Denmark has long been regarded as one of the world's most attractive nations, for citizens and tourists alike. My own visits there, years ago as a student, were delightful. And the Danes have a wonderful history of civic virtue, not least during the Holocaust. As the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum notes in a web site dedicated to "The Rescue of the Jews of Denmark."
The Danish resistance movement, assisted by many ordinary citizens, coordinated the flight of some 7,200 Jews to safety in nearby neutral Sweden. Thanks to this remarkable mass rescue effort, at war's end, Denmark had one of the highest Jewish survival rates for any European country.
Times change. The latest news out of Denmark bore this headline: "Jews Warned Not to Wear Kipot, Stars of David in Copenhagen." Here is an excerpt:
Israeli and Jewish officials in Denmark on Wednesday warned Jews to avoid openly wearing religious symbols and dress when moving about Copenhagen amid rising anti-Israeli sentiments. "We advise Israelis who come to Denmark and want to go to the synagogue to wait to don their skull caps until they enter the building and not to wear them in the street, irrespective of whether the areas they are visiting are seen as being safe," Israel's ambassador to Denmark, Arthur Avnon, told AFP. Avnon added that visitors were also advised not to "speak Hebrew loudly" or demonstrably wear Star of David jewelry, the news agency reported. Denmark's national Jewish Religious Community organization has also advised its members, and those at the private Jewish school in Copenhagen, to exercise caution. Caroline Jewish School headmaster Jan Hansen told daily Jyllands-Posten: "It is not something that we do officially, but if the issue comes up we would say (to our pupils) they should think twice before walking into certain areas of Copenhagen with a skull cap or Star of David."
It's easy enough to say that the Danish government is of course not responsible for potential attacks on Jews, but what about offering protection? Is it really acceptable that in one of Europe's great capitals someone wearing a Star of David cannot walk safely in the streets?
It also seems that Denmark's foreign policy is showing less sympathy with Jews and Israel than was once the case. Consider this report:
Four European Union member states reportedly opposed an official condemnation of Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal’s incitement-filled speech last weekend, leading to harsh responses from Israeli leaders that Europe was being one-sided. According to an Israel Radio report Wednesday, Denmark, Finland, Portugal and Ireland pressured European foreign ministers to condemn Israel solely for its E1 settlement construction plan at a meeting of the body’s foreign council Monday.
It is one thing to criticize or condemn the settlement decision (though I would not agree with that course, as I argued here recently) and quite another to try to block a condemnation of Meshal's statement. Remember what Meshal said:
Palestine, from the river to the sea, from north to south, is our land. Not an inch of it can be conceded. We cannot recognize the legitimacy of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. There is no legitimacy to occupation, and therefore no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take. Liberating Palestine, all of Palestine, is a duty, a right and a goal….we will liberate [Jerusalem] inch by inch, stone by stone, Islamic and Christian holy places. Israel has no right in Jerusalem….
Of course such remarks make peace impossible. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas quickly spoke out:
Speaking to Turkish reporters in Ankara, Abbas said that he does not agree with Meshal's statements. "We recognized Israel in 1993," he said. "There is an agreement between Fatah and Hamas that recognizes the two-state solution. Meshal approved this agreement."
Alas Denmark. The Palestinian president can speak out against Meshal, but Denmark seeks to block an EU statement? And meanwhile, Jews cannot safely navigate the streets of Copenhagen if they are in any way identified as Jews.
The Holocaust Museum web site tells us of a different Denmark:
• Germany occupied Denmark on April 9, 1940. However, Danish Jews were not persecuted until the autumn of 1943.
• When the German police began searching for and arresting Jews on the night of October 1, 1943, the Danish police refused to cooperate.
• Unlike Jews in other countries under Nazi rule, the Jews of Denmark were never forced to wear the yellow Star of David or any other identifying badge.
• Approximately 500 Jews were deported from Denmark to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia. Following protests from their government, these Danish inmates were allowed to receive letters and even some care packages. Most of them survived the Holocaust.
It seems, from this information, that a Jew could more safely walk the streets of Denmark's capital and count on the Danish government’s protection in 1942 than today, 70 years later. Shameful, and tragic.