(JTA) — More than 1,000 people, including many Muslims, formed a human chain around an Oslo synagogue in a show of support for Jews.
However, some Norwegian Jews said the so-called “peace ring” on Saturday night was tainted because one of its organizers said over the weekend that he dislikes people who support Israel. The organizer, Ali Chishti, had also made anti-Jewish and anti-Israel statements in 2009 — that he recently disavowed.
The seven organizers, many of them Muslims, had planned the initiative with the endorsement of the Jewish community to protest the slaying on Feb. 15 by an Islamist of a Jewish volunteer guard at the main synagogue in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Ervin Kohn, head of the Jewish community of Oslo, told JTA that he thought the initiative was “extremely positive” and could change the dynamics of minority relations in Scandinavia.
But Chishti confirmed on Saturday in an interview with Verdens Gang, a Norwegian tabloid, that he delivered a speech in Oslo on March 22, 2009 on the alleged involvement of Jews in planning the 9/11 World Trade Center bombings in New York. The speech’s title was “Therefore I Hate Jews and Gays,” the newspaper reported, though Chishti said he was not the one who came up with the title.
“There were several thousand Jews away from work in the World Trade Center, and why there were more Jews in Mumbai when Pakistani terrorists attacked than usual?” he said then, repeating the conspiracy theory that Jews knew in advance of the 2001 Twin Towers attack that killed thousands. “Jews are a small group, but everyone knows that they have a lot of power.”
In Saturday interviews, he retracted his statements. In an interview with the daily Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet, he said they were “anti-Semitic” and “unacceptable.”
“I was angry,” he told Verdens Gang. “I have since changed my views.” But he also said he “dislikes” people who support “an occupying force that has been condemned in several United Nations resolutions.”
“I think it is important to distinguish between being critical of Israel and anti-Semitism,” he also told Verdens Gang.
Eric Argaman, a pro-Israel activist and member of Norway’s Jewish community, said Chishti’s involvement “stained the event, which now feels more like a spin on our backs than a gesture of good will.”