Norway Jews still tell of tolerance

'Post' erroneously reported that Finance Minister Halvorsen made anti-Semitic remarks in Oslo rally.

Kristin Halvorsen 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
Kristin Halvorsen 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel's Operation Cast Lead in January has sparked a sharp rise in incidents of violence and anti-Semitic statements in Norway that were directed at Israel and the local Jewish community. In the wake of this experience, some Jews are claiming that anti-Semitism is "a very healthy disease" in the country, and is on the rise. Other Jews, however, including the titular chief rabbi of Norway, former MK Michael Melchior, and octogenarian holocaust survivor Dr. Imre Hercz, who has lived in Oslo since 1952, say that outside a limited minority of problematic groups, the country is anything but anti-Semitic. In fact, they say, it is a tolerant nation that shouts down the racists within it. According to Erez Uriely, an Israeli biologist who has lived in Norway since 1992, Jews in Norway "are scared to wear a kippa outside. I'm one of the few who do so. In schools, the word 'Jew' itself is a pejorative term." In the wake of widespread anti-Israel sentiment he believed washed over Norway at the start of the second Intifada in 2000, Uriely founded the Center Against Anti-Semitism, which records and tries to combat anti-Semitic incidents and trends in the country of 4.6 million. Yet, though he can recall a run-in when a Muslim man yelled and spat at him in the street after noticing his kippa, Uriely acknowledges that "such incidents are rare. Violence doesn't really exist in Norway. And more often, people go out of their way to be nice to you when they see that you're different." Though he is exasperated that the local community leadership "doesn't acknowledge the depth of the problem of anti-Semitism," he believes calling attention to anti-Semitic incidents helps bring the Norwegians themselves to correct the problem. "In my experience, when you raise a concern in Norway - not just about anti-Semitism, also about hospital or other issues - it's corrected quickly. I wish Israel worked so efficiently," he said. That concern and sense of growing danger, mixed with respect for Norwegian tolerance and the capacity to correct the problem, seems to be shared among Norwegian Jews from very different backgrounds. Cap. David Weiss, a Norwegian Jew serving in the nation's military since 1988, insists the Jews are in "a very bad condition. If you wear a Star of David around your neck, as I do, you're taking a chance that you will be spat on, or attacked, or have nasty things said to you." Walking his dog near an anti-Israel demonstration during Operation Cast Lead, demonstrators - Weiss recalls they were Muslim immigrants - shouted and cursed at him. "But they didn't attack, because I can take care of myself and my dog is a 42-kilo Rottweiler." During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Weiss recalled being kicked out of a cab "because the driver, also an immigrant from a Muslim country, saw my Star of David. He left me on the side of the road. He wouldn't even take my money. He said, 'I don't want your blood money.'" Yet, despite such run-ins, Weiss says that in his experience, "the average Norwegian is more on the side of the Jews and Israel." He blames certain politicians, what he considers a far-Leftist media and immigrants from Muslim countries for creating the discourse that produces virulent anti-Israel and anti-Semitic attacks and statements. Recent incidents included violent anti-Israel demonstrations against Operation Cast Lead during which dozens of demonstrators were arrested for attacking pro-Israel protestors. One demonstration against the operation on January 8 was attended by Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen, leader of the Socialist Left party who publicly backed a boycott of Israeli goods in 2006. Part of that demonstration split off and headed in the direction of the Israeli Embassy, where it degenerated into a more raucous rally where anti-Semitic expressions were heard. Contrary to what was suggested in a Jerusalem Post report this week, Halvorsen was not heard to utter anti-Semitic statements during the demonstration, and was not present at the outbreak of violence. In a statement e-mailed to the Post, a Socialist Left spokeswoman called the event attended by the minister "a demonstration for peace in Gaza," and said it included "appeals for inter-religious coexistence and peace, calling on Israel to stop the war on Gaza." Halvorsen herself "publicly denounced the violent outbreak and anti-Jewish expressions that occurred in the aftermath of the peace demonstration," the statement read. According to Melchior, the claim that Norway is anti-Semitic is false, and "achieved by taking a complex reality and willfully painting a bleak picture." For example, he says, "I walk the street in Oslo wearing more than just a Star of David" - Melchior sports the beard, suit and black kippa of ultra-Orthodox Jews - "without being bothered. The same goes for my son, the rabbi of the synagogue in Oslo, and my grandchildren, who walk the streets unafraid." Melchior notes that "on the Shabbat following the anti-Israel demonstrations, which were not so well-attended in the first place, the foreign minister and the archbishop of Oslo, together with other Norwegian leaders, came to Oslo's synagogue to protest" the anti-Semitic expressions heard at some of the demonstrations. Hercz, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor, has written in Norwegian newspapers that some Norwegian politicians' habit of singling out Israel for criticism constituted prejudice and anti-Semitism. But he believes this political error in judgment does not mean Norway itself is anti-Semitic. "It's not right to say that Norway is anti-Semitic," he insists. "Most people are not anti-Semitic. I love Norway. I love Israel. Official Norway has been very good to Israel, has helped Israel and sold oil to Israel. There's a problem with the leftists, who hate America too, and with some youngsters who demonstrate against Israel but won't demonstrate against China or Iran. But these are few. The problem is not as big as you think." That's part of the story that isn't told, he believes. For example, when Halvorsen's party called for an anti-Israel boycott in 2006, "sales of Israeli products actually went up. People went out to buy more." This article supersedes an article published earlier this week on Norway which contained inaccuracies, and has been withdrawn.