Norwegian newspaper apologizes for using phrase ‘Jewish question’

Editor in chief said the print headline was an editing error and the words "should never have been used"

The front cover of Norway's largest newspaper by circulation, 'Aftenposten', is seen at a news stand in Oslo, Norway September 9, 2016 (photo credit: REUTERS)
The front cover of Norway's largest newspaper by circulation, 'Aftenposten', is seen at a news stand in Oslo, Norway September 9, 2016
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Norway’s largest print newspaper apologized this week for running an article about Israel and antisemitism that used the phrase “the Jewish question” in the headline.

That phrase has a long history of being used to demean, dehumanize and stigmatize Jewish people, both before and during the Holocaust.

Espen Egil Hansen, the editor-in-chief of Aftenposten, issued a lengthy apology for the original article – which ran in the paper last week. In a full page commentary in Monday’s paper, Hansen apologized for the original article, which was headlined in print: “The Jewish question splits the Left on both sides of the Atlantic.” The article examined accusations of antisemitism against public figures.

Hansen took full responsibility for the unfortunate wording.

“The wording should never have been used and we regret it,” Hansen wrote. “This phrase has a particular historical significance and is strongly linked to the national socialists before and during World War II and to the extermination of the Jews.”

Hansen pointed out that the online version of the article never used the phrase “the Jewish question,” and instead was titled: “Are they anti-Israel or antisemites? The question splits the left on both sides of the Atlantic.” Hansen said that during the editing process to shorten the headline for print, it was trimmed down to “the Jewish question.”

“The wording was not caught by quality control and unfortunately ended up in print,” he wrote. “I am responsible for this as an editor. After such a very unfortunate choice of words, the management of Aftenposten will be reviewing the entire production to understand how it happened and to raise awareness of the issue.”

The editor-in-chief also referenced the dark past of the newspaper itself, which cooperated with Nazi occupying forces and produced a Nazi propaganda paper during World War II. Hansen said that portion of Aftenposten’s history “is a heavy heritage to carry, but it is part of the newspaper’s history that we cannot close our eyes to.”

Hansen concluded that “Aftenposten’s readers have every reason to be disappointed” in the newspaper’s use of the phrase last week.

Dan Poraz, an Israeli diplomat based in Norway, originally called the Aftenposten article – with its online headline – “interesting” and praised it on Twitter for pointing out “the growing understanding that hatred towards the Jewish state usually comes from the same place as hatred towards Jews.”

He later called Hansen’s full-page apology “amazing” and “heartfelt.”

Ervin Kohn, the president of the Jewish community in Oslo, told the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet on Monday that Hansen’s full-page apology was “wonderful.”

“It is wonderful that they used so much space,” Kohn said. “Only then can others learn something. One should not be surprised by the fact that the younger generations don’t understand history; it is our duty to teach them.”