Oslo. No stranger to anti-Semitism
Photo: Oren Agmon
Lieberman. 'Bad advisors'
Photo: Gil Yohanan

Oslo Jewish community leader slams Israel

Jews in Norwegian capital shocked by Anne Sander's remark that Israelis benefit from settlements like Palestinians benefit from suicide bombings, her criticism against Chabad and Foreign Minister Lieberman

Many Jews in Oslo were shocked over the weekend by remarks made by the leader of the local Jewish community, who criticized haredi Judaism, the Chabad movement, the settlements and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Anne Sander made the remarks in an interview to the Dagbladet newspaper, on the backdrop of the complicated situation between Jews and Muslims in Norway.


Only 1,100 Jews live in Norway today, most of them in Oslo, alongside more than 70,000 Muslims. Local Jews were surprised to read Sander's remarks, as the Scandinavian country is no stranger to anti-Semitism.


Anti-Semitic incidents from the past few years include harsh statements made by Norwegian comedian Otto Jespersen, a plan by local Muslims to murder the Israeli ambassador and shots fired at an Oslo synagogue.


Moreover, the journalist who interviewed the Jewish leader – which is know to be critical of Israel and has compared between former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Nazi leader Hermann Göring – began the interview with a poetic description of "the Israeli war machine" during Operation Case Lead in the Gaza Strip.


He also mentioned that during the operation Sander had said that the situation among the Muslims was explosive. Asked about the current situation, she responded that it remained sensitive.


"Both sides are right. It's something that we must learn to live with, accept the fact that we disagree," Sander said. She stressed that there was extremism on the Jewish side as well.


"There is a radical polarization in the Jewish world today," she said. "You have the liberals, and on the other side you have the ultra-Orthodox – which look as if they may become dominant. We don’t like it. What's happening is very dangerous. This is Judaism from the inside like in all other religions. Extremism exists everywhere, among us as well."


'Chabad anti-democratic'

Asked whether the phenomenon she is concerned about has spread to Norway's Jewry as well, she replied in the affirmative and slammed the Chabad movement in the country.


"The ultra-Orthodox movement, Chabad-Lubavitch, has been in Oslo for four years. It represents a more distant side in religion than we are able to accept."


She stressed that the movement's values "are completely different than the average. It's a movement which mixes religion and politics and has an anti-democratic structure." She added that the women in the movement have "an inferior role".


Sander noted that the movement supports a Greater Israel, "from Egypt in the West to ancient Babylon in the east, between today's Iraq and Iran. We are busy with democracy, with volunteering and with being socially responsible, and this conduct is completely destructive towards the environment, and as I said – very dangerous."


As for the political aspect, Sander explained that people in Norway were wrong when comparing the country's Jews to Israel on every single matter. "Naturally, we have a lot of cooperation on cultural exchanges and similar things, but I don't engage in politics. That’s the embassy's responsibility."


Asked about her feelings as a Jew in Norway, which the Israeli foreign minister refers to as an anti-Semitic country, she replied that this had quite a lot to do with Lieberman's surroundings and the Israeli public.


"I think he has bad advisors, he received false information, he knew only half of the story, he responds emotionally and he talks with his local audience. No one can hit people in the head and call them anti-Semites just because they criticize what the State of Israel does, even if anti-Semitism is hidden undoubtedly in some of the criticism against Israel."


Sander's most controversial remark was made when she was asked about Israel's policy in the West Bank, and said that Israel benefits from the settlements just like the Palestinians benefit from suicide bombings.


"When it comes to settlements, I just can't understand it. It's completely incomprehensible to me, completely incomprehensible. It's supposed to be in Israel's favor. This is not the situation, like suicide bombings for the Palestinian side."


Chabad rabbi: She puts Jews in danger

Oslo's Jewish community was astonished by its leader's comments. Rabbi Shaul Wilhelm, who heads the Chabad House in Oslo, told Ynet that Sander's remarks put the city's Jewish community in danger.


"She is simply putting the security of Jews living here in risk. Such statements are a type of incitement. We have been feeling very uncomfortable since the article was published, and so far no one has taken these remarks back."


Sander's criticism against the Chabad movement, Wilhelm said, "is not true and it's particularly dangerous when it is said by a central Jewish public figure. Comparing Jews to radical Islam in a country with some 100,000 Muslims is terrible, especially when there is not a lot of sympathy for Jews and Israel in the media."


Another Jewish resident of Oslo expressed his objection to the remarks as well. "There is no problem with Chabad. They are working for the sake of the community like in any other place. I view this as an internal and dangerous political dispute."


Eric Argaman, a 30-year-old Israeli who has studied in Norway and lives in Oslo, said he was offended by the interview. "It's a product of internal hatred. What's Chabad got to do with it? It's an apolitical body. We are working here to prevent anti-Semitism and a person comes along and destroys it. It's not easy being a Jew here as it is. She did injustice to everyone."


Argaman said the Jewish community was shaken by the interview. "Some guys working in security at the Jewish center have resigned. In Israel she wouldn't have stayed in office. It's enough that people are looking for reasons to hate the Jews here."


Sander told Ynet in response, "I gave an interview to the newspaper. I have no plan to address the remarks or repeat them."


פרסום ראשון: 03.14.10, 09:02
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