France, the editorial director of France Soir, was fired after running at least one of the cartoons. At least one Israeli paper, the Jerusalem Post, also reprinted the cartoons. A German Jewish Web site, haGalil, was hacked after it posted some of the Danish cartoons.

The fallout took on specific Jewish overtones as the Muslim reaction intensified. As Muslims rioted across the Middle East, the Web site of the Arab European League printed anti-Semitic cartoons and Iran’s largest newspaper requested cartoon submissions that question the Holocaust.

“The cartoon was made by a Danish newspaper, not a Jewish one. But once again, someone does something and we as Jews are guilty,” said Petr Kadlcek, the head of Poland’s Union of Religious Jewish Communities.

Most European Jews, led by France’s chief rabbi, Joseph Sitruk, saw the original cartoons as a needless provocation.

Following a meeting with French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, Sitruk said, “We win nothing by disparaging religions, humiliating them by making caricatures of them.”

Jews are no strangers to racism dressed up as humor, said David Ruzie, a French university professor and international law specialist.

“There is humor, and there is humor,” Ruzie said. “It was through derision that Germany, and in France as well, before World War II, began to attack Jews.”

There was widespread condemnation of the Muslim reaction, which in addition to the anti-Semitic cartoons, included Muslim violence, throwing rocks at Danish and other European institutions abroad and, in some cases, setting buildings ablaze.

“I don’t believe in absolute freedom of expression,” said journalist Jean-Claude Baboulin, writing in Guysen Israel News, a news service, “but I certainly don’t defend the Muslims who believe they have a right to forbid others what their religion forbids them,” he wrote, referring to the Muslim prohibition to depict Mohammed.

This is not the first example of religious slander in the European media, but the reactions are exaggerated, said Jean-Michel Rosenfeld, a Paris official.

“There is something to be angry over, just like when Catholics were furious over caricatures of the Holy Trinity in the French press,” he said, “but the Catholics did not go out and burn buildings.”

Others reacted with more equanimity.

People of all faiths must work to defuse the situation, said Paul Spiegel, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, complementing German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her call “for prudence and de-escalation.”

For some elderly Danish Jews, the violence brought back some historical nightmares, said Lexner, the Danish chief rabbi.

“I think that there are some kinds of fear, especially of those people who have seen this burning of flags and violence in the many countries, and they compare” that to the 1940s, fretting that “things are repeating themselves,” he said.

In England, both lawmakers and Muslim leaders condemned a demonstration last Friday in front of the country’s largest mosque, during which some Muslims threatened terrorism and another “7/7,” referring to the July subway and bus bombings that left 56 dead.

Most Muslim protests in Europe were peaceful, however.

Many European and American Jewish observers noted the irony of Muslims and Arabs objecting to an offensive characterization of Mohammed when anti-Jewish characterizations are rampant in the Arab world.

Some in the secular French Jewish community revealed bitterness at the anger expressed against France, particularly concerning demonstrations that took place in Gaza.

Ruzie wrote on the Web site desinfos.com: “The traditionally welcoming attitude of France toward the Palestinians” has not exactly “paid off.”

Underlying much of the reaction was an anger that efforts at tolerance and dialogue could now be jeopardized.

“Some people have worked for trying to integrate the Muslim community in the Danish society, and I think that, in that way, many years of work were destroyed,” Lexner said.

JTA staff writer Chanan Tigay in New York and correspondents Dinah A. Spritzer in Prague, Lauren Elkin and Brett Kline in Paris and Toby Axelrod in Berlin contributed to this report.

 

Recalling the Danish’Miracle’


John Davis has produced such blockbusters as “TheFirm,” “Courage Under Fire,” “The Chamber” and the upcoming “Dr.Dolittle.”

But “Miracle at Midnight,” a much more modest TVmovie that airs Sunday night on ABC’s “The Wonderful World ofDisney,” has taken him a decade to bring to the small screen. Ittells the true story of the rescue of the Danish Jews during WorldWar II, when the Christian population united in a mere 48 hours towhisk the Jews away from the Nazis.

From left, Justin Whalin, Mia Farrow, SamWatersot and Nicola Mycroftas the Koster family in “Miracle atMidnight.

In 1943, the Nazis secretly planned to arrest theDanish Jews at midnight on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. But the news wasleaked, and the entire citizenry mobilized to hide Jewish friends andneighbors until they could be spirited by boat to Sweden.

The movie focuses on the true story of Karl Koster(Sam Waterston), a chief surgeon who hid myriad Jews at ChristiannaHospital before the boatlift.

For Davis, who grew up in a Jewish home inColorado, “Miracle at Midnight” is a family story. He first learnedof the rescue from his Danish-born father-in-law, George Hubner, whowas a teen-ager at the time of the operation. His parents hid aJewish family in their attic in the fall of 1943.

Davis was captivated. “When I learned that theDanes saved an unprecedented 96 percent of their Jews, I knew I hadto tell the story,” he says.

The producer’s road wasn’t easy. NBC deemed thefilm noncommercial and shelved it. Later, Disney’s Michael Eisner sawthe importance of the project and green-lit the movie.

Actress Mia Farrow (Doris Koster) was so moved bythe story that she agreed to accept the role, her first televisionpart in more than 30 years.

And Waterston (he’s the prosecutor on NBC’s “Law& Order”) participated, in part, he told The Journal, because ofhis personal ties to the subject.

His father, the Oxford-educated theater directorGeorge Chychele Waterston, worked intelligence for the R.A.F. duringWorld War II. And Sam Waterston, while a student at Groton, wasimpressed by his French and German teacher, a cultivated Europeangentleman who was a refugee from the Nazis. “He didn’t tell luridstories, but he emanated this terrific sense of loss,” saysWaterston, who has made a career playing ethically challengedcharacters in films such as “The Killing Fields” and Woody Allen’s”Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

In Allen’s movie, he portrays a blind rabbi, themoral voice of the film. The character is a contrast to the righteousKoster, however.

“Karl Koster represents a large portion of theDanish population, while the rabbi was a lonely voice in an[unethical] universe,” Waterston says.

“Miracle at Midnight” airs May 17, at 7 p.m.,on ABC.

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