Denmark Jews Take Public Issue with Ben-gurion’s Call for Emigration
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Denmark Jews Take Public Issue with Ben-gurion’s Call for Emigration

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Jewish leaders in Denmark took strong and public issue today with an address by visiting Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in which he urged Scandinavian Jewish youth to go to Israel either for settlement or at least for study because he was concerned about the future of Jews in countries “where assimilation was so marked.”

The Prime Minister made his appeal to a group of such youth yesterday and the responses came quickly. Otto Levysohn, chairman of the Jewish Community of Copenhagen, said he was dissociating himself from the Prime Minister’s views. “We Danish Jews,” he said, “could never want a happier place to live than Denmark. We have no inferiority complex but rather feel ourselves a proper part of the Danish people. We are first Danish and then Jewish and this has never involved us in any conflicts.”

Chief Rabbi Phil Marcus Melchior also rejected Mr. Ben-Gurion’s appeal. In a statement given wide publicity in the Copenhagen newspapers, the Chief Rabbi said: “Irrespective of the fact that the concept of Mr. Ben-Gurion on the question is well known for its radicalism, it is still possible that the quotation of his remarks has to some degree been misunderstood insofar as it deals with half sentences which were taken from their context and which could be understood fully only in their proper context.

“On the other hand,” the Chief Rabbi continued, “it is unquestionable that the way in which the problem has been touched on has at the same time affected the essential interests of Danish Jews. What from the standpoint of Mr. Ben-Gurion is of rather secondary importance–namely, the fate of a famous handful of Danish Jews–is from our standpoint primary and vital. When a man of Mr. Ben-Gurion’s stature goes into this, he as a politician must be aware that it might be necessary that contradictory views be expressed.”


“We Danish Jews,” the Chief Rabbi stressed, “don’t usually air our patriotism. Why on earth should we shout ‘hurrah’ more loudly than all other Danes? But we take an opportunity like this to state that no one, however big he may be or from wherever he may come, has the right or is able to change even one jot of what for 150 years has been the status of Danish Jews under which there has been established a relationship in Denmark of which we are all just as happy on the Christian side as on the Jewish side.”

“There is one thing in particular which I want to point out,” the Chief Rabbi added in his press statement. “If Premier Ben-Gurion really claimed that in order to be a Jew every minute of one’s life, one has to live in Israel, then according to my view, two questions arise. The first is whether to be a Jew every minute is of imperative necessity and whether Jewishness and being a general human being did not equate each other so completely that one at the same time could be Jewish and a human being in other places than in the few square kilometers which form the territory of Israel.”

The Chief Rabbi suggested further that one of the consequences of the Prime Minister’s viewpoint could be that “in the same way as Jews should have the right to be Jews every minute of their lives, the Christians should have the same right for their part. According to this argument, Mr. Ben-Gurion should recommend to the Christian part of mankind to emigrate to real Christian states where they could be Christians every minute.”

He concluded with the statement that “the attitude of Danish Jews is and in the future will be the same as in the past. We do not change colors, we do not alter our shields.”


The Chief Rabbi was asked by Israeli Journalists accompanying the Israeli Prime Minister why he had chosen to argue with Mr. Ben-Gurion in the non-Jewish press. He replied that the Prime Minister’s address was “understood here as an appeal to all Danish Jews to leave Denmark and emigrate to Israel. I was afraid about possible disquiet for Jews as a result and it was my duty to answer.”

The Prime Minister today visited the Copenhagen synagogue where he was received by the congregation and Chief Rabbi Melchior with a special prayer for peace in Israel. In a short address, the Chief Rabbi stressed what Danish Jews had done for Israel. In his reply, the Prime Minister reiterated he hoped that Danish Jews would remain faithful to Judaism, “even if their situation here is as good as it is.”

The Prime Minister, Mrs. Ben-Gurion and their daughter had lunch yesterday with King Frederick and Queen Ingrid at the Fredensburg summer residence of the royal family. The highly formal luncheon was attended by Premier Otto Krag, Foreign Minister Haekerrup and other Danish Ministers.

Prior to the luncheon, the Israeli Premier spent an hour at the Judaica Department of the Royal Library where Dr. Adelman, the Director of Judaica, explained to him old Jewish and Hebrew manuscripts of the department. The Prime Minister was particularly interested in Danish research into the problem of the number of Hebrews who fled from Egypt in the exodus. An official Israeli reception was held in the evening.

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