Israelis and Norwegians Clash Over Holocaust, Anti-Semitism

July 12, 2012 12:56 pm 10 comments

A view of Oslo, Norway, following the July 2011 car bombing that killed eight. Another attack the same day in Norway killed 69. Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung publicly blamed the Israeli Mossad for the massacre, which was committed by right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik. Photo: N.Andersen.

JERUSALEM—A new study of anti-Semitic attitudes in Norway has triggered a lively debate over the degree of hostility toward Jews and Israel in that Scandinavian country. The controversy has left some Israelis wondering if Norway has joined the growing list of European countries that seem to be turning against the Jewish state.

The study was published in May by the Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities, which is associated with the University of Oslo. Between 11 and 13 percent of Norwegians questioned in the survey expressed strong anti-Semitic sentiments.

According to Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld, former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, the most significant finding of the study was that 38 percent of Norwegians believe Israeli policy toward the Palestinians is similar to Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews.

Gerstenfeld notes that the European Union’s criteria for defining anti-Semitism includes “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” Hence, if 38 percent of Norwegians hold this view, “one can conclude that the number of Norwegian anti-Semites is close to 1.5 million,” Gerstenfeld recently wrote for Ynet.

Gerstenfeld is the author of a 2008 book, Behind the Humanitarian Mask: The Nordic Countries, Israel and the Jews, which argues that anti-Semitism and anti-Israel hostility are more widespread in Scandinavia than is generally recognized.

Honoring a Nazi sympathizer

Current tensions over Norwegian attitudes toward the Holocaust first emerged three years ago, when the Norwegian government launched a yearlong celebration of the life and work of a Nobel Prize-winning novelist who supported the Nazis. The author, Knut Hamsun, shocked his countrymen during the war by welcoming the 1940 Nazi occupation of Norway, meeting personally with Adolf Hitler and Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, and sending his Nobel Prize to Goebbels as a gift. The Norwegian government also provided $20 million to underwrite the celebrations and build a museum to honor Hamsun.

Ironically, the only other Norwegian to win a Nobel Prize, novelist Sigrid Undset, was the complete opposite of Hamsun: During World War II, she was a co-chair of the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe, better known as the Bergson Group, a political action committee in the United States which lobbied for rescue of Jews from the Nazis. The Norwegian authorities have shown no interest in honoring Ms. Undset.

As hostile incidents multiplied in 2009-2010—including harassment of Jewish school children in Norway and harsh verbal attacks on Israel by prominent Norwegians—then-U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, chairman of the Norwegian Caucus in Congress, spoke up. In a letter to the Norwegian ambassador in Washington in August 2010, Brownback warned that “continued unaddressed negative attacks and behaviors [by prominent Norwegians hostile to Israel] lends to further hate and anti-Semitism.”

Matters escalated early last year, when attorney and pro-Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz visited Israel under the auspices of local pro-Israel activists. Although prominent critics of Israel such as post-Zionist author Ilan Pappe and Stephen Walt, coauthor of The Israel Lobby, have been invited to speak at Norwegian universities, Dershowitz received different treatment. Bergen University asked him to speak about his role in the O.J. Simpson case, “as long as I was willing to promise not to mention Israel,” Dershowitz later revealed. “Jewish pro-Israel speakers are subject to a de facto boycott” by Norwegian universities, Dershowitz charged.

A climate of hatred?

In a subsequent op-ed, Caroline Glick, deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post, wrote that an “intellectual and political climate of hatred towards Israel and Jews pervades Norwegian society.” She charged that this climate “has been a mainstay of Norwegian society” since 1929, when Norway outlawed the kosher slaughtering of livestock. Norway’s deputy foreign minister, Espen Barth Eide, responded with an op-ed in the Post calling Glick’s criticism “incorrect and disappointing.”

In an interview with JNS.org, Gerstenfeld said that Eide’s position was “long on generalities and short on substance, failing to respond specifically to the evidence of Norway’s tilt against Israel.”

