The nasty appearance of the Icelandic group Hatari, singing “Hate will Prevail” in the Eurovision 2019 Song Contest in Tel Aviv, is nothing new for Iceland.
The group’s ingratitude to Israel, whose soldiers had protected them when Israel was bombarded by over 700 Palestinian rockets as they rehearsed for the show, was greeted by global boos and condemnation as they unfurled their “Palestine” banners at the televised final, a gesture that angered the European Broadcasting Union, which may sanction Iceland for its political provocation.
Their gesture fell flat and became a stain of shame on Iceland.
But political provocation and the propagation of hate is nothing new to that cold Arctic island. Iceland has shown a consistent disdain for Jews and for Israel going back to the 16th century and the “Passion Psalms” of Icelandic clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson. They are full of expressions of malice toward the Jews as in,
“The righteous Law of Moses,
The Jews here misapplied,
Which their deceit exposes,
Their hatred and their pride.”
Hatred and the pride dwelt entirely among the Icelanders, who generally met no Jews until a few Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust arrived on their shores and found a very chilly reception.
The few who arrived in the 19th century as traders and merchants were greeted by the antisemitic first president of the University of Iceland, Bjorn Olsen, who wrote about one trading firm, “Jewishness radiates from all of their activities. The firm wears various disguises, but Jews are always recognizable by their voice.”
It turned out that the Jews he scathingly smeared from his academic ivy tower were, in fact, Christian Danish merchants.
In 1933, a Nazi Party was formed in Iceland. It became the National Socialist Party with connections to the German Nazi Party. As with the 19th century university president and with Adolph Hitler, they invented tales of Jews and Jewish conspiracies everywhere.
Jews were expelled or fled Iceland, usually for refuge in Scandinavian countries.
A celebrated Icelandic writer, Halldór Kiljan Laxness, wrote demeaning and as ungratefully as the Hatari group in Tel Aviv, about “the Jewish girl with the hooked nose” who obtained for him tickets for the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
Other cultural Icelandic antisemites included Gunnar Gunnarsson who met Hitler at his chancellery in Berlin on March 20, 1940. He was photographed coming out of that meeting accompanied by Hinrich Lohse, who was to become the reichskommisar and the butcher of the Jewish ghettos of Latvia.
It is shocking that today, Icelandic cultural advocates are persistently petitioning the Nobel Academy of Sweden to posthumously award Gunnarsson its prize for literature.
BJÖRN SVEINN BJÖRNSSON, the eldest son of the first president of Iceland, was one of several hundreds of Icelanders who joined the infamous Waffen SS. Some served as SS Totenkopf (death’s head) concentration camp guards and were directly engaged in the genocide of six million Jews. Björn Björnsson reached the rank of SS untersturmführer, or second lieutenant, before heading the Nazi propaganda machine based in Denmark. He personally acted like the Icelandic Lord Haw-Haw, William Joyce, the British Union of Fascists member and a traitor who broadcast Nazi propaganda from Germany. Joyce was captured after the war and executed for his war crimes. Björnsson avoided such justice due to the intervention of his mother and the protection of the Icelandic government.
In May 1945, Danish partisans took control of Denmark and arrested the remaining SS troops in the country. Björnsson was taken captive, but the Icelandic authorities stepped in after his mother, the first lady of Iceland, intervened. During the winter of 1946, Björnsson was suddenly released without a trial for his war crimes, and he was smuggled back to Iceland on an anonymous fishing boat.
As with Joyce, Björnsson personally broadcast Nazi lies in which he portrayed the Nazis not as the evil aggressor but as the saviors of his people and the world.
One recording exists. It was recorded in 1942 from the Caucasus in which he spoke about the evils of the Soviet Union and the saving graces of Nazi Germany.
There is little evidence that Halldór Laxness moved away from his personal antisemitism, but he did move away from National Socialism by adopting the socialism of the Soviet Union from which he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize in 1952.
Laxness referred to Björnsson as “one of the worst Icelandic men who ever existed. A man who allowed... all sorts of vile acts against the Danish people, while wearing the uniform worn by members of a specific murder club.”
In the book, Islenskir Nasistar, the brothers Illugi and Hrafn Jökulsson document the many Icelanders who joined the fight on the side of Nazi Germany. In their book they recount Jorgenson producing a radio program of cultural segments. One of these segments promoted music titled The Murder Symphony, which was described as expressing “evil and sadism” beyond anything played during the Nazi years.
Fast forward to Icelandic Hatari singing “Hate will Prevail” in Tel Aviv, and we are entitled to ask: Has anything changed in Iceland between the Nazi years and now?The writer is the author of Fighting Hamas, BDS, and Anti-Semitism: Fighting Violence, Bigotry and Hate, and the international public diplomacy director at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.
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