October 22, 2010
Norway and the JewsBy Abraham Cooper and Manfred Gerstenfeld
With the Jewish world focused on the looming nuclear threat from Iran, 60,000 Hezb'allah rockets menacing from southern Lebanon, and the dramatic shift of Turkey from an ally to an increasingly Islamist foe, one might think that Norway's attitudes toward the Jewish State and Judaic values might not be worthy of a second glance. After all, the entire organized Jewish population in Norway -- about seven hundred people -- could easily fit in Oslo's largest hotel.
In fact, Norway's international involvement in the NGO world, academia, and Christian churches often means that what is uttered there can impact all Jews.
So we are grateful that one leader, United States Senator Sam Brownback, who heads up the U.S. Congressional Caucus on Norway, was concerned enough about these trends and developments to launch a protest about the anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli hatemongering to Norway's Ambassador to the United States, Wegger Stromen. Brownback wrote that he was "contacted by human rights activists over increasing reports of anti-Semitism in Norway often linked to events in the Middle East ... these events are concerning particularly as they have sometimes involved prominent members of Norwegian society."
The senator then added that " ... continued unaddressed negative attacks and behaviors leads to further hate and anti-Semitism."
Brownback appended to his protest a list forwarded by the Simon Wiesenthal Center of a variety of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incidents, involving some of Norway's elite -- including King Harald V, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, Education Minister Kristin Halvorsen, and Deputy Environment Minister Ingrid Fiskaa. The last had said that she dreamed about the United Nations sending rockets against Israel. The letter also referred to a book by Eirik Eiglad about the largest anti-Semitic riots ever in the country, which took place in Oslo in 2009.
Generally speaking, international attention to Norway is minimal. Even neighboring Swedes and Danes who can read Norwegian usually take little interest in the country. Outsiders, therefore, might have expected that the Brownback letter -- which exposed part of the hypocrisy present in Norway's record on human rights -- would draw the attention of the national media outlets. Never happened. Brownback's initiative came out in the open due only to the Norwegian language blog, Document.no, which boasts over 35,000 daily readers. It learned of the letter from a small English language blog, Norway, Israel and the Jews.
The media's blackout of Brownback's protest comes despite the fact that in Norway, Israel draws far more media attention than much larger European countries do.
The Norway, Israel and the Jews blog contrasted the silence with the wide coverage about Israel in the leading Norwegian press, including a recent story about the IDF acquiring odorless socks. The blogger also pointed to an anti-Semitic hate cartoon in the leading paper of northern Norway, Adresseavisen, which shows Netanyahu preparing Auschwitz for Mahmoud Abbas.
Since then there have also been parliamentary questions by Oyvind Vaksdal of the large opposition Progress Party about the suspect silence surrounding the Brownback letter. Minister Støre's answer avoided all substantial issues, and almost all Norwegian media remained silent about the questions.
There has been increasing concern expressed about the safety of Jews in neighboring Sweden, especially in Malmö. But Norwegian Jews have their own substantial problems. Back in 1929, four years before Nazi Germany would institute the same law, the Norwegian parliament overwhelmingly voted to ban Jewish ritual slaughter. After the Shoah, Germany rescinded the ban, but not even the ignominy of the Quisling era could outweigh Norwegian's concern for animal rights. By the way, one can consult YouTube to see clips of Norway's legalized whale hunting, where the bleeding mammals suffer for tens of minutes.
A few months ago, a television exposé revealed the harassment of Jewish children in Norwegian schools. Except for one individual, the teachers asked to remain anonymous. The Minister of Education, extremely anti-Israel Kristen Halvorsen, leader of the Socialist Left Party, said that she knew nothing about the issue. This despite substantial information about such harassment having been provided by the Jewish community over the past eight years.
And if one is looking for the most heavily guarded building in Oslo, it's not the Parliament, but the Oslo Jewish community center, whose synagogue was shot at a couple of years ago.
It is not that Israel is without friends in Norway. Jay Nordlinger of the National Review, who visited Oslo, wrote about Siv Jensen, leader of the Progress Party: "In Jensen's office are a) a bust of Reagan and b) an Israeli flag. Ladies and gentlemen, I can't tell you how shocking this is in Norway. I just can't. The media would better respect a politician who had child porn."
Exaggeration? Perhaps, but not by much when it comes to Israel and Jewry. Can anyone conceive of the Israeli press remaining silent when one of its main supporters on Capitol Hill criticized Jerusalem?
In 2010, it's clear that distortions and discriminatory attitudes about the Jewish state and values are an integral part of Norway's dominant culture. We can only hope some leaders in Oslo will take Senator Brownback's criticisms to heart. Meanwhile, all Jews -- not just those in Norway -- owe Sam Brownback a debt of gratitude for calling out such unchallenged bigotry.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is Chairman of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The second edition of his book Behind the Humanitarian Mask: the Nordic Countries, Israel and the Jews can now be viewed and downloaded for free here.