Eric Argaman, an outspoken member of Norway’s Jewish community, told the JTA newswire that the involvement of Ali Chishti (30), a Norwegian Muslim with a history of anti-Israel statements “stained the event, which now feels more like a spin, on our backs, than a gesture of good will.”
More than 1,300 people turned up to the event on Saturday, which saw Muslims from Oslo link hands around the city’s synagogue in a show of solidarity with the city’s Jewish population.
The symbolic gesture was reported on around the world, with the father of Dan Uzan, the 37-year-old Jewish man killed in Copenhagen earlier this month, saying that it had given “meaning” to his son’s death.
"You must say to the young Muslims in Norway that they have given me hope,” he told Norway’s chief rabbi Michael Melchior. “ They have given me a reason to continue living.”
However, as publicity grew ahead of the event, the organisers started to get more scrutiny, with Chishti’s involvement particularly coming under the spotlight.
Chishti was booed off the stage at Oslo’s Litteraturhuset in 2009 after he gave a highly provocative talk titled “Why I hate Jews and Gays”.
“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 in the talk.
In interviews with Norway’s VG newspaper and Dagbladet newspapers on Saturday, Chishti acknowledged that his statements were “anti-Semitic” and “unacceptable”.
“I have reflected a fair amount about the state of things since then,” he told VG. “I was very angry at that time. Since that meeting, I’ve had many discussions about Islam, and I’ve developed a more nuanced picture of everything.”
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However, he refused to disavow his past criticism of Israel.
“I think it is important to distinguish between being critical of Israel and anti-Semitic,” he said.
“Those who support an occupation which has been condemned in several UN resolutions, those I dislike,” he admitted. “As a Muslim I should not hate people, but I can dislike what they stand for.”