The Jewish school, the Caroline School, is the only school in the peaceful neighborhood on Bomhusvej surrounded by a barbed wire fence. Photo: AnnetteBirch
By Annette Birch
Published by The Capital Post on Nov. 4, 2014, http://thecapitalpost.com/jewish-community-calls-more-protection-denmark-p-35436.html
There is no sign that behind the barbed wire fence lies the Caroline School. The only identifying mark is the number 18 and the sounds of children playing. The Jewish school, where approximately 200 children go to school and 75 children attend Kindergarten every day, has since August increased security measures and is the only building on the otherwise peaceful neighborhood of private homes and small businesses, surrounded by barbed wire.
”It is grotesque to see a school surrounded by barbed wire – like the situation for the Caroline School,” said Jonathan Fischer, the vice-chairman of the Jewish Community in Denmark. He does not think the government is taking the problem seriously enough.
“There should be a more immediate police presence. The police should be present by the school during school hours and at the synagogue during meetings.”
Several right-wing politicians from the Liberal Party and the Danish People’s Party agree.
“This is a terror threat. The police should act accordingly,” said Martin Geertsen, a member of parliament for the Liberal Party, at a parliamentary hearing on Sept. 18. He called for more police presence at the school during school hours and at the synagogue during meetings.
Jewish children called “Zionist Pigs”
The police is not in sight on a Friday afternoon in October shortly after the Jewish New Year. The steel gate opens and a little blond girl and a brown haired boy at around five or six years walk with their mother to a red car, parked just outside the school.
Just a month ago, the children were met one morning by anti-Jewish slogans like “Zionist pigs,” “No peace in Gaza,” and “No Peace to Zionists” written on the walls. It did not help that the Jewish community publicly emphasized that they did not have any part of what was going on in Gaza.
“We strongly object to being held responsible for what happens in the Middle East,” Fischer said to the Danish national newspaper Politiken on August 22.
The Copenhagen Police has based on recordings from the school’s security cameras concluded that three persons committed the vandalism. The recordings, though, are too blurry to identify the perpetrators, according to Politiken on September 26.
The Jewish school is a Fort Knox
It is not only Jewish children at the Caroline School, who have been harassed because of their faith. A new report from the Jewish Community in Denmark concluded that many Jews are cautious about openly showing signs of Jewish identity. The organization has recently registered 43 Anti-Semitic incidents. Only four incidents were physical assaults, while the rest were verbal attacks and vandalism. The Jewish Community, however, said the numbers are misleading as there are many unreported incidents.
“Several member of our community take off their skullcaps or hide them under peaked caps when they leave the synagogue on Saturday. They know that some people may react negatively if they do not do it,” said Finn Schwartz, chairman for the Jewish Community to the Danish national newspaper BT on Feb. 4.
“For 23 years, we have had security guards outside the synagogue and our Jewish school is a Fort Knox. It is not healthy to live like this, but that is how it is.”
The Minister of Justice: This is not acceptable
The Minister of Justice Karen Haekkerup agreed that this is not a way to treat a religious minority.
“It is not acceptable to expose children and their safety to danger,” said the Minister of Justice at a parliamentary hearing on Sept. 18.
The Minister of Justice underlined that the police is taking every hate crime very serious and has an ongoing dialogue with the Jewish community. However, she did not see a need for further legislation as the current legislation already criminalizes hate crimes and vandalism – making it an aggravating circumstance if the crime is motivated by the victim’s ethnic background or religion.
Jews feel unsafe in certain parts of Copenhagen
However, Geertsen does not think this is enough to protect the Jewish community against hate crimes as Anti-Semitism is a growing problem nationally and internationally. In Denmark, the latest development is that members of the Jewish community feel unsafe in certain parts of Copenhagen.
“People of the Jewish faith do not feel safe in our large cities, especially not in their institutions such as the Jewish school and the synagogue,” Geertsen said at a parliamentary hearing on Sept. 18.
The Jewish Community estimates that the violations against Jews in Denmark has escalated. In July alone, there were 13 registered assaults. Most were menacing mails or threats on Facebook, according to the Danish national TV channel TV2News on July 18. Among those assaulted were three American Jews who were verbally harassed when on vacation in Copenhagen, the Danish national newspaper BT reported on July 31.
It is also the first time that the threat against Jews are treated separately in the yearly report of the Danish Police Intelligence Service, PET.
