Monday, 30 March 2009

Anti-Semitism in Norway

Ever since during the Israel-Lebanon conflict in 2006 the Norwegian novelist and intellectual Jostein Gaarder published an op-ed essay in the Norwegian daily newspaper Aftenposten in which he condemned certain aspects of Judaism and Israeli politics, and argued that the state of Israel should not be recognized in its present form, there has been a steady rise in anti-Semitic feeling throughout Norway. Although the currents of anti-Semitism were already present in Norwegian society, the publication of Gaarder's article seemed to have a profound effect on public opinion in the country, reinforcing old prejudices and stereotypes.

In his essay, translated here by a blogger, Gaarder wrote that

the state of Israel, with its unscrupulous art of war and its disgusting weapons, has massacred its own legitimacy. It has systematically flouted International Law, international conventions, and countless UN resolutions, and it can no longer expect protection from same. It has carpet bombed the recognition of the world. But fear not! The time of trouble shall soon be over. The state of Israel has seen its Soweto.

We are now at the watershed. There is no turning back. The state of Israel has raped the recognition of the world and shall have no peace until it lays down its arms.

And also:

We do not believe in the notion of God's chosen people. We laugh at this people's fancies and weep over its misdeeds. To act as God's chosen people is not only stupid and arrogant, but a crime against humanity. We call it racism.

Despite protestations that his statements were aimed at a state and not at a people, and that he did not want Israelis to suffer retribution, Gaarder provoked outrage in many parts of the world.

Today, the Jerusalem Post reports on a disturbing continuation of the increase in anti-Semitism in Norway -- a trend that was further aggravated by the Gaza conflict. In one comment, Dr Manfred Gerstenfeld, chairman of the Jerusalem Centre of Public Affairs, notes that

"the [Norwegian] elite, the academics, politicians and media consider themselves to be great moralists, with very little self-introspection. Their self-righteousness, arrogance, and inherited Lutheran prejudices against Jews has led to a huge amount of anti-Israel sentiment. Gaza caused these latent feelings in society to come to the fore."

Update:The Jerusalem Post has now removed Maya Spitzer's article from its website following a large number of protests, apparently from Norwegian-American readers. The author has stood by her report, and we are still linking to the article via Tundra Tabloids. We'll continue to watch developments.

For a further update, see also in this blog: Anti-Semitism in Norway - 2


Eric Dickens said...

There's a reply to Gaarder's article at:

The chap who replies, Dr Samuels, pulls no punches, though he does sign his open letter to Gaarder with "most respectfully".

Eric Dickens said...

In the mid-1980s, I, Eric, sat for a short while on a Swedish PEN committee examining the rhetorical and political use of language and discourse in the press. Names like Paul Chilton were bandied about. Members of the committee were authors Kristina Hasselgren and Hans Björkegren, professor of rhetoric Kurt Johannesson, and, very much the junior partner, me, Eric. I hated every minute of being minutes secretary, the price I had to pay for sitting on the committee, at all.

Nevertheless, when I read the Jostein Gaarder article that David drew our attention to, I wished we were still meeting. Because the rhetorical deviousness of the subtle shift in emphasis in the following sentences merits analysis:

"Vi anerkjenner ikke lengre staten Israel. Vi kunne ikke anerkjenne det sørafrikanse apartheidregimet, og vi anerkjente ikke det afghanske Taliban-regimet. Så var det mange som ikke anerkjente Saddam Husseins Irak, eller serbernes etniske rensing."

This use of rhetoric tars with the same brush a number of régimes, and throws in some ethnic cleansing for good measure. The odd one out is Israel, which is a legitimate state, recognised by the UN, not a régime, criminal or otherwise.

Why this author (aka the rhetorical "we") decided to lash out so viciously, implying the necessity not only of régime change in Israel, but implying that its very existence is illegitimate, is anyone's guess.

I'm quite shocked that an author, used to writing fiction for both adults and children, comes up with such a rabidly anti-Semitic rant. And gets it published in a major daily. So it serves him right that Schocken books dumped him as a translated author. He has been apologising ever since, if the Wikipedia is anything to go by. But his books no doubt still sell like hot cakes.

It doesn't become Norwegian literature to have such ranters in its midst.

David McDuff said...

Unfortunately, I think Manfred Gerstenfeld hits the nail on the head when he says, in relation to Norway:
"the elite, the academics, politicians and media consider themselves to be great moralists, with very little self-introspection. Their self-righteousness, arrogance, and inherited Lutheran prejudices against Jews has led to a huge amount of anti-Israel sentiment."

Eric Dickens said...

Not only in Norway are the élite, academics, and so on great moralists with nihil introspection. Here's another of my true Swedish PEN stories from the 1980s.

On one occasion, the PEN meeting was held in that holy of holies of world literature, the library of the Swedish Academy, where, no doubt, prospective Nobel prizewinners get read. The guest that evening was Armando Valladares (born 1937; see the Wikipedia article), who had spent a mere 22 years in Castro's gaols. He described how he was in a wheelchair part of the time, various disgusting scenes with excrement, and so on.

There was one self-righteous Swedish Communist present, an author whose name I cannot now remember, though he was fairly well-known at the time. But I do remember the gist of his argument very well. He spent half the evening trying to undermine Valladares' testimony.

Luckily, the PEN club could cope. But it amazed me that this armchair revolutionary could even raise his voice against someone who had spent so long in prisons run by a left-wing régime. If this had been the work of Pinochet or Galtieri, his reaction would have been very different.

This is the same difference between the two sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, again in the context of Scandinavian intellectuals and authors.

David McDuff said...

It's the Scandinavian Lutheran thing. That's really what's at the root of it.

Anonymous said...

It has nothing to do with Lutherans. Active churchgoers in Scandinavia overwhelmingly supports Israel. Its the strong socialist influence that penetrates the intellectual elite that is responsible for the hatred of Israel.