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Oslo 'Ring of Peace' organizers slammed for Palestine solidarity

Muslim youth inspire more than 1,000 Norwegians to stand in solidarity at an Oslo synagogue. But not everybody’s feeling the love.

Text and photos by: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org

Young Muslim women stand hand-in-hand in front of the Oslo Synagogue during the "Ring of Peace" vigil, February 21, 2015. The vigil was organized by Muslim youth in solidarity with Norway's Jewish community following anti-Jewish attacks in Denmark and other parts of Europe.

Young Muslim women stand hand-in-hand in front of the Oslo Synagogue during the “Ring of Peace” vigil, February 21, 2015. The vigil was organized by Muslim youth in solidarity with Norway’s Jewish community following anti-Jewish attacks in Denmark and other parts of Europe.

A group of Muslim youth successfully organized a globally publicized event in solidarity with Norway’s Jewish community on Saturday. In the wake of anti-Jewish violence the previous week in Denmark and earlier attacks in France, they flooded the street in front of the Oslo Synagogue with more than 1,000 supporters to form a symbolic “Ring of Peace.”

The response in Norway and around the globe was almost universally positive. Almost, because — gasp —these Muslim youth also support Palestine and criticize Israel. Norway’s version of AIPAC, ADL, and CUFI all rolled into one is called MIFF (Med Israel for Fred, “With Israel for Peace”). And yes, they were miffed that Hajrah Arshad, the 17-year-old dynamo who organized the event with several friends had an image on her Facebook page calling for a free Palestine that did not include 1967 borders. Because as we all know, the 1967 borders are sacred to all card-carrying Zionists. And the Israeli Tourism Ministry’s own maps, which are about as honest of a representation of Israel’s version of the two-state solution as you’ll ever see (hint: no West Bank border, only Areas A and B).

By contrast with MIFF, prominent Jewish leaders including Ervin Kohn, president of the Jewish Community of Oslo, were “extremely positive” about the support demonstrated by Arshad and her friends.

“I have been very impressed,” said Jewish Community board member Michael Gritzman. “I hope this will spread to other countries.”

Binyamin Ben Katzman of Jerusalem expressed a more charitable attitude toward the teen organizer’s Palestine solidarity in a Facebook comment: “As an Israeli and a Jew, I want to say thank you to Hajrah Arshad. Maybe we will disagree about Israel, but what you are doing brings pride and unity to Muslims and Jews.”

“The organizers did not want this event to be a platform for a debate on Israel and Palestine,” said Kathrine Jensen, chair of the Palestine Committee of Norway, “a decision we supported fully since we make a clear distinction between Israel and Jews. This event was about protecting our Jewish minority. We find it unacceptable that Jews feel unsafe in Norway. They are Norwegian citizens and should not be held responsible for Israeli politics.”

More serious allegations were made against Arshad’s fellow organizer, Ali Chishti, who had made a truly hateful speech in 2008 that included anti-Jewish 9/11 conspiracy theories and homophobic remarks. This association was reported on in Haaretz and elsewhere as having marred the Ring of Peace event. The Times of Israel reports, however, that Chishti’s past beliefs were not intended to be a secret, but the reason he was part of the event. He had distanced himself from his anti-Semitic statements years ago and began his speech on Saturday with an apology. The organizers thought the inclusion of Chishti showed that “it is possible to humble yourself publicly and change your mind.”

“He’s a role model for other Muslim youth and adults,” Kohn told The Times of Israel. “Such role models are imperative against radicalization.”

Kohn is fully aware that Chishti remains unapologetically critical of Israel as “an occupying force that has been condemned in several United Nations resolutions.” As Chishti said in an interview quoted in Haaretz, “I think it is important to distinguish between being critical of Israel and anti-Semitism.”

No one can deny that there are anti-Semites within Palestine solidarity circles. There are haters within every community. But their hateful views do not define the movement.

“Extremists are to be found everywhere,” said Markos Pizarro of BDS Norway. “Harm done in the name of Islam is terrible — as are the killings of three young Muslims in North Carolina by an atheist, or the slaughters of Muslims in Asia by Buddhists.”

