JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s prime minister on Sunday called 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.
Prime Minister Benjamin 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.”
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 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.”
Netanyahu’s comments came amid a tight re-election campaign ahead of March 17 elections. Seeking a third consecutive term, Netanyahu has focused his campaign on Israel’s security needs, repeatedly warning voters about the many threats from Islamic 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. When Netanyahu rushed to France following the deadly supermarket standoff and urged the country’s Jews to move to Israel, French leaders signaled 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 beefed up protection at synagogues, Jewish schools and other sensitive sites.
French Jews have been increasingly migrating to Israel, a pattern that dismayed the French government well before the attacks at the kosher supermarket and since has left top officials pleading for them to stay. In 2014, more than 7,000 French Jews left, more than double the number for 2013.
The exodus from France accelerated after the March 2012 attacks by Mohammed Merah, who stormed a Jewish school in Toulouse, killing three children and a rabbi.
Last month’s attack in France was part of a wave of violence that killed a total of 17 people carried out by extremists who claimed allegiance to the al-Qaida and Islamic State extremist groups.
In Denmark, Jens Madsen, head of the Danish intelligence agency PET, said investigators believed the gunman who killed two people in separate attacks was inspired by Islamic radicalism.
Visibly moved, Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt laid flowers before the synagogue on Sunday and was accompanied by former Chief Rabbi Bent Lexner, Jewish community leader Dan Rosenberg Asmussen and Anders Gadegaard from the Copenhagen protestant cathedral.
“My message is that all of Denmark feels with you,” Thorning-Schmidt said. “This is not the Denmark we want. We want a Denmark where people freely can choose one’s religion.”
Denmark is known for saving most of its Jews during World War II. There are an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 Jews in Denmark today.
Melchior, the chief rabbi, said the Jewish victim was Dan Uzan, whom he called an “irreplaceable” security guard protecting the city’s Jewish community.
“He was a person who was always willing to help. An amazing, amazing guy,” said Melchior, speaking from Israel’s international airport before boarding a return flight to Copenhagen.
The community had previously asked police for enhanced security, and following last month’s attack on the Paris kosher supermarket, Denmark police began reevaluating security arrangements, Melchior said.
Associated Press writers Lori Hinnant in Paris, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen and Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
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