JERUSALEM (AP) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Sunday for the “massive immigration” of European Jews to Israel following a deadly shooting near Copenhagen’s main synagogue, renewing a blunt message that has upset some of Israel’s friends in Europe.
Netanyahu said that at a time of rising anti-Semitism in Europe, Israel is the only place where Jews can truly feel safe. His comments triggered an angry response from Copenhagen’s chief rabbi, Jair Melchior, who said he was “disappointed” by the remarks.
“People from Denmark move to Israel because they love Israel, because of Zionism. But not because of terrorism,” Melchior told The Associated Press. “If the way we deal with terror is to run somewhere else, we should all run to a deserted island.”
Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt expressed support for the Jewish community, telling reporters, “They belong in Denmark, they are a strong part of our community, and we will do everything we can to protect the Jewish community in our country.”
Netanyahu issued his call during the weekly meeting of his Cabinet, which approved a previously scheduled $46 million plan to encourage Jewish immigration from France, Belgium and Ukraine – countries where large numbers of Jews have expressed interest in moving to Israel. France and Belgium have experienced deadly attacks on their Jewish communities in recent years, most recently an attack in Paris last month that killed four Jews at a kosher market. Ukraine, meanwhile, is in the midst of a conflict between government troops and Russian-backed separatists.
“This wave of attacks is expected to continue,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet. “Jews deserve security in every country, but we say to our Jewish brothers and sisters, Israel is your home.”
His comments came amid a tight re-election campaign ahead of March 17 elections. Seeking a third consecutive term, Netanyahu has focussed his campaign on Israel’s security needs, repeatedly warning voters about the many threats from radicals throughout the region. There was no immediate reaction from his chief opponents.
Netanyahu spoke at a time of rising tensions with European countries over Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, captured territories claimed by the Palestinians. Some Israelis believe such criticism has helped fuel anti-Semitism.
European leaders, however, have insisted that their criticism has no bearing on the treatment of their own Jewish communities. Netanyahu rushed to France following the Jan 7-9 killings at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, urging the country’s Jews to move to Israel. French leaders signalled their unhappiness.
“France, without the Jews of France, is no longer France,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said at the time. The government has since increased protection at synagogues, Jewish schools and other sensitive sites.