Jews in Oslo were taken aback over the weekend when the leader of the local Jewish Community, Anne Sander criticized haredi Judaism, the Chabad movement, the settlements and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The remarks came in an interview with the Dagbladet newspaper, on the milieu of the situation between Jews and Muslims in Norway.
Only 1,100 Jews live in Norway today, most of them in Oslo. They live alongside more than 70,000 Muslims. 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 gun shots fired at an Oslo synagogue.
The journalist who interviewed Sander has in the past compared former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with Nazi leader Hermann Göring. The interview began with a poetic description of “the Israeli war machine”.
“Both sides are right. It’s something that we must learn to live with, accept the fact that we disagree…There is a radical polarization in the Jewish world today…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.”
She also shed a negative light on the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in her country, which seeks to spread kabbalistic and Chassidic Judaism, as well as the practice of basic mitzvoth, to non-practicing Jews around the world:
“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 said 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.”
Sander mentioned 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.”
Sander explained that people in Norway were wrong when comparing the country’s Jews to Israelis on all matters:
“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.”
On the topic of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, she said:
“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.”
She said that Jews benefit from West Bank settlements, like 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.”
Rabbi Shaul Wilhelm, who manages the Chabad House in Oslo, told Ynet that Sander’s remarks put the city’s Jews 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…”
The remark about Chabad, said Wilhelm:
“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 claimed an objection 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:
“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…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.”