A policeman stands next to a person lying on the ground outside a synagogue, as viewed from inside a cafe across the street in Copenhagen, Denmark.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
What appears to be a European epidemic of Islamist attacks against Jewish targets and proponents of free speech continues unabated.
The latest terrorist attacks in Denmark on Saturday night – first at an event at a Copenhagen cafe to promote freedom of speech and then on Copenhagen’s central synagogue – had tragic consequences. Two people were killed, including Dan Uzan, a 37-year-old Jewish security guard at the synagogue, and Finn Nørgaard, a 55-year-old Danish film director attending the event entitled “Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression,” while five police officers were wounded.
The attacks were apparently carried out by a Muslim extremist gunman who was killed in an exchange of fire on Sunday morning by Danish police. Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt did not hesitate in describing the first shooting, which was strikingly similar to the January attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, as a terrorist attack.
“We feel certain now that it was a politically motivated attack, and thereby it was a terrorist attack,” she told journalists gathered at the site of the cafe.
Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, who has been threatened with death for depicting the Prophet Mohammad in his cartoons, had been attending the cafe event and was apparently the gunman’s primary target. Just hours later, shots were fired at the synagogue during a bat mitzva ceremony, fatally wounding Uzan. Danish media reported that about 80 people had been attending the celebration at the time.
“I dare not think about what would have happened if [the killer] had access to the congregation,” Copenhagen Jewish community leader Dan Rosenberg Asmussen told Denmark’s TV 2 News.
Like last month’s murderous onslaught at the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris, Saturday’s synagogue atrocity was a targeted attack on Europe’s Jews. Just as he did following the Paris attack in a speech to the French Jewish community, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed to European Jews, including those in Denmark, to make aliya.
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“Jews were killed on European land just because they were Jewish,” Netanyahu said. “This wave of attacks will continue. I say to the Jews of Europe: Israel is your home.”
And just like after his appeal in France, Netanyahu’s statements were met with criticism, including from Denmark’s Chief Rabbi Yair Melchior. “Terror is not a reason to move to Israel,” he said.
Danish Ambassador Jesper Vahr offered his condolences to the family of the Jewish security guard killed in what he called “the scourge of terror” that hit his country.
“Danes are deeply shocked at these reprehensible acts of terrorism,” he wrote in an op-ed for The Jerusalem Post
“We consider them to be an attack on fundamental values that constitute the cornerstone of our society: democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and tolerance.”
Danes, headed by their prime minister, flocked to the synagogue to share the grief of the Jewish community and to make it clear that an attack on the Jewish community in Denmark is an attack on all of Denmark and on all Danes, Vahr noted, adding: “We are one.”
Although Denmark has generally maintained a safe and friendly environment for minorities, the World Jewish Congress estimates that only 6,400 Jews are left in the country today (from a peak of more than 8,000 who were evacuated before the Holocaust). Some have left as a result of a rise in anti-Semitism over the last decade; over 40 anti-Semitic incidents have been reported annually over the last few years. Denmark, which became the first Scandinavian country to accept Jewish immigrants in the 17th century, has become a very dangerous place for Jews today.
It first became a terrorist target a decade ago after the publication of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammad, which triggered violent protests across the Muslim world.
As we join others around the globe in condemning these attacks, we extend our heartfelt condolences to the people of Denmark and the families of the victims, and wish a speedy recovery to the wounded police officers.
We urge the Danish government to see the attacks as a wake-up call to Islamist extremism, and to ensure that its Jewish population is well protected. There’s something rotten, not only in Denmark but throughout Europe, where Jews are increasingly feeling in danger.
While Melchior may be right when he suggests that the answer to terrorism is to stay and fight, if European Jews don’t feel safe, coming to Israel is clearly an option that they should consider.
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