Gerstenfeld noted that Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung, known as the “father of peace studies,” added fuel to the fire earlier this year when he publicly blamed the Mossad for the massacre of Norwegian schoolchildren by right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik. Galtung also urged the Norwegian public to read The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the notorious 19th-century Czarist anti-Semitic forgery.

“The continual slanders of Israel make Deputy Foreign Minister Eide’s denial of the pervasiveness of anti-Semitism seem hollow,” Gerstenfeld said.

Gerstenfeld’s writings concerning attitudes in Norway recently set off a new round of fireworks. A Norwegian Jewish leader, Erwin Kohn, writing in the Oslo newspaper Dagen last year, accused Gerstenfeld of calling Norway “the most anti-Semitic country in Europe,” a characterization that Kohn strongly denied.

However, that phrase actually was used not by Gerstenfeld, but by Norwegian author and historian Hanne Nabintu Herland, in an interview with Gerstenfeld for Israel National News earlier this year. Herland charged that the Norwegian government “is promoting an extreme one-sided and negative stance toward Israel” and is “creating a politically-correct hatred of Israel among people in the country.”

Gerstenfeld has challenged Erwin Kohn to a public debate. Kohn has not yet responded.

Meanwhile, Kristina Furnes, a Norwegian graduate student in Israel, attacked Gerstenfeld in an op-ed on Ynet. She wrote that Gerstenfeld and his peers “paint a false and exaggerated picture in their promotion of Norway as a major purveyor of anti-Semitism.” Furnes called Gerstenfeld an “extremist” who has “hijacked the debate about Scandinavian anti-Semitism.”

The former editor of Dagen, Odd Sverre Hove, responded with an essay charging Furnes with “trivializing” evidence of Norwegian anti-Semitism. He wrote that his own analysis of attitudes in Norway led him to conclusions similar to those of Gerstenfeld.

Gerstenfeld, for his part, seems unfazed by his critics and believes the recent debates have had a long-overdue impact on Norway’s leaders. “The Norwegian government no longer says that there is no anti-Semitism, but has moved to a position that Norway isn’t worse than other countries,” he notes. “That’s progress. They have a long way to go in facing the truth, but at least they are starting to move in the right direction, even if very slowly and grudgingly.”

Dr. Rafael Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington, D.C.

10 Comments

  • In these debates there is a tendency to see everything as black and white- Islamists are bad, Jews are abused, Israelis are oppressors, Muslims are terrorists. Let’s insert some shades of coloring. Yes, some Israelis I’m sure are oppressors. Some Palestinians and Muslims are terrorists. Some Jews are oppressed and harassed and yes some Palestinians are oppressed and harassed.

    A tempered dialogue let’s us take a position on a specific issue. It allows us to find solutions. We must always leave the doors open for dialogue and seeing things in black and white closes that door. Will we tolerate people who seek to deny the rights and legitimacy of others? Will we support those who seek to impose their world view on others? Will we stifle the right of people to state opinions freely? We live in dangerous times when increasingly the answer to these questions has become ‘Yes’. That is what I fear. We can’t let this be Jew vs. Muslim vs. Christian vs. Hindi or white vs. black vs. yellow. See it’s really about individual freedom AND responsibility and protection of human rights regardless of color, religion, ethnicity etc. We are not first off Jews or Norwegians or Muslims. We are first people and until we see that FIRST in each other we will live in dangerous times.

  • can’t one criticize Israel with out being labeled anti semitic?

    • Is criticism of Israel anti semitic? No, but blind criticism of Israel and the Zionist dream of a homeland for the Jewish people is. As the foremost leader of human rights, Martin Luther King said” If you’re anti Zionisy, yo’re anti semitic my friend

  • I console my self with one thought and that is that when the last Jew has left Norway (as appears to be inevitable) the Norwegians will be left with the people they have chosen to replce their Jews – hundreds of thousands of Muslims who are already making thier presence felt with a massive increase in the incidents of rape and other crimes. Good luck Norway! I hope you rot in the damnation of your own making. It is only then that you will repent for the treatment of your Jews.

