By Jonathan Ofir
Yesterday, Israel held a commemoration ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, commemorating 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz. The date of the commemoration day is supposed to be the 27th of January, not the 23rd – Poland will be holding its own commemoration on Monday. Geopolitical concerns and conflicting Holocaust revisionist narratives meant that Poland’s President Andrezj Duda did not get a speaking slot at Yad Vashem, and thus turned down the invitation. Russian President Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, was a main speaker in Jerusalem.
Let’s not be too romantic or sentimental. The Yad Vashem museum is a political battlefield, and the Holocaust is being exploited as a collective memory in selective ways, for nationalist purposes. Israeli attorney and activist Eitay Mack wrote in Haaretz that the place has become a “laundromat” for the whitewashing of crimes:
For decades, Yad Vashem even became a compulsory place to visit for dictators, murderers, racists and fascists who visit Israel to close weapons deals and win the U.S. ally’s mantle of legitimacy and moral kashrut. Therefore, there’s no more appropriate place to collectively launder all the crimes of these countries against substantial parts of the world population than at the Yad Vashem museum.
Alright, not everyone is a Genocider (although many are, besides the Nazis). But there are other crimes that can be whitewashed. Crimes such as incitement against immigrants who are considered “non-Western”. This is also why Israel has so many right-wing nationalist friends – the idea of a “Western”, “only democracy in the Middle East” serves many Islamophobes and xenophobes with their own nationalist agendas. As a bonus, they get to be whitewashed of anti-Semitism, and indirectly of bigotry in general, because how could you be a friend of Israel and a bigot or anti-Semite at the same time?
That brings me to Denmark.
On the eve of her trip to Israel, the Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen gave an interview to the Danish daily Politiken – the largest circulating paper in Denmark. The title of the paper version was “We see anti-Semitism’s ugly face from many directions”, and its cover photo showed a worker cleaning up paint from Jewish tombstones in Randers – where Neo-Nazis had desecrated graves last year on the anniversary of Kristallnacht.
The electronic version appeared to be more direct and sinister in its title: “There is an ugly anti-Semitism in Denmark today, which wasn’t there earlier. Because of immigration”.
The theme was anti-Semitism, it mentioned her trip to Israel and the Holocaust ceremony at the top, and it circled around this fight against anti-Semitism. And somehow, the distinct association engineered by this cocktail, was that immigrants are somehow associated with Nazis, and that memory of the Holocaust is linked with uprooting their hatred. Oh, in Israel we’ve seen portrayals of Palestinians as Nazis, like in the revenge-fantasy of Yoaz Hendel (centrist Blue White co-leader). But how could a Social Democratic Danish leader do such a thing?
Indeed, there is a white-supremacist incitement that has flourished in Denmark, as it has in many other European countries in the recent decades, which suggests that Danes are essentially white-European people, and the term “immigrant” is even ascribed to following generations who were born here, as in “second-generation immigrant” – if they are not of “Western heritage”.
In this modern-day form of racism, Jews are generally incorporated in as “white”, and this incorporation manifests inside a “Judeo-Christian” perception of superiority, which then essentially deems Islam to be the “other”, representative of the inferior, the darker and the backwards. We see this in the US today in full color. This is why the right-wing Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People’s Party) always portrayed a staunch support of Israel and Zionism. This should be no surprise – Israel is good friends with Hungary’s Viktor Orban and the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte – Israel is a good laundromat.
Last year, a new government was elected, and it’s a Social Democratic one. You would think that this meant a turning away from the rightwing nationalist turn that had befallen Danish politics in the past two decades. But think again. In a recent debate in parliament with the Dansk Folkeparti former leader Pia Kjærsgård, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen congratulated Kjærsgård for having had vision concerning immigrants, and that she herself had come to change her view. Kjærsgård warned in her opening statements of an alarming number of “immigrants or descendants of immigrants” from “non-Western countries”, framed this as the beginning of a “population exchange, driven by immigration, child births and marriages and family reunifications”, and said that “it is the 11th hour for Denmark’s survival as a homogeneous nation and for our Fatherland of the Danish people”. You don’t need to translate that to German for it to sound chilling. But those politicians sit there quietly and politely – this rhetoric has become mainstream.
