JCPA seminar 19 November 2009
I asked myself what would have happened if I had to give a lecture on Norway, Switzerland and the Swiss in Norway. I looked in Google and I did not see any way to fill half an hour.
When speaking about Norway, Israel and the Jews, however, there is so much material that one wonders where to start. Israel is far away from Norway. It has as many inhabitants as Switzerland, on which you find very little in the Norwegian papers. On the other hand part of the Norwegian elite, which falsely calls itself progressive, is obsessed with another small country, Israel. This includes the leftwing government, many media, NGOs and part of the academic world. There are at most 1 300 Jews in Norway, of which 700 are organized in two communities, Oslo and Trondheim. They also are subject to the obsessive attention of the Norwegian elite.
A Short Quiz
The subject if today is complex and difficult to handle in a short time span. So, let’s try to get into the mood quickly with a little quiz.
First question: What is the name of the only country in Europe where, during the restitution negotiations at the end of the previous century, government officials threatened a Jewish member of the Government commission of inquiry and tapped her phone. Who was the person threatened? (Norway, Berit Reisel)
Second question: What is the name of the king who granted the St. Olav
Order to an artist who had drawn Israeli Prime Minister Olmert as a Nazi and who was the artist? (King Harald V of Norway to Finn Graf slide1) This is not the only act of strange behavior by the royal family. Crown Prince Haakon was present at a discussion where the Muslim anti-Semite Mohammed Ali Chisthi explained why he dislikes Jews. (slide 2)
Third question: Who was the member of the Nobel Peace Prize committee who, in 2002, wanted to take back the Nobel Prize for Peace, if possible, from Shimon Peres, and what was her background? (Hanna Kvanmo of the Socialist Left Party – she was condemned to a jail sentence after the Second World War as a collaborator of Nazi Germany because she had served as a nurse with the German troops on the Eastern front.)
Fourth question: Who was the only minister of a European government who marched in an anti-Israeli demonstration in January this year? (Kristen Halvorsen, leader of the Socialist Left Party. At the time she was minister of finance. During that demonstration there were shouts of “Death to the Jews.”) (Slide 3 shows Halvorsen next to a sign which states “USA and Israel, the greatest axis of evil”)
Fifth and last question: What is the name of the first rector of a European state university to use university money to finance a series of anti-Israeli propaganda lectures and what is the name of that university? (Torbjorn Digernes of NTNU Trondheim)
Trade Union and Media
I could have spent the entire time on this presentation with similar questions. The Norwegian trade union LO was among the first trade unions to call for a boycott of Israel in 2002. The then leader Gerd-Liv Valla later had to resign because of her misbehavior on other matters. In 2009 the current leader of that trade union Roar Flathens attacked only one country in his 1 May speech this year – of course it was Israel.
Some data show that the Norwegian media give more attention to Israel than to the neighboring Russia, a country which may cause Norway somewhat more problems than Israel. Furthermore it also seems that the Norwegian media give more attention to the Israeli army than to their own troops in Afghanistan.
Former Israeli minister Michael Melchior who still is officially Norway’s chief rabbi is always very careful in not attacking Norway. In 2002 in an interview for my book Europe’s Crumbling Myths he however said to me “In most Norwegian media, there is no true reflection of the problems and dilemmas of the nations in the Middle East. They have lost every sense of proportion, of democracy and of basic moral values.”
A little background story: The publisher of my forthcoming book in Norwegian – Anti-Semitism in Norway: Behind the Humanitarian Mask – came here for the recent Feast of Tabernacles. I had finished writing the book some time in June, as it was unlikely that anything would happen during the summer holidays, and it was ready to be published. At the beginning of October the publisher said to me: “I want to delay the book by a few weeks, because there were so many anti-Israeli issues in September that I want you to update the book.” I did what he wanted; it took over 2 500 words to cover anti-Israeli acts in Norway over a period of perhaps five weeks. With what has happened in the past few weeks the book is now again already not fully up to date.
What is behind this obsession with Israel and the Jews by a Norwegian elite which falsely calls itself progressive? Why are so many pioneering anti-Israeli, and also anti-Semitic, acts coming out of this country? I have tried to do a similar exercise for a country which I know much better than Norway – the Netherlands, where I grew up. With great difficulty I found two examples there of pioneering anti-Israeli acts in the last decade.
Before I answer this question I want to make it clear that all the anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic incitement comes from two small groups. One occupies strategic positions in Norwegian society. This left wing elite, obsessed with Israel, controls the government, is enormously over-represented in the media and has a strong representation in the trade union and in the NGOs as well as in academia. The other group consists of some Muslim immigrants.
