What ‘Post’ readers of conscience need to know about Norway

The Norwegian government has consistently proved itself to be a friend of Israel.

NORWAY’S FOREIGN MINISTER Jonas Gahr Støre_370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Norway has been a strong supporter of Israel since its foundation. We remain committed to Israel’s right to exist within secure and internationally recognized borders, and we have over the years committed financial and political resources, as well as the lives of Norwegian soldiers, to that end.
The Norwegian government, like the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership, remains committed to a two-state solution. Just as there is widespread opposition in Norway to the expansion of the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, there is widespread support for the Israeli right to live in security. We consistently condemn the targeting of civilians by rockets from Gaza.
Nevertheless, The Jerusalem Post persists in regularly publishing strongly anti-Norwegian articles. The latest example is the article by Michael Sharnoff, prominently placed in the 1 May edition. Mr. Sharnoff’s article follows a familiar pattern. He makes harsh allegations against “Norway,” “the Norwegian leaders” and “Oslo,” claiming that many in the Norwegian government have recently displayed a pattern of anti-Semitic attitudes “which would make Islamist radicals very proud,” and also claims that the actions of Norwegian leaders “exhibit traits of genteel anti-Semitism.”
He even goes so far as to claim that “If Vidkun Quisling was alive today and read the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements that were coming out of Norway, a big smile would appear on his face.” Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Norwegian history would know how insulting the reference to Quisling is to Norwegians.
If you want to make a serious allegation, you have to make sure you have your facts straight. This is the problem with Mr. Sharnoff’s article. Actions and statements are described as anti-Semitic without real justification, and then attributed to Norway or the Norwegian people in general. In the following I will address some of the claims made in the article.
Claim: Norway is singling out Israel among all other nations for international opprobrium.
Fact: Even a brief glance at the website of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs shows that Norway’s commitment to human rights, democracy and peace is worldwide, not confined to one country or part of the world.
Claim: Then-Socialist Left Party leader Kristin Halvorsen proposed a boycott of Israeli products in 2006.
Fact: It is true that Kristin Halvorsen publicly supported her own party’s campaign. She also subsequently made it clear that the Norwegian government is opposed to a consumer boycott of Israel. The Norwegian government does not believe that boycotts are an effective way to promote political change. But a consumer boycott is a legitimate way to protest policies that you are against, and cannot in itself be claimed to be anti-Semitic.
Claim: Norway has refused to follow the US and EU in classifying Hamas as a designated terrorist organization.
Fact: Norway does not have a national list of designated terrorist organizations. This is a general policy which is not particular to Hamas. What we do have is legislation that outlaws terrorist actions, and we have shown, not least through our military commitment in Afghanistan, that we are unwavering in our resolve to combat international terrorism.
Claim: The Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre has insisted that Israel dismantle the security barrier.
Fact: Norway has consistently recognized the security needs of Israel and Israel’s right to self defense. According to the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice published on 9 July 2004, the construction of the security barrier in The Palestinian Territory was contrary to international law and should be dismantled. It should also be remembered that the problem the court found with the security barrier was that it was built on occupied territory and that other considerations than security were important for the route that was chosen for the barrier.
There are no limitations on building barriers within a country’s internationally recognized borders. In a UN General Assembly resolution, 150 countries, including all EU member states, urged Israel to implement the advisory opinion. Singling out Norway is not justified.
Claim: During the Durban II Conference in Geneva, Norway remained in attendance during Iranian president Ahmadinejad’s speech.
Fact: It is misleading to mention this without at the same time mentioning why Norway remained in attendance. It is Norwegian policy not to cede the podiums of the UN to extremists, but rather to use these podiums to confront them publicly. The Norwegian Foreign Minister was the next speaker at the Durban II Conference, and used the opportunity to sharply criticize the Iranian president.
Claim: The University of Trondheim in Norway tried to impose an academic boycott against Israeli universities in 2009, but the motion ultimately failed.
Fact: It is wrong to claim that the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim tried to impose such a boycott. It is true that a proposal to that effect was made to the board by faculty members and students, but the board unanimously voted against a boycott. The government also made clear that such a boycott, if adopted by a university, would be illegal under Norwegian law.
Claim: In October 2010, Norway’s Foreign Ministry announced that it would not permit the German shipbuilder HDW to test its Dolphin-class submarine, built for the Israeli navy, in Norwegian territorial waters.
Fact: It is true that Norway has strict rules for the export of arms, including services, to countries that are at war or where there is a threat of war. This applies to many countries around the world, so there is no singling out of Israel.
Claim: Norwegian retail chain Vita’s decision to stop selling cosmetics produced in an illegal settlement in the West Bank is an example of “genteel anti-Semitism.”
Fact: Companies are free to make their own ethical choices, including when it comes to products from settlements that have been established in contravention of international law. There are companies around the world, including in Israel, that make the same choices. The claim that Vita’s decision is “genteel anti-Semitism” remains unsubstantiated by the author.
Claim: Norway does not propose academic boycotts against universities in China, Britain, Turkey, Armenia, India or Morocco, nor does it enact sanctions and divestment programs.
Fact: This is correct. But Norway is not enacting sanctions and divestment programs nor proposing academic boycott against universities in Israel either, so it is not very relevant.
In sum, Mr Sharnoff’s claims do not hold.
The Norwegian government has consistently proved itself to be a friend of Israel. We have not always agreed with everything Israel has done. Even the best of friends do not agree on everything. But we have demonstrated our willingness to employ our political and financial means to assist Israel. The kind of name-calling that Mr. Sharnoff resorts to is not conducive to a sensible political exchange. And as shown by the above, his allegations are built on a flimsy foundation.
The writer is the Norwegian ambassador to Israel.