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Saturday, April 17, 2021

A Norwegian Jew Trying to Find New Life: The Israel/Palestinian Conflict

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Joseph Musher is one of the world’s leading antiracism activists, whose publications have been banned in Poland, where the president has equated Israeli-Palestinian conflict with racism.

On July 6, Mr. Musher, a 53-year-old Polish Jewish man who lives in Norway and works as a film editor, decided to settle down in the Nordic country after a political asylum in the Netherlands turned out to be futile.

He will be starting a film school there and start two nonprofit organizations dedicated to fighting discrimination in Norway.

“To say that Norway is a liberal democracy is a joke — Norway is one of the most homophobic societies in Europe,” Mr. Musher said. “It is a country with a low minimum wage and an expensive education.”

He expects to stay for four years. During his stay in the country, he expects to distribute a long list of demands to the government, including reinstating the abolition of antisemitism as a crime in public life.

In 2014, Poland created an office to fight extremism, but in practice the government has made no significant moves against extremist groups. It has a record of counteracting criticism with racism and anti-Semitism.

In June, PiS lawmaker Michal Rozsler wrote that “The Israeli struggle for its independence is like a struggle for freedom of peoples around the world. Like Palestinian liberation, freedom struggles against the expansion of Europe are anti-Semitic.”

This August, Prime Minister Beata Szydlo repeated that “the struggle against illegal Israeli land grab is also anti-Semitic.”

In 2015, Patrizia Kopacz, a Polish-born Jewish author and academic, protested that journalists who asked her about the “Zionist lobby” were “the kind of anti-Semites that Jews in Poland have to face.”

Mr. Musher fled Poland after PiS President Andrzej Duda’s “ultra-right” government signed a restrictive anti-Semitism law which criminalizes “political insults,” “publicly defaming the office of the president” and “anyone who insults the Polish nation or its representatives.”

Under the law, Poland could slap two years in prison for insults to the Polish nation and its representatives. Mr. Musher is now being investigated for “defaming Poland.”

The organizers of the “4 Jews Run” marathon in Warsaw held by Mr. Musher had put the names of Poland’s president and prime minister in its organizing page, sparking a storm of insults against them. A pro-PiS Facebook group in Poland called to take this away from them. But Mr. Musher’s fellow Jewish activists, who happened to be from Norway, successfully organized a protest by demanding that the page be deleted.

Actions like this and the signing of the controversial anti-Semitism law have left Mr. Musher with no choice but to flee.

“I was really scared. I was afraid they would tell me that I was not wanted, and my life was in danger,” he said.

A statement on the home page of the country’s Anti-discrimination Watch maintains that “anti-Semitism in Poland is the last taboo,” and appeals to “a younger generation of Jewish students, entrepreneurs and professionals” to fight it.

In the future, Mr. Musher is planning to try to make enough money to take his family out of Poland. He has sold his furniture and clothes, mortgaged his home and postponed his retirement to make it happen.

The plan is to emigrate to the United States.

“If I had stayed there, I would not have been able to take my family with me,” he said.

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