Not all is black. There is even a small group of very devoted friends of Israel. Earlier this year 3,500 Christians from all over Norway marched in Stavanger in favor of freeing Gilad Schalit. Another example: Trondheim and Petach Tikva are twinned cities and the Petach Pikva football team was very cordially received in Trondheim earlier this year, with the trip being subsidized by the municipality of Trondheim.
Most ordinary Norwegians of course have problems other than those of the Middle East. But they are influenced by the anti-Israeli inciters in the media. However, it is only if the media remain largely silent about the enormous criminality in the Muslim world that you can present Israel in an evil way. Imagine that the Norwegian state television would say regularly, dear viewers just stop eating your meatballs for a few minutes, we are going to show you a beating of a woman, the cutting off of the hand of a thief in Saudi Arabia, or a nice beheading in Yemen.
On other evenings they would tell them to stop eating the meatballs while they are shown the victims of a suicide bombing or mass killing in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan committed by Muslims against other Muslims. And finally they should stop eating for a moment because a new chapter of genocide by Muslims of other Muslims in Sudan is being shown. If this truth were shown in Norway hell would break out.
Why is there no Challenge?
The anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli acts have now been going on for many years. Why have they gone largely unnoticed and unchallenged? One major reason is that very little is written by foreigners about Norway. It is a country which is of little interest to the world. It is mentioned mainly in tourist papers or in business news because of its major oil and gas production. It also gets some attention once a year when the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded, in particular when the Nobel committee makes such an absurd decision as it did this year by awarding the prize to Barack Obama.
To put it in some perspective, I would say that there are today more foreign journalists in Israel than there have been in Norway during the thousand years which have elapsed since the Vikings terrorized Europe. The absence of foreign interest combined with a language which few people speak allows for a situation where the anti-Israel hate promotion of the elite is largely unchallenged. It also allows to leave the vague Norwegian myth of the country having a humanitarian policy intact.
Another reason for this situation is that Communism crumbled by itself. It didn’t have to be defeated in a bloody war. This meant that left wing ideas were not disqualified in the same way as those of the Nazis and the fascists. Hard core left wing ideologists and people influenced by their ideas remained in important positions in many European countries.
The Norwegian government is also deadly afraid to offend Muslims. It behaved as real cowards during the Danish cartoon crisis. It tries to please Muslim countries with its criticism of Israel.
All these aspects together provide part of the explanation for the obsession of Norway’s arrogant progressive elite with Israel. The Soviet Union was a master of anti-Israeli hate propaganda, and those influenced by it today continue it. Those who write in the Norwegian media are far more left wing than the general Norwegian population.
For instance, a recent study showed that among youngsters studying journalism, 10% support the extreme left Red Electoral Alliance, which didn’t get enough votes in the September 2009 parliamentary elections to obtain even one seat in Parliament. Another study showed that the great majority of journalists vote for the government parties or even more to the left.
As Professor Frank Aarebrot pointed out,a poll in 2005 showed that the close to 70 percent of the journalists supported the three left wing parties: Labor, the left Socialists and the Red Electoral Alliance. The largest opposition party, the Progress Party on the right, had the support of 26% of the population in the elections and only of 2% of the Norwegian journalists.
In my book Behind the Humanitarian Mask: The Nordic Countries, Israel and the Jews, there is an article by Odd Sverre Hove, the editor of the small Norwegian Christian daily Dagen, who analyzes how the state TV station NRK systematically manipulated the news from Israel in the first days of the second intifada in 2000.
There are only two TV stations in Norway: the state NRK and the commercial station TV2. The latter has hosted the infamous comedian Jespersen who said that he commiserated with the lice and fleas who made the bad choice of going onto the bodies of Jews in concentration camps. Worse still is that these remarks were considered acceptable by the director of the TV2 station.
That same station TV2 paid for the Holocaust denier David Irving to come to Norway this year and had him interviewed for more than a quarter of an hour by one of its journalists who showed hardly any knowledge of the Holocaust.
I can tell you from my own experience that the TV2 people are major falsifiers of what a person says and the National Telegraph Bureau, which is the main provider of foreign news to the 300 Norwegian papers, is hardly any better. The situation is one of a mixture of manipulation and a widespread very low level of journalistic professionalism in Norway.
No Level Playing Field
Let me make this clear. Norway is a democratic country – it is not the Soviet Union under Communist rule. It is not that the ruling parties rigidly promote only anti-Israel hate. But once you promote hatred this overshadows everything else you do. There is no state sponsored anti-Semitism in Norway. The government however supports a reality which is conducive to anti-Semitism. This means that in Norway there is no real possibility for a battle of ideas. For that you need a level playing field, and that level playing field does not exist in Norway.
