'I would like to take the opportunity to remember all the billions of fleas and lice that lost their lives in German gas chambers, without having done anything wrong other than settling on persons of Jewish background."
This is what Norwegian comedian Otto Jespersen said on Thursday 27 November on the country's largest commercial TV station. Much worse, however, is that the director of the station defended this expression of "satire."
A week later Jespersen, in his weekly TV appearance, gave a "satiric" monologue of mixed anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli remarks. He concluded by wishing the Jews a happy Christmas. But then as an afterthought, he said this was not proper as the Jews had murdered Jesus. Two years ago the same comedian burned pages from the Tanach in front of a TV camera, but this was no reason to terminate his employment. Jespersen explained that he wouldn't burn the Koran if he wanted to live longer than a week.
LAST WEEK, on four consecutive days, there were anti-Israeli articles in Norway's second-largest daily Aftenposten. The first called for a general boycott of Israel. The second promoted an academic boycott, falsely accusing Israeli physicians of participating in torture and the Israeli Medical Association of remaining silent about it. Any honest debater would have reported that Israeli hospitals routinely treat Palestinian children, some of whom express joy when suicide bombers kill Israelis. One wonders whether any other country would allow this.
The third article stressed the right to criticize Israel. This is a typical attack on a "straw man," as nobody denies this right. The fourth claimed that Israel is not a democracy. Only thereafter a pro-Israeli voice was heard.
Two years ago the conservative Aftenposten got international attention when it published an op-ed by Jostein Gaarder which until this day remains the vilest anti-Semitic article published in a European mainstream paper since the Second World War.
Whoever wants to understand how Jews might live in a future democratic Europe if no major counter-forces are mobilized should study Norway. Among parts of the elite there, Jew-hatred and rabid anti-Israelism intermingle. The country's population numbers only 4.6 million. The Jewish population, even before the war, was never more than 2,000. It now numbers 1,300, of which only 700 affiliate with the organized community. Yet Norway must figure prominently in any future history of post-war European anti-Semitism.
Norwegian anti-Israelis keep repeating that their anti-Israelism is not anti-Semitism. One only has to check their statements against the European Union's working definition of anti-Semitism to see that this is often untrue. Norway has a long history of anti-Semitism. In 1929 a great majority of its parliament voted to forbid shechita (Jewish ritual slaughter) - several years before Hitler's Germany did so. It is still forbidden, although hunters, including government ministers, can legally kill animals in as cruel a manner as they want. Last year Norway aimed to kill 1,000 whales, but succeeded in finding only 500. If all needs for kosher beef were met by local shechita,it would require at most several tens of cows annually.
During the war, the Norwegians were the ones who rounded up Jews and robbed them before shipping them off to Auschwitz. After the war, emergency help was given to what the Norwegians called the two "hardest-hit groups" - fishermen and residents of the northern part of the country. The Jews, however, were robbed further by the Norwegian democrats. During the restitution process, they had to pay for the administration of those of their assets recovered from the looters. About 10 years ago a senior Norwegian Nazi official proudly told a Jewish visitor that he had no regrets, and still had paintings and furniture taken from Jews.
In the new round of restitution in the mid-1990s, several authorities did their utmost to avoid paying. Berit Reisel, the only Jewish member of the commission of inquiry, states that she was threatened by chairman Oluf Skarpnes, a former Justice Minister. He told her that if she didn't go along with his proposed report, it would cost her dearly as far as her life and health were concerned. Reisel added that a few days later she was attacked on a street in Oslo.
AFTER THE beginning of the second intifada, several Jewish children were harassed in school. The aggression was supported by teachers on several occasions. Since then, the Jewish community has kept a low profile. When asked by the press, its leaders will admit there is anti-Semitism, but claim that critics overstate it. They usually remain silent on the anti-Semitic aspects of anti-Israelism.
Norwegian hate cartoons often mix anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism. Some are straight-out anti-Semitic, such as one which appeared in the Labor movement daily Dagsavisen in 2003. It portrayed a Jew with a long beard reading the new Ten Commandments, including "murder, kill, liquidate, execute." During the Second Lebanon War, anti-Semitic incidents in Oslo were the most severe in Europe. The synagogue was shot at, the cantor was attacked on a main street and the Jewish cemetery was desecrated. The Jewish community's president Anne Sender was thereafter quoted in a European Jewish Congress report speaking of the considerable "atmosphere of intimidation and fear."
Anti-Israelism has been built up systematically in Norway by trade unions, media, some prominent Christians and politicians. The demonization is classic: major media report negative things about Israel while obfuscating or omitting Palestinian suicide attacks or declared genocidal intentions. The main counterforce is a small group of Christian friends.
NGO Monitor has analyzed how significant governmental development aid reaches NGOs engaged in political campaigning against Israel and in support of extreme Palestinian demands. The good the Norwegian government does, including subsidizing the rebuilding of synagogues in Poland, cannot be offset against the infrastructure of hatred it supports.
The writer has published many books, the most recent of which is Behind the Humanitarian Mask: The Nordic Countries, Israel and the Jews, published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies.