Center-Right victory in Norway elections expected to improve country’s tone toward Israel

"They will still criticize settlement construction, but it might be done in a more understanding way."

NORWEGIAN CONSERVATIVE LEADER Erna Solberg 370 (photo credit: Stian Lysberg Solum/Reuters)
(photo credit: Stian Lysberg Solum/Reuters)
Pro-Israel groups in Norway hailed Monday’s national Norwegian elections that will bring to power a center-right government expected to be considerably more sympathetic to Israel than the outgoing coalition.
“Among pro-Israel supporters in Norway there is generally a sense of relief that the Norwegian people voted out of power those who have very little understanding for Israel and some of whom worked for a boycott of Israel,” said Conrad Myrland, head of With Israel for Peace (Med Israel for Fred), the largest non-religious, pro-Israel organization in the country.
Norway’s opposition Conservatives, headed by Erna Solberg, swept to victory on Monday. They are poised to form a coalition with the populist right-wing Progress Party and two small centrist parties, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals.
Myrland termed both the Progress Party, which has an anti-immigration and an anti-tax plank, and the Christian Democrats as pro-Israel.
The new coalition will replace the center-left government of Labor Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who ruled as head of a “Red-Green Coalition” that included the Centre Party and the Socialist Left Party.
According to Myrland, each of the four parties now likely to form the new government issued statements saying they would advocate a more understanding policy toward Israel.
In August, the national Christian daily Vart Land published statements by the different parties regarding Israel.
Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide, the Conservative party head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the outgoing parliament who is touted as a possible foreign minister candidate, said her party’s policies on Israel and the Middle East would be marked by “a little less dogmatism and a little more realism and understanding of self. That should be the basis of Norwegian policy in the Middle East.”
Progress Party’s Peter Myhre said his party would “reduce the criticism that the current [outgoing] government has used when Israel wants to defend itself. The country’s right to defend itself is very important.”
The Christian Democrat’s Hans Olav Syversen, who was head of the Friends of Israel group in parliament from 2009 to 2011, said one of the changes that would be brought about by the election of a new coalition would be a “new rhetoric” on Israel. “You will not see us asking for boycotts [of Israel],” he said.
Myrland said that while the newly elected prime minister was not “generally occupied with foreign affairs, she and her people will be more understanding of the Israeli perspective than the outgoing government.”
He acknowledged, however, that foreign policy played little role in the campaign.
He also downplayed a quote attributed to Solberg in 2011 after the Breivik murders to the effect that anti-Muslim sentiment in Norway was similar to the anti-Semitism in the 1930s.
Solberg said that she was misquoted, and Myrland said that sentiment – which raised some eyebrows – was never repeated.
In 2008, when Myrland’s organization asked Solberg to write a greeting in a book it had published in honor of Israel’s 60th birthday, she wrote, “Culturally, historically and politically, there is no land in the Middle East that is closer to Norway than Israel.”
Myrland said that all of the likely parties in the new coalition have said they would review Norway’s non-critical economic support of the Palestinian Authority. Norway is one of the PA’s biggest donors, giving some $52 million annually.
“Even the Conservative party has been strongly critical of the former government for giving money to the PA to pay salaries to terrorists sitting in Israeli jails,” he said.
According to Myrland, the overall tone of Norway-Israel relationship is now likely to change. “There will still be criticism,” he said. “They will still criticize settlement construction, but it might be done in a more understanding way and will not be lifted up as the main hindrance – as some in the government do now – to world peace.”