The reasons why there is no level playing field in Norway are many: Thete is this hard core extreme left elite, others are socialists who have a tendency to show solidarity with the weak. This includes whitewashing those weak people who are extreme criminals, such as genocidal Muslims. Added to this is the fact that there are no checks and balances resulting from foreign newspapers reporting on the Norwegian realities. That is also why there is so little selfcriticism in the country.
The situation is complicated by other factors. First is that with the immigration of a large number of Muslims into Norway, a number of extreme criminal anti-Semites have entered the country. This became evident in the riots during the Gaza campaign which, according to the police, were the most severe Oslo had seen in decades. Shops were burned on Oslo’s main street. Today the extreme anti-Semitic Muslims in Norway probably outnumber the 700 members of the Jewish community. (Slide 4)
Furthermore, there is a long tradition of anti-Semitism in the country. It is not true that what one sees in Norway is pure anti-Israelism, which has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. Minister Halvorsen however did not leave the anti-Israel demonstration when there were shouts of “Death to the Jews.”
Another Obsession: No anti-Semitism
Besides the obsession with Israel, there is another obsession in Norway which concerns the Jewish people. That is the obsessive way in which one is told by many Norwegians that there is no anti-Semitism in Norway.
Because of that lack of anti-Semitism two of the three Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated in the last five years, the synagogue has been shot at in 2006, the cantor has been attacked on Oslo’s main street. Jewish children in schools have been harassed. Some Jews have received death threats. The community, the school and the old age home need heavy security. All these signs of lack of anti-Semitism show that Norwegian Jews are in a position which is typical of all other Norwegians.
There is nothing many Norwegians are more sensitive to than being reminded of Quisling, the war-time Norwegian prime minister whose name has become the expression of the archetype of a traitor in English and many other languages. It was not the German occupiers who arrested the Jews, but the Norwegian collaborators. They handed the Jews over to the Germans, to be sent to their death.
We are always told that Quisling had only limited support in the country. This is true as far as the elections are concerned, but the number of anti-Semites was far larger. A great majority of parliamentarians had voted to prohibit Jewish ritual slaughter already in 1929. In Germany this happened only when the Nazis came to power in 1933. A false claim is that the Norwegian prohibition derived from their concern for animals. If so, they should have long ago prohibited hunting and the killing of whales, which until today is still allowed in Norway.
Oil and Gas
Norway was an insignificant country until large quantities of oil and gas were found there. Prior to that, fishing and farming were its main activities. Today you might say that the country specializes in fish, oil and gas; one of my acquaintances has said that, to this, you have to add boredom.
The wealth gained from oil and gas has enabled the Norwegian government to build a new mythology. Norway may be small in population, but it is great in charitable, humanitarian aid. This is what I call Norway’s “humanitarian mask.” As Gerald Steinberg and Yael Beck show in an article in my upcoming book in Norwegian, under the heading “humanitarian aid” Norway provides substantial funds to Palestinian and other NGOs which incite against Israel.
The same wealth also gives the Norwegian government the feeling that it can criticize Israel, while at the same time being silent or soft on the endless crimes in the Arab world. To a certain extent, such an attitude contradicts one of the basic characteristics which Norway claims for itself: the so-called Jante Law. This law says that you should not think that you are better than someone else. The Norwegian government however thinks that it is better than Israel and can thus teach Israel some lessons. You might put it this way: to a certain extent, part of all that gas has gone to their heads.
Should Norway teach Israel lessons? The former commander of the Norwegian army General Robert Mood, is now based in Jerusalem, as part of a United Nations mission. In 2008, he said that the Norwegian army’s current capability is that it cannot defend the country, but it could defend one neighborhood in Oslo. I also read in Aftenposten that the Norwegians are only now investigating major war crimes by Norwegians in a prisoner camp during the Second World War,
The Jewish Community
Before I come to the most recent events, a few words about the Jewish community: In a country where you have two or three Jews at most among every 10,000 citizens, they of course play no role. But, the Jews in Norway play symbolic roles. When there are accusations of anti-Semitism, the Jewish community is supposed to say that it isn’t so bad.
In this way they have the symbolic role of whitewashers of the country’s misbehavior. In my recent essay, which is available here, I quote a number of examples of Norwegian Jews who, on various occasions, have said that the situation isn’t so great as far as anti-Semitism is concerned. And even the head of the Oslo Jewish community, a significant whitewasher has said on various occasions that the situation is problematic. This is the essence of the Diaspora existence in such a country. As one lives as a Jew in Norway and make his living there, one must promote the image of the country even if that means twisting the truth.
Let me now conclude with short observations of the two most recent discriminatory events: The first one is the Elbit story. Out of so called ethical considerations, the large Norwegian pension fund disinvested from Elbit. The same pension fund however has no ethical problems with investing in companies which mine phosphate in the disputed Western Sahara. The local population there sees this as robbing their natural resources.