Frederiksen responded with a long run on immigrant problems, saying that when she was in kindergarten, only one out of a hundred was an “immigrant of non-Western heritage”, but that today five out of a hundred babies have a mother who is an immigrant (of “non-Western heritage”) or descendant (of immigrants). She summarized, saying:
Yes, Social Democrats have changed attitude in this area (of immigration), I have done so myself. Better late than never. And I want to credit that there were some who had seen this more precisely – and here I look to the promoter (Pia Kjærsgård) – than I did. Today we stand together in the same spot in relation to running a tight immigration policy, and that is crucial.
In 1999, then Social Democratic Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen famously said to Pia Kjærsgård during a debate: “You will never be legitimate!” – those were the days.
In 1998 the Islamophobic and xenophobic Dansk Folkeparti won 7.4% of the vote. In 2001 it won 12% and became the third largest party. In 2015 it won the largest support with 21.1% of the vote. Its founder Pia Kjærsgård became the speaker of the parliament in 2015-19. And since the Folkeparti’s, other even more extreme parties, outflanked it from the right.
Another worrisome example of the shift in Danish politics is the fact that the Social Democrats now seek to have Denmark adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of Anti-Semitism, as we are told in the interview. The definition has been notoriously used to attempt to silence critique of Israel. Notice immediately the “Holocaust” idea. The definition conflates critique of Israel with hatred of Jews, and 7 of its 11 examples are to do with Israel.
In the interview, Frederiksen mentions the “extreme-left” alongside Neo-Nazis, in one breath:
We see anti-Semitism’s ugly face from various directions. Now we have some concrete examples in Denmark throughout the recent times with desecration of tombstones and vandalism in conjunction with Kristallnacht. We also see initial signs of it in the most extreme left-wing, and we see it in parts of the immigrant community in Denmark.
Frederiksen does not provide any concrete example of these “initial signs” in the “most extreme left-wing”, nor in the “immigrant community”, a fact which makes her assertions suspiciously vague.
Randers citizens, including the society Randers Against Racism, have written an open letter condemning Frederiksen’s stigmatizing immigrants in her recent interview. They note that her only actual examples are concerning acts committed by the extreme-right:
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has in a comment to Politiken conflated anti-Semitism in Demark with immigration and parts of the left. This is very far from the truth which we have experienced here in Randers.
They note that the anti-Semitic incidents experienced have been “claimed with honor” by the “anti-immigrant organization Nordfront”.
The letter noted how Frederiksen is enabling racism by confronting it disingenuously:
Mette Frederiksen incites Islamphobia with her incorrect claims concerning anti-Semitism and immigrant communities. When she conflates anti-Semitism together with immigration, she is part in supporting the racist voices aimed at immigrants. Thus she ends up supporting other immigrant-hostile organisations as for example Nordfront, which is clearly anti-Semitic.
This is a cynical manipulation of events by the Danish Prime Minister. Of course, ultra-nationalist Zionist organizations like Med Israel For Fred (With Israel For Peace) immediately reproduce such pieces as the Politiken interview, this is right up their alley. A year ago MIFF prevented a Palestinian leader from attending their public event which they held at the Copenhagen Synagogue (because he might ask a question) – to the shame of the entire Jewish community in Denmark.
Pointing the finger at Labour in UK
Labour under Corbyn has been a pet project of Israel apologists. Since he was seen as too pro-Palestinian and too socialist in general, Blairite and other conservative forces concocted an “anti-semitism crisis” in Labour, a crisis which never was. Despite the Emperor walking fully naked, the wave of hysteria in parts of the Jewish community as well as the mainstream press managed to create a sense in many that Corbyn and Labour were just not reliable. The implicit message was, that if you are critical of Israel, we’ll take you down on anti-Semitism. Recently, the conservative British Jewish Board of Deputies issued “10 Pledges” that any aspiring Labour leader should abide by, including a wholesale subscription to the IHRA defintion – and nearly all of them did so within hours.
