Olivia Flasch

The good kind of ‘human shields’

As a Scandinavian Jew, she cannot help but feel that everyone is giving the Oslo 'peace ring' the wrong treatment

I have read many articles in the past few days, outlining diverse opinions about the Scandinavian Muslim initiative to ‘protect’ the Oslo synagogue from anti-Semitic violence, by creating a ring of ‘human shields’ around it. Some are wholeheartedly positive towards the initiative. It makes them smile to see a glimmer of hope for humanity. Others are wholeheartedly negative towards the initiative, arguing that the Jewish community doesn’t need protection from Muslims; it needs the entire community to actively combat the rise of radical Islam and anti-Semitism. Yet others are skeptical at best; not entirely certain about how they feel, but nonetheless highlight suspicious issues surrounding the individual views of some of the organizers, questioning their true support.

As a Scandinavian Jew, born and, mostly, raised in a small town just minutes from the infamous city of Malmö, where it was believed that anti-Semitism reached its peak a few years back, but has, much to our horror, continued to steadily increase, I cannot help but feel that everyone is treating this situation wrongly.

I understand the optimists. We have been overwhelmed with tragic news in the past few months, waiting desperately for some sign that there is still hope. A sign that there is still something that pulls us together and makes us stronger, and that our differences are not completely engulfed in a feeling of separation, fear, anger, and hatred.

I also understand the skeptics. Of course I do. I know very well that when we hear the phrase ‘human shields’, our minds take us to a place far less hopeful and heartwarming. We have learned to rely on ourselves, and ourselves only; a skill we continue to improve for every day that anti-Semitism peaks its ugly head out from a fresh, new corner. We feel that this small act of humanity does nothing to tackle the actual problem; the anti-Semites are still out there – they haven’t magically vanished.

But let’s see this for what it is. Scandinavia has felt lost to Jews for some time now. Most of us have given up on a future there. If we haven’t moved already, odds are a majority of us probably will within the next few years. To Israelis, Americans, people who live in countries with a large Jewish minority, obviously this act feels insignificant. As co-blogger Marc Goldberg writes, “No sensible person ever doubted that there were plenty of Muslims out there happy to live side by side with Jews”. In Scandinavia, however, this has been a very serious doubt for a very serious amount of time. And not only in regards to Muslims; we have doubted whether there is anybody left, willing to live side by side with Jews in our small “utopic” societies. People with municipal positions have publicly declared that Jews should blame themselves for anti-Semitism, if they support Israel. Just recently, a reporter in the Swedish National Broadcasting Network asked the Israeli Ambassador to Sweden whether Jews have themselves to blame for the rise in anti-Semitic violence. So the fact that we are witnessing a group of Muslims, large enough to surround a synagogue, publicly taking a stand against anti-Semitism when not even our governments are willing to do so, is quite revolutionary in the minds of Scandinavian Jews. The fact that this symbolic gesture is becoming a movement is even more fascinating. This coming Shabbat, it will spread to the synagogue in Stockholm, for instance.

It is with immense happiness that I welcome this action. Not because I think it balances out the anti-Semitic violence in Europe, or shows us that “everything is alright after all, and in fact, we all love each other so this whole killing thing has all been a joke”. No. But because I think that it is a much-delayed start to something that should have happened ten years ago.

It functions as recognition by people other than Jews that anti-Semitism is real. And no one should ever feel frustrated about that.

About the Author
Olivia Flasch is an international lawyer who currently lives in London. She studied Public International Law in The Hague, and has a Master's in Law from the University of Oxford. Born into a Jewish family in Sweden, she writes about all things Jewish, as well as about Israel and the world from an international law perspective.