“Four or five of the eight organizers of the Ring of Peace initiative, helped organize, or participated in some way this last summer against the atrocities that took place in Gaza,” notes Pizarro. “So we now have the same people organizing in support of our Jewish community in Oslo. That for me is a very clear statement of solidarity — young concerned citizens trying to ease other people’s pains and suffering by trying to help out, despite their ethnicity or religious beliefs. We should applaud them.”

“Maybe when people see that the same people who have such strong opinions about Israel also support Norwegian Jews, then that will make an impact,” said Qeaam Ibn Malik, another of the event’s organizers. “More will understand that it is a system that we are fighting, not people of another faith.”

As it turns out, these young people are capable of opposing more than one injustice at the same time. They are the answer to those who say things like, “why don’t you protest Syria instead of singling out Israel?” (Actually, the too-short life of Kayla Mueller is the definitive answer to that accusation. Her legacy should forever shut the mouths of those flogging that tired line.)

The organizers of Ring of Peace event met through a Facebook group called “Injustice Exposed” formed to discuss many different issues around the globe.

“I’m a justice activist,” said Morad Jarodi, another organizer. “To support Palestine to be free from occupation and support Jewish minorities is no contradiction.”

Flowers in front of the Oslo Synagogue in memorialize Dan Uzan, who was shot and killed while guarding a synagogue in Copenhagen, Denmark, the previous week, February 21, 2015.

Flowers in front of the Oslo Synagogue in memorialize Dan Uzan, who was shot and killed while guarding a synagogue in Copenhagen, Denmark, the previous week, February 21, 2015.

Muslim youth say evening prayers in the street outside of the Oslo Synagogue as police look on prior to the "Ring of Peace vigil, February 21, 2015. The vigil was organized by Muslim youth in solidarity with Norway's Jewish community following anti-Jewish attacks in Denmark and other parts of Europe.

Muslim youth say evening prayers in the street outside of the Oslo Synagogue as police look on prior to the “Ring of Peace vigil, February 21, 2015. The vigil was organized by Muslim youth in solidarity with Norway’s Jewish community following anti-Jewish attacks in Denmark and other parts of Europe.

Members of the Oslo Jewish community watch from inside their synagogue as Ali Chishti, one of the organizers of the "Ring of Peace vigil is interviewed by media, February 21, 2015. The vigil was organized by Muslim youth in solidarity with Norway's Jewish community following anti-Jewish attacks in Denmark and other parts of Europe.

Members of the Oslo Jewish community watch from inside their synagogue as Ali Chishti, one of the organizers of the “Ring of Peace vigil is interviewed by media, February 21, 2015. The vigil was organized by Muslim youth in solidarity with Norway’s Jewish community following anti-Jewish attacks in Denmark and other parts of Europe.

A sign reads in Norwegian, "Yes to solidarity, unity and inclusion; no to hatred and stigmatization" among the more than 1,000 people gathered for the "Ring of Peace" vigil, February 21, 2015. The vigil was organized by Muslim youth in solidarity with Norway's Jewish community following anti-Jewish attacks in Denmark and other parts of Europe.

A sign reads in Norwegian, “Yes to solidarity, unity and inclusion; no to hatred and stigmatization” among the more than 1,000 people gathered for the “Ring of Peace” vigil, February 21, 2015. The vigil was organized by Muslim youth in solidarity with Norway’s Jewish community following anti-Jewish attacks in Denmark and other parts of Europe.

More than 1,000 Norwegians of all faiths surround the Oslo Synagogue during the "Ring of Peace" vigil, February 21, 2015. The vigil was organized by Muslim youth in solidarity with Norway's Jewish community following anti-Jewish attacks in Denmark and other parts of Europe.

More than 1,000 Norwegians of all faiths surround the Oslo Synagogue during the “Ring of Peace” vigil, February 21, 2015. The vigil was organized by Muslim youth in solidarity with Norway’s Jewish community following anti-Jewish attacks in Denmark and other parts of Europe.

Members of the Jewish community applaud 17-year-old Hajrah Arshad (left) and other Muslim youth who organized the "Ring of Peace" vigil, February 21, 2015. The vigil was organized by Muslim youth in solidarity with Norway's Jewish community following anti-Jewish attacks in Denmark and other parts of Europe.

