The controversy about anti-Semitism in Norway continues, with a series of articles and heated public discussions on the topic. A series of feature articles appeared last week in Aftenposten. Some of them are unavailable online, but Rolf Krake has translated them for Gates of Vienna from the print edition.
The first article of a two-page spread in Aftenposten on November 27th:
Anti-Semitism in Norway
by Knut Olav Åmås
Culture and debate editor — Aftenposten
On Tuesday 25 November a large seminar was held in Jerusalem, in which there was a discussion about the new bookBehind the Humanitarian Mask: The Nordic Countries, Israel and the Jews. The book was edited by Manfred Gerstenfeld, while the eight other writers are primarily Israeli and Nordic academics. The book puts forth a long list of claims regarding Norwegian anti-Semitism.
Gerstenfeld’s main thought is that something close to a demonization of Israel is occurring among the Norwegian elites, particularly among left-wing politicians, journalists and activists. On the political side he stresses the many suggestions for a boycott of Israel which have been proposed over the last years, for example by the trade unions and the youth sections of parties such as AUF, and even by Minister of Finance Kristin Halvorsen, leader of the SV [Socialist Left Party] party, as recently as 2006.
Let me take a closer look at the boycott as a reaction to Israel’s policies against the Palestinians that violate humanitarian law This is in fact an even more current theme than Gerstenfeld and his co-authors would have thought. At about the same time as the book went into print this fall I noticed an advertisement on the internet of a brand new 36-page booklet by people who call themselves “ The Campaign for an Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel”. The campaign has even created its own website: www.akademiskboikott.no and www.kulturboikott.no.
As if the boycott campaign were a concerted one, the last weeks major opinion pieces have appeared throughout the country’s student newspapers, signed by the Palestine committees. Both in Oslo and Bergen there are demands for full academic and cultural boycotts of everything connected with Israel. The boycott is supposed to be far reaching. Yesterday the prestigious Holberg prize was awarded to Frederic Jameson. Exactly two years ago it went to Shmuel N. Eisenstadt of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. That enraged the author of this autumn’s new boycott booklet, Ebba Wergland, prompting her to write an article in the academic paper Replikk. She wrote that he should never have received the prize, since he was an academic representative of the Israeli “apartheid state”.
The thought is horrible: An independent awarding of prizes based on academic merit should be subjected to political considerations thereby isolating independent researchers. This would mean the triumph of irrationality over reason. It would also mean the end of debate, and that the beginning of black and white thinking has taken over in which the perpetrator and the victim have been defined once and for all. Those who boycott thus act as absolute judges.
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In fact, an academic boycott would be a lot more serious than a consumer boycott, because it assaults one of society’s fundamental values, freedom of expression and thought.
Strange boycott-like circumstances also occur now and then in Norwegian cultural life, when someone plans to invite Israeli participants to an event. Soon enough there will be demands that a similar number of Palestinian participants must be invited, simultaneously or else the concert or performance will become too “political”. Inviting a Palestinian artist without also inviting an Israeli, however, is not considered politically charged, but neutral.
One must ask : When will the Norwegian left-wing initiate a boycott of regimes not even close to being as democratic and free as Israel, but which are authoritarian, almost totalitarian states? Syria and Saudi Arabia are among the world’s worst violators of human rights. And what about the Norwegian left-wing’s critical opposition toward the new authoritarian regimes in Russia and China? It is very hard to find that anywhere.
In that sense the this week’s critics of the new Israeli book are right to a small extent: An apparent one-sidedness characterizes parts of the Norwegian public sphere in its criticism of Israel.
Attacking the media
The book, however, does not make high-level politics, professional life, schools, universities, cultural life or any other sector of society such a clear target as the media. One gets the feeling that there is a systematic production of anti-Semitism in all leading media. This anti-Semitism appears in its new disguise, anti-Israelism, writes Gerstenfeld.
Furthermore, the editor asserts that over the last several years Aftenposten has published a number of extreme cartoons, articles and letters to the editor and he links that directly back to the history of Aftenposten before and during the Second World War. He also describers the characteristics of Jostein Gaarder’s column, which was published in Aftenposten in August 2006 during the war against Lebanon as dominated by “strong anti-Semitic rhetoric. The accusations of anti-Semitism are just as faint in the debatable as well as in debate-provoking collection of articles.
The book does not debate what might be the most important explanation of the current lack of Norwegian judgment on issues regarding Israel and the Jewish people. There exists in Norway an incomparable deep estrangement from and embarrassing ignorance about, everything Jewish. The discrimination against Norwegian Jews from the time immediately after the Second World War and up until today has thus remained largely invisible.
It is, as Jahn Otto Johansen writes in his booklet “The New-Old Anti-Semitism”, which was published last week, when the Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson-Academy held a conference about current anti-Semitism. It was not “the active and passive backing of the persecution of the Jews which was a precondition for the hard-core anti-Semites to convince large sections of German society to collaborate in a criminal policy and practice, but a broad portion of the population was characterized by lack of concern, not caring, moral numbness’ and denial. There were no counterforces.”
Who are the counterforces to anti-Semitism in Norway today?
Recently Aftenposten reported that “Jew“ has again become a swear word among teenagers in Norwegian school yards. And, for some years we have already seen that the hatred of Jews has found fertile ground among some young Muslims in this country.