The Norwegian state-controlled Statoil Company is trying to get into Turkmenistan, one of the least democratic countries in the world. Statoil also is invested in a project of oil from oil sand in Alberta in Canada where it will destroy a forest the size of England. Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre says that the decision to divest from Elbit had nothing to do with the Norwegian government but is the decision of a private fund.
I always have the feeling that the difference between some Norwegian politicians and politicians- in other countries is that, when these Norwegians twist the truth, they do it more transparently. If it were a private pension fund, why was the decision announced by Minister Halvorsen?
The NTNU Affair
The other recent major discriminatory issue is the NTNU affair. The NTNU university in Trondheim already had an anti-Israel record. Its student union, of which membership is obligatory, boycotted Israel for almost a year in 2004. In May this year a number of professors from NTNU and the local Trondheim college Hist, asked the boards of the two institutions to boycott Israel. Apparently, the board of the college shortly afterwards voted against this.
In September a series of seminars on the Middle East, to be given over a few months, was announced. All six lecturers are anti-Israelis. Tomorrow night Ilan Pappe speaks there. The key organizers are all people who had signed the resolution to boycott Israel. Despite all this, the rector Torbjørn Digernes supported and financed a large part of the series. It was another pioneering act of anti-Israelism in Norway.
The NTNU affair requires a detailed case study and a detailed seminar on another occasion, so let me just summarize it briefly:
Entirely by chance someone discovered a few weeks before the board meeting on 12 November that the academic boycott of Israel was on its agenda. One NTNU professor, Bjørn Alsberg, prepared a petition to the board against the boycott. It would ultimately be signed by 103 NTNU professors, far more than those who had signed the pro-boycott petition. On the basis of Alsberg’s petition, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East prepared a petition against the boycott, which was signed by 3,500 academics all over the world, among whom were 13 Nobel Prize winners including the only two living Norwegian prize winners.
Other Jewish organizations, including ADL, AJCommittee, the Wiesenthal Center, CAMERA, World Jewish Congress, Academic Friends of Israel in the UK and many others, were very helpful. The boycott was also condemned by the Association of American University Professors, the Russell Group of the leading 20 UK universities, etc.
After all the bad international publicity finally the minister of higher education, Torah Aasland an extreme leftist herself, said that the board had no legal authority to support such an issue. Suddenly a few days before the vote, NTNU Rector Digernes who had partly financed the propaganda seminars organized by people who promote the boycott came to the conclusion that he had always been against the boycott. In the end the entire board was against the boycott.
Prof. Alsberg told me that the media present at the NTNU Board meeting were afterwards mainly interested in talking to the people who had supported the boycott. In a country where the battlefield for the battle of ideas is level, they would have been more interested in interviewing the winners, rather than the losers.
In this short introduction I could not cover all the incidents of the last year. These included Foreign Minister Støre maintaining the Holocaust memory abuser Trine Lilleng as a diplomat in Riyadh; the visit of Queen Sophia to a Muslim institution in Oslo, whose imam supports suicide bombings; and Norwegian government investment of $30 million in memory of the author Knut Hamsun, who dedicated his Nobel Prize for Literature to Goebbels and remained an admirer of Hitler till the end of the war.
The present Norwegian government was recently elected for four years. We can thus expect again many anti-Semitic and anti-Israelis incidents in Norway in the coming years. My conclusion is that we will have to gradually show the Norwegian Israel-haters and anti-Semites that there are no free anti-Semitic lunches. Thank you for your attention.
 Jonathan Tisdall, “Media want new Government,” Aftenposten, 15 August 2005.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is an internationally renowned environmental expert and business consultant and has extensive background in Jewish public affairs.
He was born in Vienna, grew up in Amsterdam and moved to Israel with his family in 1968 from Paris. He is a chemist and economist by training, holds a Ph.D. in environmental studies and has a teacher training degree in Judaism from the Dutch Jewish Seminary.
In the past thirty-five years he has been an international consultant specializing in business strategy. He has worked in twenty countries and his clients have included the boards of several of the world’s largest multinational companies as well as governments. Dr Gerstenfeld was a Board Member of the Israel Corporation, one of Israel’s largest investment companies, and several other Israeli public companies.
He is chairman of the Steering Committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), is Co-Publisher of the Jerusalem Letter/Viewpoints and Co-Publisher of Jewish Environmental Perspectives.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is a leading expert on Judaism and the environment. He lectures and publishes extensively on the subject, internationally and in Israel.
By the beginning of 2008, he had published 12 books in five languages, among which the best-selling Rivalutare l’Italia (jointly with Lorenzo Necci).