This interview was originally published in INN, and republished here with the author’s consent.
ANTI-ISRAELISM AND ANTISEMITISM IN NORWAY
Interview with Bjarte Ystebo
“The rule of thumb in Norway is that the further to the political left parties and organizations stand, the more they are anti-Israel. From 1948 until the early 1970s, Norway’s Labour party was one of Israel’s best friends in the world. This has radically changed. Labour is now in line with the mainstream anti-Israel forces in Europe.”
Bjarte Ystebo is the editor of the Christian weekly Norge Idag. He is the founder of the Oslo Symposium and a frequent contributor to Norwegian media regarding Israel and antisemitism.
He observes: “Another worrisome trend is the growth of the green movement. It is like a watermelon: green on the outside – red on the inside. The Green Party did very well in the local elections in September 2019. That gave them political power in Norway’s two biggest cities, Oslo and Bergen.
“The Green party supports mainstream anti-Israel trends such as the BDS movement. In Oslo the municipality considers to accept BDS. In Bergen, this action is being stopped by blocking votes of the Christian Democratic party. The growth of the green movement is likely to shift power from the current center-right government to the left in the 2021 election.
“The very large trade union, LO, is also extremely anti-Israel. Their leftward shift on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has followed the Labour party. LO also supports BDS, citing their comrades in the Palestinian Labour trade union. Their policies are ideological and not interest-driven. Many of their members make their living from the Norwegian oil and gas industry. This industry has potentially great advantages for collaboration with Israel and Israeli companies.
“Norwegian friends of Israel consider the national broadcasting company, NRK, their number one frustration. It has been the leading narrator about the Middle East for decades. NRK has a long history of anti-Israel bias. The national broadcaster’s voice is supplemented by the other important Norwegian media: the commercial TV2 and the leading national journals, VG, Aftenposten and Dagbladet. For their normal reporting these newspapers mainly rely on international news agencies. VG, Norway’s largest-circulation newspaper, is perhaps the most nuanced in its opinion columns. Their political editor, Hanne Skartveit, is a voice of reason.
“The university leaders are also frequently biased against Israel. In 2011, several universities rejected the offer of free of charge lectures by Harvard professor, Alan Dershowitz. They felt he was too controversial. Academic boycott initiatives surface from time to time. In the technological disciplines Israel is often treated more fairly in academia. There is a growing partnership between the University of Stavanger – the town is Norway’s oil hub — and Israeli academics and industry.
“The Lutheran Church, known as the State church, was semi-separated from the state in 2012. Its leadership is leftleaning. It will involve itself in issues such as the environment, the redistribution of resources and immigration. These ideas frequently coincide with anti-Israelism in Norwegian society. The Church is no exception.
“Behind this anti-Israelism is Christian replacement theology. It has cost many Jewish lives through the ages. This theology says that when many of the Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah, God moved the promises given to Israel to the Church – the followers of Jesus Christ. Therefore, these Christian currents are less positive toward the Jewish people and the state of Israel. Evangelicals in Norway, the USA and other places in the world, generally view Israel and the Jews as God’s chosen people, and love and bless them.
“The antisemitism on the streets and in the schoolyard stems more from Muslims than from native Norwegians. Imams and other Muslim leaders do not address Israel or the Jews in public discourse. Many Muslims, however, are members of political parties, predominantly Labour. There they act in harmony with the party in political positions that are arguably antisemitic, including the romanticizing of the Palestinian liberation struggle.
“There is little right-wing antisemitism in Norway. The neo-Nazi groups are weak and the police have been effective in combatting these subcultures by stopping recruitment.”
Ystebo places current issues in the context of the country’s overall present reality saying: “Norway is a small vulnerable nation, both financially and militarily. The current international trade war and the uncertain geopolitical situation has caused the country to focus more on its own national interests.
“Much of the country’s income derives from oil and gas. High oil prices have historically been synonymous with a strong Norwegian currency. In the present economic climate, the markets seek refuge in the dollar. This defies the ordinary laws of the financial markets. Yet the weak Norwegian krone benefits our export industry.
“As a nation we opt for stability. Without NATO we have no defense. Since President Trump took office, we started to wonder about America’s commitment to the alliance. Thus, over the last three years Norwegian politicians have become more worried about our own security than about peace and goodwill around the world.”