Norwegian Foreign Minister Johan Gahr Støre, who is visiting Israel today, represents a government that all too often seizes the opportunity to besmirch the Jewish state and is renowned as one of the principal Israel-bashers in Europe.
Jews have mixed feelings about Norway. They have fond memories of the resistance displayed by Norwegian King Haakon VII against the Nazis, but are obliged to balance this with the collaborator Vidkun Quisling, whose name has become a universal term for describing traitors.
To this day, Norway retains an unenviable reputation for sanctioning cruel blood sports like hunting, and is reviled as one of the last countries that still condone whaling. Yet this is the country that banned Jewish ritual slaughter even before the Nazis did so in Germany.
Støre is today at the vanguard of European political leaders endorsing direct talks with Hamas, and repeatedly condemns Israel for having acted disproportionately and brutally in Gaza.
NEEDLESS TO say, double standards apply. Norway is a NATO member, but failed to protest when it carpet-bombed Serbia, killing many innocent civilians in its efforts to depose president Slobodan Milosevic. Nor, despite the involvement of its own troops, does Norway protest about innocent civilians killed when NATO destroys terrorist networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Norway was one of the principal European countries that strongly agitated to proceed with Durban II even after there was no doubt that it would be a hate fest. When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed that conference, virtually all EU representatives left the hall. Støre refused to do so, even though he subsequently condemned his speech. Likewise, when Ahmadinejad addressed the UN, the Norwegian foreign minister was one of the few Europeans who refused to walk out.
At the beginning of last year, Trine Lilleng, an administrative employee of the Norwegian Embassy in Saudi Arabia, triggered an international incident when she used the embassy’s e-mail network to disseminate gruesome photographs of alleged victims of the Gaza conflict juxtaposed with photos of Holocaust victims. This elicited a bitter denunciation from Yad Vashem, which condemned as unconscionable a Norwegian diplomat in a country like Saudi Arabia distributing such a despicable document exploiting Holocaust inversion to besmirch Israel in the name of human rights.
During a subsequent visit to Israel in March, in the course of an interview with Ma’ariv in which he again accused the Jewish state of acting disproportionately in Gaza and called for direct talks with Hamas, Støre tried to deflect criticism from the incident by stating that Lilleng was no longer serving in Riyadh. But a few months later, following an enquiry from an Israeli journalist, the Norwegian embassy there responded that “consul” Lilleng was still stationed in Saudi Arabia.
LAST YEAR, the Norwegian government invested $30 million for major celebrations in honor of the late Knut Hamsun, a writer who had dedicated his Nobel Prize to Joseph Goebbels and in 1945 eulogized Hitler. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman at that stage accused Norway of indifference to anti-Semitism.
The most recent confrontation followed the publication of a vile book written by two Norwegian doctors, Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse, whose visit to Gaza was funded by the Norwegian government through the NGO NORWAC. Gilbert is a radical Marxist with a long track record of promoting vicious hatred against Israel, and who had even justified the 9/11 attack on the US.
Titled Eyes of Gaza, this anti-Israel propaganda tract is now in its fourth edition. It contains photographs of maimed Palestinian children designed to portray Israelis as heartless monsters. The basic theme is that the purpose of Operation Cast Lead was “to collectively punish the entire Palestinian population of Gaza. The punishment was a merciless slaughter of women and children, old and young, men and women and a demolishing bombardment which was to push Gaza decades back in time… The killed children were not a result of the dark of night, wrong coordinates on the GPS sites or one and another undisciplined soldier. The killed and damaged women were not really supposed to be spared… All Palestinians in Gaza were terrorists for the Israeli soldiers. Therefore they were also in their eyes legitimate targets for attacks, injury and murder.”
In other words, Israelis had embarked on a bloodthirsty punitive expedition to massacre and mercilessly kill as many men, women and children in Gaza as possible. The book brackets Nazi behavior in Warsaw with that of the IDF in Gaza. It depicts fantasies about Israelis massing women and children into buildings and then savagely blowing them up.
THIS DESPICABLE volume could be included among the worst contemporary Western anti-Israel diatribes. What makes it more significant than the run-of-the-mill pro-Hamas propaganda is the extent to which Norwegian government ministers praised not only its authors, but its content. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg expressed gratitude to the authors for their efforts, describing them as “a voice to the world.”
Støre went further, endorsing the new blood libel on the back cover of the book, stating: “When war rages, the civilians are made mute. Erik Fosse and Mads Gilbert were in Gaza as doctors in January 2009. In addition they told of what they saw. It was not their duty, but it was their responsibility. When military might fences out all voices, the few which remain become extra strong and important.”
Not surprisingly, the Israeli government protested. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon condemned the book as “outrageous and bordering on incitement made up of fabrication and lies” and described Støre’s effusive praise for it as “problematic.” A Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokesman responded that Støre was merely expressing appreciation for the humanitarian work undertaken by the doctors.
IN RECENT weeks, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has been asserting that Israel should stop turning the other cheek when insulted by representatives of other countries. It would be most appropriate for him to implement this policy when he meets his Norwegian counterpart today in Jerusalem. But hopefully he will communicate our anger in a more sophisticated fashion than the incredibly infantile and counterproductive manner in which our legitimate protest to the Turkish ambassador was conveyed last week.
In addition, we must distinguish between our outrage with the government of Norway and the people. We should bear in mind that all 26 of the Norwegian parliamentary “Friends of Israel” are associated with the opposition. In addition, despite repeated denials by government apologists that anti-Semitism in Norway had escalated, even the viciously anti-Israel daily Aftenposten this month carried an editorial deploring the escalation of anti-Semitism which was forcing Jews to emigrate. It attributed the increased hatred to the anti-Semitic Muslim immigrants and the impact of the hostile anti-Israel environment. The editorial concluded that the hatred represented a tragedy not only for Jews, but for Norwegian society as a whole.
We can only hope that in the course of time, Norway will elect a government that will be more evenhanded toward Israel. Until then, we should be under no illusions. This Norwegian government is not neutral. It is rabidly hostile.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post