Nordic Exposure


Behind the Humanitarian Mask: The Nordic Countries, Israel and the Jews.
Edited by Manfred Gerstenfeld
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs/Simon Wiesenthal Center
256 pages; $29

When Scandinavia is mentioned, we instinctively conjure up images of decent people who are our friends. We associate them with the king of Denmark’s refusal to implement the Nazi racial laws, the rescue of 7,000 Danish Jews to neutral Sweden and noble humanitarians like Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat in Hungary who emerged as the role model for Righteous Gentiles. Many of us also remember Per Ahlmark, the former Swedish deputy prime minister and leader of the Liberal Party, who was a stalwart campaigner against anti-Semitism and probably the first non-Jewish statesman to publicly proclaim that hatred of Israel was being exploited as a surrogate for traditional anti-Semitism.

Yet regrettably, this beatific image of philo-Semitic Scandinavians is a far cry from reality. Despite the presence of only minuscule Jewish communities in the region, Scandinavian countries are today at the forefront of promoting the most vicious expressions of the new anti-Semitism and are at the vanguard of the global campaign to demonize and delegitimize Israel. What makes their application of double standards and virulent bias grate even more is the sanctimonious manner in which they cloak their venom against the Jewish state and Jews in general.

For the first time, this subject has been comprehensively encapsulated in a book of 13 essays and interviews edited by Manfred Gerstenfeld, published jointly by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. It opens with a foreword by Gert Weisskirchen, the personal representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s chairman, on combating anti-Semitism. Weisskirchen does not hold back and stresses that the demonization of Israel, especially the bracketing of Jews and Nazis, represents one of the most obvious manifestations of the new anti-Semitism that dominates political discourse on the Middle East even among liberal politicians and the mainstream press.

The book demonstrates that far from being a new phenomenon, anti-Semitism has dominated the region for centuries, and originates with hostility against Jews coming from the predominantly Lutheran affiliation of Scandinavians. It is not coincidental that Jewish ritual slaughter was banned in Norway even before Hitler’s ascent to power, despite the fact that Norwegians regard hunting as a national pastime and Norway remains one of only three countries in the world in which whaling is still permitted.

The book contains chapters by Danish scholars who unmask the pretence that philo-Semitism prevails and demonstrate that despite the rescue of Danish Jews in 1943 (which according to recent disclosures also incorporated some seamy aspects), there were other aspects of Danish behavior under the Nazis that were despicable. For example, 6,000 Danes voluntarily joined the Waffen SS, Danish industry collaborated enthusiastically with the Nazis and Jewish refugees were expelled and handed over to the Nazis between 1940 and 1943. Efraim Zuroff, the Nazi hunter, provides a chapter that demonstrates that successive postwar governments prevaricated and displayed great reluctance in prosecuting war criminals and in some cases even assisted Nazis to escape.

In the contemporary context, it was the socialist Swedish prime minister, the late Olof Palme, who under the guise of promoting human rights, became the first European leader to inverse Holocaust denial by accusing Israelis of behaving like Nazis toward the Palestinians. It was also Archbishop Karl Hammar, head of the Swedish Lutheran Council, who became one of the first to call for a boycott of goods from Israel. Mainstream media caricatures of Israelis in the region are among the worst in Europe, especially in Norway, where they were so offensive that they were equated with the anti-Semitic cartoons which appeared in Der St�rmer.

The aggressiveness and power of Muslims who have immigrated to the region in recent years was dramatically highlighted during the violent onslaught against the Danish media when one of its dailies, Jylland-Posten, published 12 cartoons displaying caricatures of the prophet Muhammad. Ultimately, most of the media, together with the government, cravenly capitulated in the face of local and international Muslim threats of violence.

One of the most fascinating chapters in the book is the interview with Zvi Mazel, a former ambassador to Sweden, who describes his trials and tribulations within the context of bizarre anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic onslaughts emanating from the government and NGOs and constant death threats expressed publicly by Muslim imams. Mazel also describes the hysterical media responses after he personally disconnected the electricity to an obscene art exhibition glorifying suicide bombers, created by a demented Israeli living in Sweden.

The overall situation is encapsulated in a brilliant summary by Gerstenfeld, chairman of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, who traces the history and provides a chapter-and-verse account of the double standards, bias and naked anti-Semitism which pervades the region. His most devastating depictions are a country by country outline of Nordic responses to the Second Lebanon War. They display incredible hostility against Israel largely based on ignorance and falsehoods promoted under the cloak of purported humanitarianism.

The book is a pioneering study of how in our times, even in regions in which few Jews reside, organizations purportedly promoting human rights have been hijacked by anti-Semites who promote demonization of Israel as a vehicle to besmirch Jews. Indeed, it illustrates that in Western Europe the Scandinavian countries have assumed a vanguard role in applying bias and distortions against Israel in a manner that has never been applied against any other nation. It demonstrates how traditional anti-Semites, radical leftists, Muslim immigrants and the media have colluded in shamelessly promoting the world’s oldest hatred. Hopefully, it will lead to soul searching and analysis in the region and promote a backlash from decent Scandinavians who have hitherto resisted participating in the ongoing hate fest against Israel and the Jewish people.

This article can also be read in the Jerusalem Post [2]