There are therefore two necessary reminders that are put forward by Sidsel Levin, head of the Jewish Museum in Oslo in today’s poll: anti-Semitism is the problem of the whole of Norwegian society. But most Norwegians rarely recognize anti-Semitism when they see it. Therefore it can grow.
A translation of the second Aftenposten article, not available online:
Behind the Humanitarian Mask
Norway got especially harsh treatment during a seminar in Jerusalem two days ago [25 November 08] about “hidden” anti-Semitism in the Nordic countries.
Peter Beck, Jerusalem
The book Behind the Humanitarian Mask: The Nordic Countries, Israel and the Jews was the starting point for what he organizers at The Jerusalem Center For Public Affairs (JCPA), call “the first in-depth study of the positions of the Nordic countries regarding Jews, Zionism and Israel.” JCPA disseminates information, including lectures on a high level, aimed toward foreign correspondents and diplomats.
During the seminar nobody had any doubt as to who the three panel speakers consider the worst regarding Nordic anti-Semitism, hidden behind anti-Zionism and anti-Israelism — with the humanitarian mask as a disarming facade: Sweden, and not the least Norway. Even though also Finland, Iceland, and even Denmark are far from perfect, they came out far better.
The well-attended seminar heard mostly about Norway’s negative role: being the leading country in Europe when it comes to anti-Semitic caricatures in the media, often completely in line with those printed in the Nazi German paper Der Stuermer. Against the prohibition of Jewish ritual slaughter, it was noted that Norwegian hunters and whale catchers afflict far more — and greater — suffering than the Jewish slaughter.
The shots against the Synagogue in Oslo, the attacks on the Jewish cantor on Karl Johan [central shopping street in Oslo], Jostein Gaarder’s column, Raymond Johansen’s talks with Hamas and Kristin Halvorsen’s call for a boycott were mentioned as examples of why Norway’s tiny Jewish minority considers it wise to keep a low profile.
The Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish embassies in Israel apparently declined to comment on the theme of the seminar, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
The Danish ambassador, Liselotte Plesner, does not deny that the deportation of 21 Jews to Nazi Germany during the Second World War was a tragedy. But she underlines that, after all, Denmark saved almost all of its 7000 Jews.
The following article appeared in a somewhat different version in English. Below is a translation by Rolf Krake of the Norwegian version (from the print newspaper):
Charging Otto Jespersen with Jew-hatred
Kurt Valner lost his father and eight other family members in German concentration camps during the Second World War. He thinks Otto Jespersen’s monologue in TV2’s program “Torsdagsklubben” (The Thursday club) last Thursday (27 Nov. 08) went over the line to such a degree that he filed charges with the Police in Bærum [Oslo suburb].
“I will also use the occasion to commemorate all the billions of lice and louse who lost their lives in the German gas chambers, without having done anything wrong other than choosing people of Jewish origin,” said Jespersen to the Norwegian TV viewers.
“The comments from Jespersen are disrespectful and offensive,” says Valner to Dagsavisen.
Valner explains that he lived through anti-Semitism before the Second World War, and he felt the consequences when large parts of his family was sent to Auschwitz.
He is starting to see signs that anti-Semitism is spreading in Norwegian society.
“You can say more on television than before, and the newspapers are full of unbalanced Israel criticism which we are not allowed to answer. There are still more coming, step by step,” he says.
The financial crisis makes him more worried.
“History tells us that Jew-hatred flourishes in bad times. That is why I charge TV2 and Otto Jespersen now, to get some focus on this,” says Kurt Valner.
Marianne Røiseland, information director at TV2, will wait for the charges before she comments on them.
“But of course we wish not to engage in harassment against a group of people,” says Røiseland.
She thinks it is sad that someone takes Otto Jespersen’s satire as harassment.
“We in TV2 have got deep respect for the Jews and other peoples’ integrity and history,” she underlines.
Røiseland believes it is wrong to take the quote out of context.
“Otto mused over all the publicity the orphan giraffe in Kristiansand has gotten in the media recently, and then included other animals which should get publicity too.”
“Couldn’t the association between fleas and Jews build on the myth about the dirty Jew, which was so typical in the Nazi propaganda?“
“I think that is going too far. The satirical element and context is important to include,” says Røiseland.
Anne Sender, Chairwoman in the Mosaic Belief Society, disagrees with that.
“It is tasteless, and the association between dirt and the Jew is present — Two plus two makes four. If it wasn’t the Jew who was the point here, then Jespersen could have used other people instead of Jews,” says Sender.
She hasn’t seen the program on TV, but reacts when Dagsavisen reads the transcript for her: “I get a sick feeling in my stomach…”
Sender underlines that an upper limit on humor is important, and that satire can go right to the edge. But she calls Jespersen comments a blow below the belt.
“Television is a powerful medium. I can’t understand that Jespersen feels he needs to trample on other people. Anti-Semitism exists, and something like this can create more acceptance of it.”
“Would you in the Mosaic Belief Society do something about this?”
“We will begin an evaluation at the next management meeting next week. I understand fully why someone with a personal experience from a concentration camp reacts as Valner did.”
Dagsavisen was told by TV2 that Otto Jespersen do not want to comment on the case.