The Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, central Norway.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Trondheim City Council has approved a boycott of all Israeli goods and services produced in settlements in what it calls the “occupied Palestinian areas.” No other states are subject to any boycott by Trondheim, Norway’s third largest city. Such double standards are antisemitic according to the definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Norway was one of the 31 IHRA member countries which approved the definition in May 2016.
Many centuries of classic antisemitic incitement in Europe have led to a reality in which Jew-hatred has become part of various nations’ cultures. Anti-Israelism has a much shorter history. In past decades there have been several significant manifestations of Israel hate in Trondheim. By now it may be on its way to becoming endemic.
An historical record of anti-Israel actions in the past 10-plus years illustrates this. At the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim all students have to belong to a student organization, Studentsamskipaden i Trondheim (SIT). This body takes care of their welfare. Students at the university are obliged to pay a semester fee so as to be allowed to take exams, which includes a payment to SIT. In April 2005, SIT decided to boycott Israel. In February 2006, SIT canceled the boycott because it did not fit its ethical guidelines, which necessitate allowing students to make their own decisions.
At the end of 2005, the region of Sør-Trøndelag, which includes Trondheim, decided to boycott Israel. The Norwegian government then informed them that this was illegal according to international law, Norwegian law and the EU and WTO agreements. Thereupon the region decided to abandon its plan. Sør-Trøndelag was one of the first public entities in Europe to decide on such a boycott. Although the region hardly buys anything from Israel, the boycott call was seen as an important step in shaping consumer attitudes.
In the spring of 2009 there was a call to boycott Israel by a group of lecturers at NTNU as well as at a local college.
The university’s rector, Torbjørn Digernes, financed a series of six lectures by anti-Israelis about the Middle East. The foreign lecturers included Israeli extremists Ilan Pappe and Moshe Zuckerman, and the American scholar Stephen Walt. Three other lectures were given by Norwegian anti-Israelis. The main organizers of the series had all signed the call for an academic boycott of Israel.
There were many condemnations of NTNU. At the university itself, a professor of chemistry organized an action against the boycott. International Jewish organizations came out against NTNU. The Anti-Defamation League wrote to the EU asking the universities boycotting Israel to be excluded from its Erasmus student exchange program.
The American Jewish Committee mobilized the Association of American Professors to condemn NTNU. The main actor became Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, which supported the request of the anti-boycotters at Trondheim. Ultimately, more than 3,000 university lecturers signed a petition saying that if Israel were boycotted they would not deal with NTNU. Among them were 17 Nobel laureates, including the only two living Norwegian ones.
Perhaps the most aggressive attack on the boycott came from a much smaller source. The internationally read Tundra Tabloids blog decided that the attitude of the NTNU rector should be responded to in kind. It published several pictures of an NTNU building with the slogan “Campus of Hate” superimposed on it. The blog also ridiculed Digernes. It printed a photo montage of him together with then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, French far-right leader Jean-Marie le Pen and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, with a caption saying that they would also be invited to teach at NTNU.
Finally the NTNU boycott proposal was also condemned by the Norwegian minister of higher education.
Thereafter NTNU’s board unanimously rejected the boycott proposal.
Another call for boycott of Israel came from the then Lutheran bishop of Trondheim, Tor Jørgensen. One must keep in mind that Martin Luther recommended burning synagogues in honor of God and Christianity; the hatred of Jews Luther instilled in many of his followers helped lay the infrastructure for the Holocaust.
In 2011 the weekly Morgenbladet carried a story by a Norwegian NTNU student. When a lady sitting next to him in a Trondheim coffee shop heard he was Israeli on his mother’s side, she told him that Israel and its people represented everything that is wrong with this world, and that she was pro-Hamas. After a heated discussion she struck him in the face.
Admittedly, the problems of Norway’s classic antisemitism and Israel hate are not limited to Trondheim. When Jewish community members were asked about the level of antisemitism in Norway half of the respondents said that they had personally experienced antisemitism.
The current Norwegian center-right government tries to paper over the institutional hatred of Israel in Norway.
In 2012, however, in a study carried out by the Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities in Norway, a sample group of people were asked, “Is what Israel does to the Palestinians identical to what the Nazis did to the Jews?” Thirty-eight percent of the adult Norwegians interviewed gave an affirmative answer.
If, in the 2017 parliamentary elections, the left-wing parties win, these problems will only get worse. The government will then be headed by Labor leader Jonas Gahr Stoere, a frequent anti-Israel inciter. He has even written a back-cover recommendation for a book of two Norwegian Hamas supporters who claimed that Israel entered the Gaza strip to kill women and children. A Labor government may make Trondheim’s Israel haters even bolder.The writer is the author of Behind the Humanitarian Mask: The Nordic Countries, Israel and the Jews. He was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, and the International Leadership Award by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.