Muslim youth inspire more than 1,000 Norwegians to stand in solidarity at an Oslo synagogue. But not everybody’s feeling the love.
Text and photos by: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org
A group of Muslim youth successfully organized a globally publicized event in solidarity with Norway’s Jewish community on Saturday. In the wake of anti-Jewish violence the previous week in Denmark and earlier attacks in France, they flooded the street in front of the Oslo Synagogue with more than 1,000 supporters to form a symbolic “Ring of Peace.”
The response in Norway and around the globe was almost universally positive. Almost, because — gasp —these Muslim youth also support Palestine and criticize Israel. Norway’s version of AIPAC, ADL, and CUFI all rolled into one is called MIFF (Med Israel for Fred, “With Israel for Peace”). And yes, they were miffed that Hajrah Arshad, the 17-year-old dynamo who organized the event with several friends had an image on her Facebook page calling for a free Palestine that did not include 1967 borders. Because as we all know, the 1967 borders are sacred to all card-carrying Zionists. And the Israeli Tourism Ministry’s own maps, which are about as honest of a representation of Israel’s version of the two-state solution as you’ll ever see (hint: no West Bank border, only Areas A and B).
By contrast with MIFF, prominent Jewish leaders including Ervin Kohn, president of the Jewish Community of Oslo, were “extremely positive” about the support demonstrated by Arshad and her friends.
“I have been very impressed,” said Jewish Community board member Michael Gritzman. “I hope this will spread to other countries.”
Binyamin Ben Katzman of Jerusalem expressed a more charitable attitude toward the teen organizer’s Palestine solidarity in a Facebook comment: “As an Israeli and a Jew, I want to say thank you to Hajrah Arshad. Maybe we will disagree about Israel, but what you are doing brings pride and unity to Muslims and Jews.”
“The organizers did not want this event to be a platform for a debate on Israel and Palestine,” said Kathrine Jensen, chair of the Palestine Committee of Norway, “a decision we supported fully since we make a clear distinction between Israel and Jews. This event was about protecting our Jewish minority. We find it unacceptable that Jews feel unsafe in Norway. They are Norwegian citizens and should not be held responsible for Israeli politics.”
More serious allegations were made against Arshad’s fellow organizer, Ali Chishti, who had made a truly hateful speech in 2008 that included anti-Jewish 9/11 conspiracy theories and homophobic remarks. This association was reported on in Haaretz and elsewhere as having marred the Ring of Peace event. The Times of Israel reports, however, that Chishti’s past beliefs were not intended to be a secret, but the reason he was part of the event. He had distanced himself from his anti-Semitic statements years ago and began his speech on Saturday with an apology. The organizers thought the inclusion of Chishti showed that “it is possible to humble yourself publicly and change your mind.”
“He’s a role model for other Muslim youth and adults,” Kohn told The Times of Israel. “Such role models are imperative against radicalization.”
Kohn is fully aware that Chishti remains unapologetically critical of Israel as “an occupying force that has been condemned in several United Nations resolutions.” As Chishti said in an interview quoted in Haaretz, “I think it is important to distinguish between being critical of Israel and anti-Semitism.”
No one can deny that there are anti-Semites within Palestine solidarity circles. There are haters within every community. But their hateful views do not define the movement.
“Extremists are to be found everywhere,” said Markos Pizarro of BDS Norway. “Harm done in the name of Islam is terrible — as are the killings of three young Muslims in North Carolina by an atheist, or the slaughters of Muslims in Asia by Buddhists.”
“Four or five of the eight organizers of the Ring of Peace initiative, helped organize, or participated in some way this last summer against the atrocities that took place in Gaza,” notes Pizarro. “So we now have the same people organizing in support of our Jewish community in Oslo. That for me is a very clear statement of solidarity — young concerned citizens trying to ease other people’s pains and suffering by trying to help out, despite their ethnicity or religious beliefs. We should applaud them.”
“Maybe when people see that the same people who have such strong opinions about Israel also support Norwegian Jews, then that will make an impact,” said Qeaam Ibn Malik, another of the event’s organizers. “More will understand that it is a system that we are fighting, not people of another faith.”
As it turns out, these young people are capable of opposing more than one injustice at the same time. They are the answer to those who say things like, “why don’t you protest Syria instead of singling out Israel?” (Actually, the too-short life of Kayla Mueller is the definitive answer to that accusation. Her legacy should forever shut the mouths of those flogging that tired line.)
The organizers of Ring of Peace event met through a Facebook group called “Injustice Exposed” formed to discuss many different issues around the globe.
“I’m a justice activist,” said Morad Jarodi, another organizer. “To support Palestine to be free from occupation and support Jewish minorities is no contradiction.”