Prime Minister Erna Solberg visited Oslo’s lone synagogue on Monday, to show her support for the country’s small Jewish community following weekend attacks in Copenhagen. Solberg was told that the synagogue wants better security, including closure of the street where it’s situated.
“There are differences among Norwegians, we believe in different things, have different backgrounds, but it should be safe for all of us,” Solberg said following her visit. The synagogue now has armed police on patrol outside its main entrance.
Ervin Kohn, director of Det Mosaiske Trossamfund (the local Jewish community), said he appreciated the prime minister’s visit. He said the synagogue intended to remain open as usual, despite the attack in Copenhagen that killed a Jewish security guard on duty outside a bat mitvah ceremony. Stockholm’s Jewish community has opted to cancel its activities.
“One of my most important jobs is to make sure there is Jewish life in Oslo,” Kohn said. “For us, it’s business as usual.'”
He conceded there have been concerns that the synagogue can be attacked again, a reference to when shots were fired at the building in 2006. Former gang member and convicted felon Arfan Bhatti was later charged and convicted in connection with the shooting. Bhatti, who later has emerged as a radical Islamist, recently returned to Norway after being imprisoned in Pakistan for allegedly having contact with the Taliban. Newspaper Aftenposten reported recently that Bhatti was released from prison in Pakistan after receiving legal assistance from Javed Ibrahim Paracha, a Pakistani lawyer who has openly supported Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Bhatti was re-arrested right after landing at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen, but a local court later ordered his release. He now faces charges of domestic violence. In the meantime, he remains free despite police attempts to confine him because of the risks tied to Islamic militants returning from the Middle East.
“We are all afraid from time to time,” Kohn told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), without referring specifically to Bhatti. “It’s really about whether I can allow myself to recognize the fear, though, and in many ways I can’t. ”
The Jewish community has expressed a desire that the street in front of the synagogue, in Oslo’s St Hanshaugen neighbourhood, be closed to vehicular traffic. “We want the street closed, and I think that will happen,” Kohn said before his meeting with Solberg.
It was Solberg who took the initiative to meet on Monday, and she said she’s keen to fight anti-Semitism in Norway. “I think it’s important to maintain a dialogue with the Jewish community and hear how they view the situation,” Solberg told reporters outside the synagogue. “And I naturally expressed my support after several attacks around Europe where Jews have been plucked out as targets.”
Norway’s Jewish community is small, estimated to amount to less than 2,000 people. Nearly all of Norway’s Jewish community were arrested by Nazi German invaders and sent to concentration camps in 1942. Only a few survived and returned to Norway after World War II. Other Norwegian Jews fled over the border to Sweden, and there recently have been grateful reunions among them and those who helped arrange their transport, mostly Norwegian farmers who lived close to the Swedish border. The state of Israel, represented by the Israeli Embassy in Oslo, also recently honoured Norwegian families who had helped Jewish residents escape both the Nazis and the Norwegian police who worked for Nazi German occupiers.