A heated discussion has emerged recently in Norway about the strength of anti-Semitism in that country and other parts of Scandinavia. Rolf Krake has translated a couple of articles on the topic from the Norwegian.
First, from Dagsavisen:
Claims the hatred of the Jews is growing in Norway.
Anti-Semitism is growing in Norway, and Norway is the only country which is demonizing Israel to such a degree, claims the Author Manfred Gerstenfeld. Yesterday [25 Nov 2008] a conference on the specific theme was held in Jerusalem.
JERUSALEM (Dagsavisen): Never before have academics in Israel gathered to a conference to discuss something as uncommon: The anti-Semitism in Norway and Sweden. But yesterday it happened in Jerusalem.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld, the chairman of the conference, claims that in the Norwegian media Israel gets vilified, criticized and scorned to such a degree, “as if the state was the representative of evil”, while other countries with a lot worse record scarcely get similar attention.
“I have never seen such a phenomenon, only in Norway, just Norway, is Israel to such a degree pointed out as the unique villain,” says Manfred Gerstenfeld to Dagsavisen.
Until recently Norway’s reputation in Israel has been associated with democracy, a well-functioning society, the Nobel Peace Prize, and not least the Oslo peace process. But now the rosy Norwegian picture begins to fade.
In all, 65 academics, diplomats and others gathered yesterday [25 Nov 08] at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and the accusations from the stage were very serious.
To back up his case Gerstenfeld provides a long list of cases, including the author Jostein Gaarder’s infamous contribution in Aftenposten [Norwegian mainstream daily] during the Lebanon war. Gerstenfeld is equally unimpressed with the contents of the criticism from Norway.
“To criticize Israel is of course legitimate, this is not what this is about. This is about such a biased focus that it has as an end result become a demonization, a dehumanization,” says Gerstenfeld, a Dutch-born environmental protection expert who in recent years has worked as a political correspondent.
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Not long ago Gerstenfeld published a book called Behind the Face of Humanism, which raises the issue of the relations of Norway and Sweden with Israel. In the book he claims that in Norway the state of Israel is judged using criteria different from those used with other countries. It is exactly these which, according to Gerstenfeld, are the reasons for his accusations that anti-Semitism is growing in Norway.
Among the participants on the conference yesterday were Zvi Mazel, former ambassador to Sweden, and Ephraim Zuroff from the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Zuroff added that Sweden still allows Nazis who participated in war crimes during the Second World War protection against extradition. Zuroff is in possession of a list of 21 such men who still live in Sweden.
New form of racism
Manfred Gerstenfeld is not surprised that a growing anti-Semitism is to be found in Scandinavia, in countries with outspoken anti-racist and humanistic traditions. He says he is well aware of the human rights work in Norway, but thinks that these traditions, paradoxically, have opened the way for a new form of racism.
“A common notion here is that non-white people always are victims. And if you say that, you remove the ability to take responsibility for your own life, to be responsible, which is a basic human characteristic. You make people less human, they have become inferior. And this becomes racism against non-white people whom you started out to help, he says.
Gerstenfeld says that it is first and foremost the case Africans, and not with Israelis, who are exposed to this kind of racism. But the Israelis in the Middle East are instead demonized “where they the greatest criminals against human rights, something they are not”, he says, and warns that this has opened a door to a new legitimization of anti-Semitism.
It is difficult to measure the degree to which Israel officially supports the accusations which have been expressed, but it is no secret that diplomats with the Israeli Foreign Ministry have claimed that it is Norway of all the countries in Europe in which the mood has become most anti-Israeli.
The Israeli Foreign Department was very restrained criticizing foreign minister Jonas Gahr Stoere who earlier this month published a book, in which it is claimed that he compares the Jewish settlers with Nazis. Recently the Foreign Department in Oslo arranged a conference which goal was to increase trade between Israel and Norway.
A translation of a second article from Dagsavisen:
There is no reason to claim that the Norwegian [public] opinion has become more anti-Semitic, according to research director Odd-Bjorn Fure at the Holocaust Center.
“It is unquestionable that opinion on the political level and among the Norwegian public has become more skeptical towards Israel in recent years. But to say it is an expression of anti-Semitism does not hold — It has got nothing to do with anti-Semitism,” says Fure to Dagbladet.
“The press on guard”
He points out that the increased criticism from public opinion is directed against Israel’s policies. “It is totally legitimate to criticize the Israeli state and the various Israeli governments when Israel breaches international human rights and practice a brutal reign of occupation, says Fure; he does not think Norwegian press can be accused of anti-Semitism [emphasis by the translator — it echoes the media propaganda which is the whole point].
“I would rather say on the contrary. The Norwegian press is on guard against anti-Semitism,” he says.
Fure believes that the Israeli side from time to time has made unjustified accusations of anti-Semitism.
“I don’t think it is the case with the current [Israeli] government, but in the government of Ariel Sharon you saw attempts to delegitimize legitimate criticism. You can claim that the Norwegian criticism of the Israeli government is currently one-sided, undifferentiated, and massive, but not that is anti-Semitic, says Fure.
No more sludge
He underscores that nevertheless opinions and expressions of anti-Semitism occur in Norway.
“In certain situations anti-Semitic sludge comes to the surface, when you mix together the actions of the Israeli state and the Jewish people. But that is not at all representative of general Norwegian public opinion, and I do not have the impression that it has increased the last years, says the research director.
In an article in Aftenposten [Norwegian daily] recently it was claimed by a Norwegian school pupil in Oslo that “Jew” was among the worst slurs in the social circle.
“I have heard the same from other places and this is a deep, deep cause for worry. I do not have any information about how common this is, but if one person is using it as a swear word, it is one of many who uses it as a swearword,” says Fure, who nevertheless points out that the usage of the wording is not reflected in the public sphere.
“But it is clear that this phenomenon demands a special vigilance in the light of history,” says Odd-Bjorn Fure.