Israel has taken the fight against anti-Semitism to new heights of hypocrisy, leveraging charges of Jew-hatred only when it suits this government's particular diplomatic needs. And in the case of the harsh tongue-lashing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman gave his Norwegian counterpart recently, Lieberman went after the wrong target.
Jonas Gahr StÃ¸re became a target for Lieberman's ire following Norway's celebration this year of the 150th anniversary of the birth of disgraced Nobel Prize-winning author Knut Hamsun, writer of such pre-World War II novels as Victoria, Hunger and Growth of the Soil. Most of Hamsun's work has been translated into Hebrew and published here, for despite the author's own disreputable political sympathies, his novels are free of anti-Semitism.
This cannot be said for his British contemporaries such as George Orwell or T. S. Eliot. The Eton-educated Orwell might be best remembered as an enlightened liberal, warning against totalitarianism in 1984, or providing a damning critique of communism in Animal Farm, but like many of his class, he had a deep dislike of Jews.
In Down and Out in Paris and London, his description of life among the poorest of these cities, there isn't a Jew he meets whom he doesn't paint in an unfavorable light. He remarks about one "red-haired Jew" shop owner that "it would have been a pleasure to flatten the Jew's nose."
Eliot, the leading poet of the 20th century, was just as blunt, writing in his 1920 poem "Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar" that "On the Rialto once./The rats are underneath the piles./The Jew is underneath the lot."
However, were Britain to decide to honor Orwell or Eliot , it's hard to imagine Israel issuing an official protest or summoning the British ambassador to the Foreign Ministry for a dressing-down.
SO WHY does Norway deserve this special treatment? One reason is that while Hamsun's works are free of anti-Semitism, the man himself was an out-and-out Nazi sympathizer.
In 1940, when German troops were marching across the Scandinavian country, he appealed to his fellow citizens to "throw down your weapons and go home. The Germans are fighting for all of us and are breaking down England's tyranny over us all."
He gave his 1920 Nobel Prize medal to Joseph Gobbels and, after the war, wrote an obituary for Hitler, calling him "a prophet of the gospel of justice for all nations." Embarrassed by his behavior, once the Nazi occupation ended, the Norwegian authorities declared him mentally deficient and stripped him of his property.
Hamsun, as a person, is therefore a disgrace. But as an artist, the Norwegians do have reason to take pride in him. As the continued discussions here in Israel about the playing of Wagner's music show, the question as to whether one can separate the artist from the man is not a cut-and-dried issue, and opinions will be divided.
Importantly the Norwegians recognize this, and among the many events dedicated to Hamsun will be seminars addressing precisely this question and highlighting Hamsun's disreputable political past. The issue of Hamsun's Nazi affiliation is not being brushed under the carpet.
Lieberman, it seems, is not a man for subtleties and discussions as to whether the artist can be honored separately from the man, and fiercely attacked his Norwegian counterpart over the Hamsun celebrations at a meeting they held last month on the fringes of the United Nations General Assembly - a meeting Lieberman later told the cabinet was the most difficult he had held.
But it is hard to believe that the foreign minister really cares that much about a dead Norwegian author whom most Israelis have never heard of. One can't help but think that Lieberman jumped at the chance to wave the anti-Semitism card at Norway because of Jerusalem's disquiet with Norway's behavior on the diplomatic front.
In recent months, Israel has accused Norway of seeking to hold a dialogue with Hamas, while Oslo has announced its decision to pull its government pension fund investments in Elbit because of the Israeli firm's involvement in the security barrier between Israel and the West Bank. Accusing Norway, the present chairman of the 26-nation Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, of abetting anti-Semitism is simply easier and more satisfying than addressing the problems in the relationship between the two countries.
ISRAEL'S CASTIGATION of Norway should be contrasted with its low-key approach to the (ultimately failed) candidacy of Egypt's Farouk Hosny for the top job in UNESCO. Given that Hosny, the Egyptian culture minister, once said that he would burn Israeli books if he found them in the Library of Alexandria and resisted any opportunity to improve cultural links between Israel and Egypt during his two-plus decades as a minister, one would have thought that Israel would have taken a leading role in ensuring he got nowhere near the UNESCO leadership.
But because of the importance to Jerusalem of its ties with Cairo, Israel muted its opposition to Hosny and even quietly called on leading Jewish intellectuals to drop their campaign against his candidacy. Thankfully the rest of the world realized the idiocy of nominating such a person to the world's top cultural position and instead appointed a Bulgarian diplomat.
In the run-up to the elections, Hosny vainly tried to reposition himself, speeding up synagogue restoration works in Cairo and explaining away his book-burning comment. But when the results came through, he reverted to his true colors, arguing that his defeat was due to "a group of the world's Jews who had a major influence in the elections."
But has the Foreign Ministry protested this latest reworking of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or is the anti-Semitism card only to be used against small countries with which we have a diplomatic dispute?
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of<
/i> The Jerusalem Post.