Tuesday February 17, 2015

Denmark's chief rabbi rejects call for European Jews to move to Israel

Denmark's chief rabbi, Jair Melchior, comforts a woman at a memorial site in Copenhagen.

Denmark's chief rabbi, Jair Melchior, comforts a woman at a memorial site in Copenhagen. ((Photo: Reuters/Leonhard Foeger))

Listen 6:58

"We always have people who want to harm us," Jair Melchior tells As It Happens host Carol Off. "People who want to do bad things exist in the world. The question is what we do to make the opposite. Not how we can hunt them, but how we can do good instead."

He also rejects Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's call for European Jews to emigrate.

"It's not the right time. People are allowed to come to Israel, but not for these reasons, not because they are afraid of terror," Melchior says. "Then terror triumphs. Then it encourages more terror. This is something Prime Minister Netanyahu said so many times."

Last night, tens of thousands of Danes took part in a vigil in Copenhagen near where the killings took place. Rabbi Melchior was there.

"The Jewish community met before. We felt we needed to meet each other and talk to each other and hug each other, cry together. Then we walked together, as a community, to be part of the Danish grieving," he says. Rabbi Melchior walked with a bishop and an imam.

Copenhagen vigil

About 30,000 Danes gathered in Copenhagen last night to mourn two people killed by a gunman. ((Photo: Reuters/Leonhard Foeger))

"The main message that we felt [at the rally] was that we won't let terror change our way of life. There are things that we need to deal with, but life continues, even stronger," Melchior says.

He says he has not spent one second thinking about the gunman, Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein. "He doesn't deserve it," he says.

"There are people like him. We knew that. They are trying to terrorize the whole world, first of all the Muslims. The Arab countries, Muslim communities don't really know what to do with these youngsters who stand against everything," he says. "Not only what mankind stands for, but what Islam stands for."

He says he has never felt in danger in Copenhagen, even though he walks around the city in a kippah.

"Yes, we know that people want to harm us. We experienced that this week. But we also know that this is a fraction of a minority," Melchior says.

Reflecting on some of the controversial Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, Melchior says he is a strong supporter of freedom of speech. But he says it comes with responsibility.

"[The cartoonists must] understand that [their work] might change the way other people feel and think," he says. "It doesn't mean they should stop, but they should understand that before they decide to do it."