By Manfred Gerstenfeld
Last September my new book in English Behind the Humanitarian Mask: The Nordic Countries, Israel and the Jews was published. It provides many details how the Nordic countries’ moral pretenses and supposed concern for humanitarian rights often hide darker attitudes. This is particularly true regarding Norway and Sweden. I also listed some of the book’s key aspects on Norway in the Jerusalem Post last December. This article gave attention as well to new developments including the weak reactions of Norwegian civil society to the anti-Semitic remarks of the comedian Otto Jespersen.
The reactions to my previous 13 books, published in various languages and countries, usually focused on their content. In Norway however much of the discussion about my new book consists of attacks on statements never made, events which never took place and other fallacies. For instance Anne Sender, the head of the Jewish community of Oslo, claimed in Dagsavisen that I had come to Norway to meet selected people to confirm my prejudices. This visit exists only in her fantasy. Per Christiansen, the Middle East correspondent of Aftenposten quoted Sender’s invention without checking the facts.
Harald Maaland’s article also refers to some of Sender’s and Christiansen’s allegations and suggests incorrectly that I have written that Norway is the most hostile country to Israel in Europe. In view of this collection of mythology let me explain my position. One of my statements is that parts of Norway’s elites have pioneered hatred of Jews and Israel in recent decades. Another is that Norway must figure prominently in any post-war history of European anti-Semitism.
Some caricatures in mainstream Norwegian media over the last decades are interchangeable with those of Nazi papers. To make matters worse King Harald V personally presented the Royal Order of St. Olav to Finn Graff who had published a caricature showing Israeli Prime Minister Olmert as a Nazi. This cartoon is unmistakably anti-Semitic according to the definition used by the European Union. A 2006 article in Aftenposten by Jostein Gaarder will be prominent in any anthology of recent European anti-Semitic texts.
In 2002 the Norwegian Labor Union under Gerd-Liv Valla was among the first Western trade unions calling for a boycott of Israel. The decision in 2005 by the Sør Trøndelag region to boycott Israel was the first by such a body in Europe. Norway’s finance minister Kristin Halvorsen was the first Western government minister to call for a consumer boycott of Israel in January 2006.
In my book I also mentioned death threats to Norwegian Jewish leaders in the new century. I quoted Anne Sender about how intimidated Jews felt after the violent attacks against the cantor, the synagogue and the cemetery of the Oslo Jewish community during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Sender recently mentioned that after Jespersen’s hate statements Jewish children were again harassed in Norwegian schools
With respect to the campaign in Gaza: the Norwegian government’s position is hostile to Israel contrary to that of the great majority of the EU countries. If the government was truly concerned about humanitarian issues, it would have been the first to try to bring Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad before an international court in view of his multiple incitements to genocide. It should also have frequently condemned the genocidal calls against Jews in the Hamas charter and on its television.
On the basis of these and many more examples about Norway in my book I claim that the biased actions and positions of this government and part of the country’s elite concerning Jews and Israel are indicative of structural failures in Norwegian civil society.