By MANFRED GERSTENFELD
Last year at this time, the comedian Otto Jespersen said in his weekly program on the major Norwegian commercial television station TV2: "I would like to take the opportunity to remember all the billions of fleas and lice that lost their lives in German gas chambers, without having done anything wrong other than settling on persons of Jewish background." What was even worse was that the director of TV2 did not consider this to be an anti-Semitic remark.
A week later Jespersen, in his weekly television appearance, presented a "satiric" monologue of mixed anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli remarks. He concluded by wishing the Jews a happy Christmas. As an afterthought he added that this was not proper as the Jews had murdered Jesus.
Two years earlier, the same comedian had burned pages from the Old Testament on live television. Although there was criticism, the television company did not see this as a reason to terminate his employment. Jespersen also said that he would not burn the Koran, as he wanted to live longer than a week.
Finally, after complaints from Jewish groups, the Press Ethics Commission condemned TV2. The Jespersen incident, however, was just one in a series of recent events which have brought international attention to Norwegian attitudes toward Israel and the Jews.
A part of Norway's dominant elites, who falsely call themselves progressive, have expressed biased attitudes toward Israel. This involves government circles, the media, NGOs and some academic milieus which have developed a number of pioneering hate actions. Furthermore, among the large Muslim immigrant community, there are some physically violent anti-Semites whose number may well exceed that of the 700 members of the organized Jewish community.
However, not all is black. Most Norwegians have other problems than the Middle East conflict. There is also a group of very devoted friends of Israel. As an example, earlier this year 3,500 Christians, despised by the elite, from all over Norway marched in Stavanger in favor of freeing Gilad Schalit.
Former minister Michael Melchior, still chief rabbi of Norway, is a moderate person who does his best to keep up the country's image. Yet in an interview in 2002 he said that many Norwegian media had "lost every sense of proportion, of democracy and of basic moral values."
ONLY A few of the many recent incidents can be mentioned here. During Operation Cast Lead, Kristin Halvorsen, leader of the Left Socialist Party and at the time the Norwegian finance minister, was among those who participated in an anti-Israeli demonstration in Oslo. It was reported that slogans such as "Death to the Jews" were heard. Later both her party and the Norwegian ambassador in Israel would falsely write to The Jerusalem Post that it had been a dignified event. The Tundra Tabloids blog in Finland then published a picture of Halvorsen standing at the demonstration very close to a person holding a sign that said "The greatest axis of evil - USA and Israel."
Another internationally publicized incident concerned Trine Lilleng, a first secretary in the Norwegian embassy in Saudi Arabia. She sent an e-mail from her ministry account in which she juxtaposed pictures of slain children in Gaza with "photos of Holocaust victims in seemingly correlating situations." When Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr StÃ¸re was interviewed by Ma'ariv in March, he said that she was no longer in Riyadh. A few months later, Cnaan Liphshitz, an Israeli journalist, called the embassy in Saudi Arabia to verify this. He was told that she was now a consul there.
In February, Queen Sophia opened an exhibition for Knut Hamsun, a Norwegian author who had won the Nobel Prize. This Nazi admirer had dedicated his prize to Goebbels and written a positive obituary for Hitler. After the war, he was condemned as a collaborator. This year the Norwegian government spent $30 million for the Hamsun 2009 festivities celebrating the 150th year of his birth.
Norway was criticized about the absurd combination of the country's chairmanship of the ITF, the task force for international cooperation in the field of Holocaust education, memory and research, and the Hamsun 2009 festivities. The answer was that, within the framework of these events, attention would also be given to Hamsun's Nazi past.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center verified this shortly afterward and concluded: "A review of official Norwegian Web sites shows a virtual whitewashing of Hamsun's Nazi connection, while glorifying his literary career."
THERE ARE only three Jewish cemeteries in Norway. Two of them have been desecrated in the last few years, most recently the old Sofienberg cemetery in Oslo in May. That same month the TV2 station gave more than a quarter of an hour of television time to British Holocaust denier David Irving. The station covered his travel and hotel expenses. The journalist who interviewed him showed little knowledge of the subject.
NGO Monitor has published a study titled "Norwegian Government Funds Fuel Middle East Conflict." The report details how, under the false pretense of "development aid," the Norwegian government donates indirectly substantial sums to "extreme NGOs that demonize Israel."
The latest incident concerns the proposal to boycott Israeli academia brought to the board of the NTNU University in Trondheim. It was widely condemned internationally, including by 13 Nobel Prize winners, among them the only two living Norwegian recipients.
Only after the bad publicity began to damage Norway's image abroad did Tora Aasland, minister of research and higher education of the Socialist Left Party, declare that the proposed boycott was illegal. The major Norwegian newspapers Verdens Gang and Aftenposten also condemned it. The NTNU board then rejected the proposal. Now a new myth is being propagated that there had been strong opposition in Norway against the boycott from the time it was first proposed.
At a lecture in mid-November I said: "The present Norwegian government was recently elected for four years. We can thus again expect many anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incidents in Norway in the coming years." One did not have to wait long. The very next day Ingrid Fiskaa of the Socialist Left was appointed deputy minister of the environment. Just last year she told the communist daily Klassekampen that on certain days she hoped that the UN would send precision missiles against Israeli targets.
The writer is chairman of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Among his books is Behind the Humanitarian Mask: The Nordic Countries, Israel and the Jews. A Norwegian version, titled Anti-Semitism in Norway, will be coming out next month.
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