“However, we see an escalation of threats and assaults against members of our community, when there for example is a new conflict between Israel and Hamas – also after the conflict has flared out,” Fischer said.
First Jews invited to Denmark
The first Jews came to Denmark over 400 years ago and is well integrated, almost assimilated, into the Danish culture, according to Jan Dalsten Sorensen, Special Advisor at the National Archives.
They were merchants and came to Denmark from Germany in 1634 upon invitation from the Danish king Christian IV. In 1805, the Jewish congregation established two schools. They named one of the schools the Caroline school after the Danish king Frederik Vis daughter Caroline. A part of the education consisted of Jewish girls around 1900. Photo: Wikimedia. teaching the Danish language and culture.
“The Jewish people have a long history in Denmark. Our starting point has always been that we should live in the country we had settled in. When we established the Caroline School, our starting point was to assimilate in Denmark. The purpose became of the Caroline school became over time to integrate Jews in Denmark. We were successful. We are Danes but we hold on to our religion,” Fischer said.
Jews marry Christians in Denmark
Today, there are approximately 8,000 Jews out of a population of 5.6 million people in Denmark. However, four out of five younger Jews marry Christians, according to Jan Dalsten Sorensen, special advisor at the National Archives.
The question of marriage with non-Jewish persons is being widely discussed within the Jewish community – especially as the children of a Jewish man with a non-Jewish woman do not automatically become Jews. However, Fischer explained that most people within the Jewish community has a pragmatic approach to the subject.
“It is not because people are negative towards it. Most people have a practical approach. Our Jewish community is so close knit that it can be difficult to find a Jew to marry,” Fischer said.
The perpetrators could be Muslims
Experts, politicians and the Jewish community alike agree that the present security situation is largely due to the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Fischer explained to Politiken on August 22 that people often have a difficulty distinguishing between the actions of the nation Israel in Gaza and that of the Danish Jewish population. This in spite of the fact that most Jews do not come from Israel – and those who do are often married to Danes.
“We have seen that violations against Jews have escalated in connection with the present conflict between Israel and Hamas, especially from persons with Middle Eastern background. There seems Photo: Wikimedia to be a clear connection,” Fischer said. He cannot say whether the violators are of Muslim heritage.
However, the Minister of Justice said at a parliamentary hearing on Sept. 18 that it was likely the perpetrators were Muslims.
The police has enough resources
The Minister of Justice explained at the parliamentary hearing that the government would undertake an analysis of hate crimes. This got Christian Langballe from the Danish People’s Party to ask once more whether the government would include the ethnic background of hate crimes in the study.
“The plan will include an overview of where the perpetrators of hate crimes come from,” the Minister of Justice said. However, she did not agree that Jews only have problems with Muslims and underlined that this is not an exclusive Jewish problem – other minorities are victims of hate crimes as well.
The Minister of Justice did not estimate that the police needed more resources to fight hate crimes. She pointed out that the Police Intelligence Service already lifted the security level in 2013 and that the Jewish community now receives a yearly appropriation to ensure their security.
”We have an ongoing contact with the Jewish community. If there is a need of more security, we will provide it,” the Minister of Justice said at a parliamentary hearing on Sept. 18.
Plan of action is too long-term
The government presented a plan of action on radicalism on Sept. 19. The purpose is to prevent the occurrence of – and fight the effects of extreme groups in Denmark – and prevent hate crimes against all groups, including Jews.
The government’s plan gives local authorities more tools to fight extreme groups, more attention to the prevention of radicalism, including on-line; strengthening of international cooperation to fight radicalism; and more inclusion of the civil society in fighting radicalism.
However, the government’s new strategy for combatting radicalism does not make the Jews feel safe on a short-term basis.
“I do not think the present problem is being taken sufficiently serious. It is fine to have plans of action – for combatting the problem on a long-term basis,” Fischer said.
Facts and Numbers about Jews in Denmark
- In Denmark, 78.2 percent of the population are Members of the Danish National Church (Lutherans) (2014), approximately 3.8 percent Muslims (2007) and 1.4 percent Jews (2014). Nobody knows the exact numbers as the Danish state do not register the religion and ethnicity of its citizens.
- Nobody knows the exact number of Jews in Denmark. However, the Jewish Community in Denmark estimates that there are approximately 8,000 persons, who are born by a Jewish mother or converted to Judaism. Of these, 1,800 are members of the Jewish Community.
- The large majority of Jews reside in Copenhagen but there are also large groups of Jews in two other big cities, Aarhus and Odense.