Bergen, Norway scenic bay 370.
(photo credit: Stoyan Nenov/Reuters)
The dramatic mountains and expansive fjords of Norway do not jump to mind as the
place to learn about Israel’s diplomatic strengths and weaknesses. Yet the week
I just spent with Norwegian friends of Israel taught me how the justice of
Israel’s cause can be most effectively presented.
In short, Israel wins
when you speak about justice for Israel; not when you merely proclaim Israel’s
desire for peace, talk-up its willingness to compromise, and declare its right
to defend itself.
Norway is a wealthy country with vast expanses of
Divine beauty, but it is a miserly environment for Israel with little sympathy
in the halls of government for the Jewish state’s goals and challenges. Norway
is one of the top funders of the Palestinian Authority, and last fall it
cheerfully supported UN recognition of the PA as an independent state. Perhaps
all that North Sea oil has gone to the heads of Norwegian
Nevertheless, it was heartwarming and inspiring to discover that
Israel has broad grassroots support in Norway, and that friends of Israel have
organized themselves into an effective and increasingly respected lobby. The
group, Med Israel for Fred (www.miff.no), or “With Israel for Peace,” is led by
Morten Rasmussen, Gabriel Edland and Conrad Myrland.
I met dozens of
Norwegians who stand on street corners handing out flyers about Israel, who
write learned op-ed articles in defense of Israel in the mostly hostile
Norwegian press, and who lobby parliamentarians and government ministers in
support of Israel. MIFF boasts almost 7,000 paid members, and it engages more
people on Facebook than some of the major Norwegian political parties. The
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem also has thousands of members in
Norway. Relative to the size of Norway’s population (only five million people),
these are significant pro-Israel numbers.
Every single person I met
through MIFF had been to Israel several times, in some cases more than 30 times.
Many had worked on a kibbutz or volunteered with the army. Some spoke basic
Hebrew, while quite a few others had served in the Norwegian military
contingents in Lebanon or on the Golan (and in the process had come to admire
Israel). Most were subscribers to The Jerusalem Post. They all were outraged by
de rigueur European criticism of Israel and unfriendly European media coverage
Believe it or not, Israel really does have many devoted
friends out there. I was so impressed.
I was even more impressed by the
sophistication of MIFF’s approach to hasbara (public
Norwegian MIFF activists have learned that it is simply not
enough to explain Israel’s security dilemmas or to revisit Israel’s diplomatic
generosity toward the Palestinians. What’s needed is a much more basic
restatement of Israel’s cause and purpose: Israel as a grand historic reunion of
people and land, as a shelter for the Jewish People, and as a just and moral
actor in the medieval and violent Arab Middle East.
important in this regard is education of the non-Jewish public about the plight
of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. Nobody knows about the hundreds of thousands
of Jews who were expelled from Arab lands and absorbed by Israel, and when they
learn of this it dramatically changes the discourse. As opposed to a
conversation about Palestinian rights vs Israeli security, the conversation
becomes a debate about a balance of rights: about Israeli/Jewish rights and
“This evens out the playing field, and forces
people to think about justice for Israel,” says Odd Myrland, MIFF’s erudite,
“We’ve extensively tested this messaging over a long
period of time in Stavanger [a city on the southwest coast of Norway], and it is
Jewish refugees from Arab lands is our successful knockout
punch. We mustn’t ignore this important issue.”
According to MIFF,
another key issue on which Israel can win the day is the morality of its
fighting forces. It’s hard to credibly stick Israel with charges of human rights
abuses when the real, significant abusers of human rights so flagrantly flaunt
their barbarity every day in Damascus and elsewhere in the Arab world. Relative
to the slaughter in Syria, and even relative to the collateral casualty counts
of Western forces fighting in Afghanistan, Israel is extraordinarily virtuous in
its “purity of arms.” Making this argument is critical to securing Israel a just
place in people’s minds.
George Deek, the impressive young Israeli
diplomat who serves as deputy chief of mission in Oslo, adds that one mustn’t
shy away from pointing out the internal conflicts and ethnic wars within the
Arab world. “Norwegians and other Westerners need to understand the warlike
patterns of behavior that characterize the region Israel resides in. This is
what we have to deal with.”
When Deek makes this argument – he is a
Christian Arab who proudly and empathetically represents Israel – people
MIFF is now challenging Norway’s almost blind funding of the PA,
especially since it’s clear that the PA has expended plenty of kroner rewarding
the families of convicted terrorists. At the very least, Norway should take full
control of the kroner it allocates to the PA, and itself administer the spending
of these funds in support of specific, well-defined projects that benefit
Palestinians and build a real constituency for peace.
activists hung a Palestinian flag outside the hotel in Trondheim where I was
speaking to MIFF activists. Well, jolly good for them. Their childish protest in
no way diminishes the enthusiasm and acumen of Israel’s good friends in Norway.