This story points to the relationship of Jewish communities with Israel, and the need to separate church and state. It has global significance.
Prominent debater and proponent of Palestinian rights Fathi El-Abed (full disclosure – my good friend), was excluded from a public pro-Israel seminar which is booked for tomorrow, January 6, to take place at the location of the Copenhagen synagogue, the center of the Danish Jewish Community (an official body). The seminar itself is organized by Med Israel For Fred (‘With Israel For Peace’), a right-wing pro-Israel outfit, which was founded in Norway in 1979 and has opened a Danish division last year. The event is titled “how to fight attacks on Israel’s legitimacy”, featuring two right-wing Israeli pundits – Ben Dror Yemini (columnist for Yediot Aharonot) and Rabbi Carlos Tapiero (Deputy Director-General and Director of Education at the Maccabi World Union). Yemini would speak about the “Industry of lies against Israel” (a theme of his book), and Tapiero would speak about “The right of the Jewish people to a nation state in the land of Israel” (in the Danish title, ‘land of Israel’ is literally noted in the Hebrew version as ‘Eretz Israel’, alluding directly to the biblical-mythological connection).
Fathi El-Abed, who is head of the Danish-Palestinian Friendship Society, has attempted to register (as a private individual) to the event by mail, as is requested in the open and public Facebook event page. The response he got from the head of MIFF Dina Grossman was as follows:
After recommendation of security personnel I must unfortunately deny your participation.
But Fathi is an extremely peaceful man. He has opinions, indeed strong ones, but he is very diplomatic and polite. As he notes himself, he was working for the Foreign Ministry, where he was “security-screened from top to bottom”. This was obviously not really about security.
A veritable farce unfolded before our eyes, as also the major daily Berlingske got interested in the story, and published a piece yesterday, titled “Prominent debater denied entry to Israel seminar out of fear for synagogue’s security” (Danish).
Dina Grossman laid out a wide array of self-contradictory and ludicrous claims as to what is really behind the ‘security consideration’, which she conveyed to Berlingske:
Fathi El-Abed is an extremist, and we do not want, that he and his friends come to know the internal security and the building’s design. We need to respect the Jewish Community’s angst [sic].
Seriously. Grossman has now made Fathi a terrorist, suggesting he would exploit the event in order to orchestrate a nefarious plot to bomb the synagogue at a later time of his own choosing. And I am one of his friends! He keeps referring to my updates about Palestine – is Dina Grossman now also making me a terror-accomplice? But then Grossman suggests other ’considerations’:
We know, that there is a risk, of him speaking out and giving long lectures about what he thinks.
Aha, this seems to be more credible. This makes much more sense. There is simply a risk that Fathi would say something, even ask a question, that is challenging to the Israel-apologetic narrative of the whole event.
Fathi, who has made clear that he opposes and has always opposed violence and racism, mentioning that he came to lay flowers after the 2015 synagogue shooting, notes clearly that he may have asked questions:
They know who I am. Everything indicates that they have excluded me, because I shouldn’t be allowed to ask critical questions at their event, which I maybe would, or would not, do. I only seek a democratic debate. This is an attempt to deny my freedom of expression, because the event is presented as public.
But Grossman says it’s an “overall consideration” and adds:
We know Fathi El-Abed, and we know, that he challenges everything that doesn’t fit his narrative. He is an extremist, and we do not wish to debate with such a character. He does not contribute to an enlightening debate, and besides that, this is not a debate meeting.
The latter seems to contradict the event description, which notes that “each presentation will include time for questions”.
Grossman also seeks to hide behind “others”:
There are others, who are familiar with the security rules and have used the facilities for many years. They know Fathi and what it is that surrounds him.
Yes, dark forces supposedly surround Fathi, and he is an overall shady person, why take the risk?
But there’s a big twist here. Grossman is loosely suggesting that the exclusion of Fathi is not really her decision, but that of security personnel, which really speaks about the Jewish Community’s own security. As Fathi says, it’s certainly not the police or police-intelligence corps that came with the recommendation to exclude him, because he is certainly clear from that side. And MIFF don’t seem to have their own security detail. It seemed logical, that Grossman had the recommendation from the Jewish Community security. At first, Berlingske didn’t have this confirmed. I reached out to Grossman, and asked for details about this security personnel. She wrote back politely, saying “no comment”. Later on, Berlingske added an update with an official statement from the Jewish Community:
The decision to deny Fathi El-Abed entry was not taken by the Jewish Community or its security personnel.
In other words, MIFF were framing a political censorship of a critical Palestinian voice, as a response to a Jewish “angst” which has to do with the location which they are using for their pro-Israel event – the Jewish Synagogue.
Let’s call a spade a spade. This is racial profiling. In Israel, it is a standard practice, even towards citizens of the state who are Palestinian. But this is happening on Danish soil.
It is already extremely problematic that the Jewish Community gives house to such radical right-wing Zionist organizations. Now it is also housing racism and stifling of the freedom of expression, which is still considered a central Danish value.
This points to an even bigger paradigm: the separation of church and state. If the Jewish Community is so openly married to Israel as to house such an Islamophobic pro-Israel event, then it must realize that it is sacrificing religion in favor of ultra-nationalism. It becomes hollow, to claim that the Jewish community is apolitical (interestingly, also MIFF claims it is apolitical…), and that it shouldn’t be affiliated with controversy concerning Israel. But this is the problem with Zionism overall. It simply conflates church and state, intrinsically, ideologically, essentially. And many Zionists can’t even see it.