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(photo credit: AP)
These days, while Norway and Sweden are fiercely attacked by Israeli ministers and Jewish leaders for being "anti-Semitic," I would like to set the record straight on these two countries' international human rights activity.
It was Norway and Sweden that launched the free world's battle against the South African apartheid regime. They were joined by the rest of the Western world only two decades later.
NORWAY STARTED the struggle against apartheid back in the early 1960s. In 1960, Chief Albert Luthuli, the African National Congress (ANC) president, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His trip to Norway as a result, and his call during this visit to impose international sanctions against South Africa, received global attention.
From 1960 the Church of Norway, which is a "state church" funded by the government, took the lead in the fight against South Africa by directly supporting anti-apartheid grassroots organizations to the tune of about $40 million between 1974 and 1995. South Africa was the central focus of the Church of Norway's international human rights campaign.
Norwegian trade unions were the first to organize a consumer boycott of South African products and to start an anti-apartheid awareness campaign. Youth and student organizations all around Norway were among the first to join this campaign. The international solidarity committee of the Norwegian confederation of unions intensified the consumer boycott in the late 1960s, and became one of the key organizations supporting the struggle for liberation in South Africa.
THE SWEDISH anti-apartheid record is just as impressive. The first anti-apartheid activities there started in the early 1950s, and a strong anti-apartheid movement was built nationwide. The Swedish South Africa Committee (SSAC), formed in 1961, started a consumer boycott of South African products and pressured the Swedish government to impose sanctions. Another Swedish NGO, the Isolate South Africa Committee, organized a campaign to isolate South Africa internationally and support the black liberation movements and South African political prisoners. The Swedish government began supporting the ANC and the struggle against apartheid in 1973 - 13 years before the European Union institutions in Brussels followed suit.
Israel, on the other hand, was one of the last Western allies (if not the last) of the apartheid regime. In the 1970s, when Norway and Sweden were leading the international struggle against the apartheid regime, Israel was just getting into bed with the South African authorities, selling arms to the South African army while bypassing the UN arms embargo passed in 1977.
I would like to remind you of all this before we start shouting about the Scandinavian human rights record. We should look at our own first.
The writer was director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2000-2001 and the first Israeli ambassador to democratic South Africa (1992-1994). He is the author of Black Justice, The South African Upheaval.