Members of the Jewish community applaud 17-year-old Hajrah Arshad (left) and other Muslim youth who organized the “Ring of Peace” vigil, February 21, 2015. The vigil was organized by Muslim youth in solidarity with Norway’s Jewish community following anti-Jewish attacks in Denmark and other parts of Europe.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Sheikh Yahudi

      What a cheap publicity stunt. Not even a slightest attempt made to address the global menace.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        Wow! That’s so stingy and begrudging Yahudi that, why, if I didn’t know better I’d think that you secretly don’t WANT any steps towards reconciliation and peace between Muslims and Jews and that you WANT all followers of Islam to be Isis-like extremists. Or at least to be seen that way. Now why would that be? Hmmmm. In Bibi’s campaign headquarters this news is bad news. Those damn Muslims can’t stay with the script. “The Ring of Peace”??!! Protect our Jewish minority??!! Say what??!! G-d help us!

        Reply to Comment
        • Sheikh Yahudi

          Brian, that’s way too many assumptions on your part. The point I was trying to make is that instead of addressing the issues within the Muslim community that put it at odds with much of the world, they resort to meaningless actions such as this. Do you really think that this so called “Ring of Peace” will do anything to protect the Jewish minority? And if not, isn’t “cheap publicity stunt” an accurate description?

          Reply to Comment
        • Sheikh Yahudi

          And what in the world made you think that Bibi or his campaign even care about this non-event?

          Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            It is very interesting the way you dismiss over a thousand Muslim youth self-organizing to protect a European synagogue as a non-event. And deride it as meaningless. And how you think providing a model that went around the globe for other Muslim youth and adults against radicalization is not at all “addressing the issues within the Muslim community that put it at odds with much of the world.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Msquared308

            A model that went around the globe for all Muslim youth??? Really? For all the media attention this event has received not a single Muslim community in any city anywhere in the world has followed their example. That’s the real telling model you should pay attention to, how Muslim youths from all corners of the globe totally ignored following this example.

            Reply to Comment
      • Shab

        Sick comment out of a sick mind. You must be a very lonely person.

        Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        I guess you are probably an expert on cheap stunts – no one does them better than Israel as was shown by Bibi’s Paris excursion and his proposed occupation of Congress (again uninvited by the proper authorities). But let me get this right – a show of solidarity with Jewish Europeans is to be condemned because Israel’s very survival depends on a rise in European anti-Semitism that will drive Jews from their ancestral homelands?

        Reply to Comment
    2. Sheikh Yahudi

      Exactly how will standing around a synagogue for one night protect it on all the other nights? It is indeed utterly meaningless. They provided a model for what? Cheap publicity stunts that are designed to keep the public anesthetized? How exactly will this stop radicalization?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Johanan

      And yet, the act can be read as politicised in the sense that it forces Jews to be divorced from something Israel in order to be Jews worthy of protection. Muslim youth who openly support the antisemitic Palestinian regime(s) let it be known by their use of symbols and language, that only Jews who renounce Zionism are proper Jews. The ring may in my opinion be read as an imposition of dhimmitude.

      Reply to Comment
      • Eliza

        Bollocks.

        The Muslim youths who organised the ‘Ring of Peace’ are merely saying that religious tolerance transcends the Israeli/Palestine conflict. Norwegian Jews can be Zionists (or not) but the ME conflict is not going to be a wedge or cause division between Norwegian Jews and Muslims. And that is just the way it should be.

        Reply to Comment
        • C.C. DeVille

          Isn’t it good?
          Norwegian Jews

          Reply to Comment
    4. One of the biggest issues causing, or at least amplifying Anti-Semitism in Muslim communities around the world, including Western Europe, is the conflation of Zionism and Judaism.

      The conflation of Jewish and Israeli identity. A conflation that the Israeli prime minister is trying to promote everytime he can.

      Now if these young and brave young people show Muslims around the world that you CAN in fact be critical of Israel without hating Jews, that’s an incredibly positive sign.

      What we would need next time is thousands of European Jews organizing a protest against Israeli policies and bombings in Gaza, and that message would be even clearer.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Anselm Kiersch

      I live in Oslo and was there. Over 1000 people met up. It was an event with much respect and dignity. The speach of the rabbi was extraordinary. He was quoting the holy quran and how such a ring has its roots from there.
      So dont tell me that its a lie.

      Reply to Comment