Towards the elections in December the [Labour] party was hit by an unpleasant internal discussion and a party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who was criticized for not being clear enough in his condemnation. Labour lost the election with a bang.
Mette Frederiksen, about her ”sister party”:
I think that we have grown far apart from each other today. It has – seen from outside – been hard to say the only thing one can say: that one takes distance from any form of anti-Semitism, and that one doesn’t accept it. One doesn’t condone it, and one doesn’t support it.
Politiken asks more precisely:
Does that include also Jeremy Corbyn, who is still a leader, although he is outgoing?
Yes, it does, unfortunately… One needs to take a more decisive position than that which Labour has taken.
How much anti-Semitism is there really, and how serious is it?
In a recent interview in Weekendavisen, former Danish Chief Rabbi Bent Melchior speaks with Martin Krasnik about anti-Semitism in Denmark:
We had these incidents around Kristallnacht, the 9th of November last year, where tombstones were painted in Randers and some posters were put up. It was supposed to be an organized campaign, and that was all that became of it. Seven to ten people with paint and posters in the veil of night. So, there is not much anti-Semitism, we are doing well! People were saying that now Jew-hatred had come to Denmark, but you can always find such a little fringe.
Kristian Klarskov and Johan Blem Larsen of Politiken note, to their credit, the “Muhammed Crisis” of 2015, where the daily Jyllandsposten published a series of cartoons mocking Islam, and reflected whether the same mocking could be applied to Jews. The crisis represented a supposed fight of liberalism against religious Islamic fundamentalism:
It is 15 years since culture editor Flemming Rose wrote in Jyllands-Posten, that Muslims in a secular democracy like the Danish one should tolerate “mocking, despise and ridicule”. Accompanied by a series of drawings of the prophet Muhammed, which not long after set large parts of the Middle-East as well as Denmark’s reputation aflame. The question is, whether also Jews in today’s Denmark must tolerate the same mocking, despise and ridicule. Whether there is a lower limit of insignificance for anti-Semitism. Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has no definite list for, when something is anti-Semitic or not. Of course Jews in Denmark should be subject to satire, drawings, comedy and those kinds of things, she says, but she opines that one should not give space to “ordinary humor and slapstick comedy”, when it concerns Jews. Additionally, the threat against Jews and signs of rising anti-Semitism in Denmark and the rest of Europe is too serious, says Mette Frederiksen.
So, there is actually not much anti-Semitism, and Jews should be treated more sensitively than Muslims…
Israeli policy and anti-Semitism
Frederiksen appears to be aware of the problem of conflating Israel with Jews:
I am of course worried about the conflation that can occur between the Israel question and protecting the Jewish minority in our own countries in Europe, as we see for example in parts of the left-wing.
But isn’t it also about Israel having moved far to the right after decades with Benjamin Netanyahu as the dominating figure?
There are several things to say about that. If I look at it with Social Democratic glasses, I of course like better the political Israel wherein the Labor party is strong and part of making the agenda. But that does not change the fact that Israel, in opposition to just about all other countries in the Middle East is a well-functioning democracy.
Now this is real nonsense, for various reasons. First of all, Mette Frederiksen does not seem to have gotten the memo that the Israeli Labour party, which was once the dominating one politically, is now barely making it above the electoral threshold of 3.25%. Joining up with forces on the further Zionist right and on the further Zionist left (Meretz), the entire Zionist left manages to maximally reach about 10 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. That “well-functioning democracy” is not managing to build a government, and a big part of it is that Zionists don’t want the Palestinians in government, and the political marginalization of Palestinians in general has of course been achieved by “demographic engineering” including ethnic cleansing – which Mette Frederiksen’s “sister party”, the Israeli Labor, has been a chief engineer of. In Israel, national rights are afforded only to Jews. Palestinians who are citizens have citizenship rights, but no national rights – if they’re less fortunate they are occupied, and if less fortunate they are ethnically cleansed and denied return, or seasonally massacred in their concentration camp – Gaza. That’s the “well-functioning democracy” that Mette Frederiksen speaks of. This is Hasbara. She has no idea.