  • ”I know what I get when listening to Norwegian broadcasting corporation (NRK)”, a friend of mine said, ”as NRK’s newscover concerning the Mid-East is most reliable.”
    ”Well, you are utterly correct”, I said ironically, ”since there hardly exists any channel in Norway that could possibly be more biased and one-eyed in disfavor of Israel.”
    The average Norwegian believes that NRK is unbiased, and the left-radicals both in goverment and as newspaper editors know that very well indeed. As an example, no papers apart from one have bothered to mention that PLO/PA spokesman Hanan Ashrawi is invited (July 29th) to speak at Stiklestad National Culture Center, Norway’s memorial site for the Battle of Stiklestad where St.Olav (King Olav Haraldsson) died on 29th July 1030, and where Christianity as a consequence was introduced to the country. The editors in media do not at all want any uprising discussions what so ever, as to how PLO could even be close to any connection with Norwegian midieval history, not to mention why PLO should be invited to the site in the first place.
    Fortunately, what the editors do not control is the free digital world like Facebook where people can attend discussions and breathe the fresh air, so thank G-d for that! What I particularly have in mind, is the FB-group ”Nei til Multikulturelt senter på Stiklestad” which strongly opposes a transition from what the center was meant to be – an to a Multicultural center which would imply a quite different concept and derail the focus as to what the real story is all about. This is about national pride and identity, and about the judeo-christian heritage versus marxistic revisionism.
    Not one single israeli citzen, neither Jew nor Arab, has been invited to Stiklestad. Presumably that would be an appropriate balancing precaution for a nation which is, according PM Jens Stoltenberg – ”open and democratic”. And yes, the Norwegian authorities did in fact celebrate the nazi-friendly Knut Hamsun with our tax money, the nazi-opponent Sigrid Undset was not. But the attitude has aparantly not changed, at Stiklestad that is.
    However, you all have the opportunity to make a difference – and click in on the above mentioned FB group where you are welcome to take part in our discussions. The basic language is of course Norwegian, but no worries: English is used increasingly. Norwegian parliament politicians and editors do also keep a close eye on what is going on here, i.e. not everyone would admit that;
    None the less, it would do no harm for the average Norwegian to be presented a second point of view from abroad.

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/Stiklestadaksjonen/

  • Dear Dr. Rafael M.

    Let’s forgive the Norwegian society; I guess is right to forgive a person that doesn’t know the difference betwin good and knowledge. As Plato use to say, I thank god! For been born Greek and not a barbarian. Plato’s words have a message that helped me to face the difficulties I had in Norway as a Jew. I was mentally attacked by Nazi and racist Norwegian public and politician people from 1997 until to day as an art school owner and builder in Oslo city. I left Norway in 2007 to China which I enjoy living a life with mental and physically freedom, a wonderful life that only China can offer to man! We do know from personal facts, that in the past some interesting western philosophers witch visited China has the same opinion concerning mans mind freedom! Concerning my horrifying life history in Norway that almost manage to break my mind and body will be send to you as soon as you show me your interest. For the moment I’m painting pictures in China concerning my life in Norway from 1978 until 2007. I do need a lawyer to protect my income, my dignity, my mind! When mans mind and dignity have been attacked, man should fight back under the law and with his cultural genuine tool. In my case is painting.

    Sincerely

    Emil Fedida

    I do have support from few persons in Norway, including Hanne Nabintu Herland and a philosopher Dr. Lars Fr. H. Svendsen

  • Norway has seen a massive influx of Muslims in the decades since the first Pakistanis began work immigration in the early 70s. Accompanying this increased influence from Islam we (I’m a Norwegian, living in Oslo) have seen a marked policy of appeasement and lenience towards attacks from Islamists against Western values. This trend is amplified by the self-hatred of the political left which in knee-jerk fashion attacks all voices that attempt to problematize this trend by labeling such utterances as racism. Following from this Norway has not seen a public discourse addressing the issues of this article, relegating such discussions to forums where no politically correct social commentators will tread.

    On May 21 this year the Norwegian parliament, Stortinget, repealed the constitutional link between the state and Lutheran Christianity which had stood since the constitution was written in 1814.

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