Crown Prince Frederick of Denmark visited Israel exactly five year ago, participating in the commemoration of the rescue of the Danish Jewish community from expulsion and extermination seventy years beforehand. He visited Yad Vashem, had an audience with President Shimon Peres and attended a gala concert given by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.
As Israel’s ambassador to the Kingdom of Denmark, I accompanied him on this visit. At the time, I recommended a reciprocal gesture and was therefore happy that president Rivlin paid a visit to Denmark this past week to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the noble rescue operation. I saw the uplifting pictures of his meeting the Her Majesty the Queen and his visit to the old church of Gilleleje, where many Danish Jews found shelter before crossing the Sund on their way to safety in Sweden.
Naturally, I was thrilled to accompany the Crown Prince. An ambassador does not usually have many royal visits to attend. One month beforehand, I presented my credentials to Her Majesty Queen Marguerit II. We discussed the upcoming visit of her son and I expressed the gratitude and admiration with which all Israelis hold Denmark. She said, however, that Danish Jews were rescued because they were Danish citizens, just like anybody else in the kingdom.
I thought that if other European countries were to treat their Jewish countrymen in a similar manner maybe the Holocaust would not take place in the same horrific magnitude. The Nazis relied largely on collaboration, and while there were a few collaborators even in Denmark, the vast majority of the Danish people supported the rescue of the Jewish community. Denmark has been a friend of the Jewish people and of Israel ever since, and it still is.
Apart from the historical background Denmark and Israel share many attributes. Both countries are relatively small but have strong and sophisticated economies. Both countries are the only places were their far-flung languages (Danish and Hebrew) are used as the common means of communication. Israelis admire the rescue operation and Danes admire the idea of the Kibbutz, and so on. It is true that Denmark is critical of Israel’s settlements but this does not hinder the excellent relations between the two countries in defense, handling terror, economy, trade, and science.
The Israeli Start-Up nation fascinates the Danes and they would like to follow the Israeli model. In fact, Denmark even opened its seventh innovation center in Tel Aviv and both countries look forward to continuing and deepening their cooperation.
Unfortunately, the Danish interest in Israel has not always been fully met by a reciprocal Israeli approach. While on the royal and presidential level, we are now on par and on functional level, we meet and talk regularly, we still have a long way to go on the ministerial level. In the last ten years, there were more than fifteen Danish ministerial visits in Israel but only three Israeli ministers visited Copenhagen (two of these visits took place in 2009 and the third one, by Minister Silvan Shalom in 2014, was cut short before it was completed). Ministerial exchanges are important as they provide opportunities to make decisions on treaties, agreements and the like. Some Danish friends of Israel consider this as an affront towards a friend and partner that Israel cannot boast of so often.
This approach was further seen after the death of Dan Uzan on 15 February 2015. Dan, whose father is an Israeli, was guarding the Mosaisk Synagogue when a Palestinian terrorist shot him dead. The prime minister of Denmark came to his funeral and so did the heads of the opposition parties and many Danish public figures. Nathan Sharansky came especially, in his capacity as head of the Jewish agency, but there was no ministerial representation by the government of Israel.
The late Prime Minister Levy Eshkol allegedly said that there was no problem that could not be solved over a weekend in New York. He did not mention Copenhagen or other friendly capitals. Besides, aren’t our new friends among the non-liberal Europeans good enough? Welcome to the club of Israeli indifference and lack of sensitivity, Denmark, and please do not forget that even if we do not look your way too often we are still your friends.