So both Politiken and Frederiksen appear naïve about the bigger story. The prominent Israeli historian Tom Segev cuts through a lot of these illusions in a recent interview with the Danish Weekendavisen:
There is no difference between the settlements in Hebron and the first Zionist kibbutz that was established in Degania in northern Israel [Palestine, ed.] in 1910… Because that’s what Zionism is about. To fill up the country with Jews. It is the same process, and it is not over yet. For the same reason, I believe that it is historically wrong to separate between what happened before 1967, and that which happened after. Why is the Palestinian tragedy in 1948 lesser than that which occurred after the war in 1967?
What a breathtaking point. I’m proud to also have made it in my first piece for Mondoweiss 4 years ago.
Anyhow, Politiken asks further about the anti-Semitism-Israel nexus:
Can you understand Palestinians’ frustration over Netanyahu’s settlement policy?
(I point the reader back to Segev’s comment, adding that the settlement enterprise since 1967, as well as annexations, have been the acts of both the left and the right. The ‘liberal’ rival to Netanyahu, Benny Gantz, is now competing with Netanyahu over who will annex the Jordan Valley first).
I can easily understand, that Palestinians and Israelis are in disagreement over many things. But I have no understanding for, and I want to say, that one takes this conflict to Denmark. As in no understanding whatsoever. This is what I hear once in a while in some immigrant communities. That because one doesn’t like Israel, one doesn’t like Jews. I have no sympathy or understanding for that. That’s anti-Semitism, and that won’t pass.
Well, in principle I agree that Israel and Jews should not be conflated. But does Mette Frederiksen understand what it means, that the Jewish Community hosts an Islamophobic Israel-apologetic organization like the mentioned MIFF, in its main synagogue facility? This should just not happen. That’s “taking the conflict to Denmark” and putting it smack in the midst of the Jewish Community – the Jewish Community did that itself – shame on the Jewish community, for real. Furthermore, if conflation between Israel and Jews is wrong, why does Mette Frederiksen want to apply the IHRA definition? And we’ll have to talk about Zionism one day, where Israel is the self-proclaimed “Jewish State”. For another day.
Zionism is very strong in Denmark, and it certainly taints the press. Rabbi Melchior’s interviewer, Martin Krasnik, is the chief editor of Weekendavisen, and he calls himself a “super-Zionist”, adding that “everyone should be”. Yes, everyone – including Palestinians, apparently (strongly assuming Krasnik sees them as humans) – Palestinians should be super-Zionists and congratulate their own dispossession. This Zionist arrogance and chauvinism is completely mainstream in Denmark, and is even rewarded with credibility.
And the late Herbert Pundik, who was chief editor for Politiken for 24 years (died last year), he told the publisher when entering the job in 1970:
As long as I am chief editor, Politiken would identify with Israel’s destiny.
Pundik claimed that he stopped being a Mossad agent at that point, although he was both a journalist and a Mossad agent up to it. He was also a volunteer soldier in the 1948 war (as was rabbi Rabbi Melchior), and was in the Aleksandroni brigade which committed the horrid Tantura massacre. But he didn’t really witness anything, he said, because he was just a “young boy from Hellerup”:
You shouldn’t forget, that here comes a boy, young boy from Hellerup [northern suburb of Copenhagen, ed.], who cannot manage the language and goes around like a foreign soldier amongst the Israelis – my witnessing is compromised by my background. I couldn’t speak Hebrew, I couldn’t ask anyone, and I didn’t know anything.”
Lasse Ellegård of Information, who interviewed Pundik, reflected about the spy history and how easily it passes:
Had Herbert Pundik not been a Zionist, but rather a communist for example, then he would be more grinded in the media machine, maybe even in the legal machine.
And so we have Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen spouting Zionist propaganda in the mainstream newspapers, and she seems to have credibility – she even gets respect from the racist Dansk Folkeparti now, because she’s congratulated them for their “vision”. And all that is lining up for her pandering to Israel, where she uses the cynical ‘anti-Semitism’ tool to further marginalize and incite against immigrants, and extend Islamophobia.
These are sad, sad days.