Op-Ed: Norway: Image and Reality
Dr. Manfred GerstenfeldThe writer has been a long-term adviser on strategy issues to the boards of several major multinational corporations in Europe and North America.He is board member and former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and recipient of the LIfetime Achievement Award (2012) of the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism.
The two despicable terror attacks in Oslo and on the island of Utoya respectively carried out by Anders Breivik, have propelled Norway onto center stage of international attention. Norway is a country which normally draws very little attention. Even Swedes and Danes who can read Norwegian are generally uninterested in what happens there. The only annual event which regularly generates publicity is the awarding of the Noble Peace prize.
Due to this, the international image of Norwegian society — in a country with much natural beauty — is mostly superficial and different from reality. Some developments in Norway would draw far more attention if they had happened in other Western countries.
What is currently being reported on about Norway in the international media gives the impression that its population of 5 million — spread over a territory of about 20 times the size of Israel — represents much of what is good in the world. Statistics seemingly prove this. Norway is ranked as the 9th most peaceful country in the world. It is the second country on the Press Freedom Index. It is number ten among the least corrupt countries in the world. It ranks fourth on an index, which “rates 21 rich countries on how much they help poor countries build prosperity, good government and security.”
Its major oil and gas earnings make Norway a wealthy country. According to the United Nations Development Program which ranks countries based on factors such as income, education and life expectancy, it is the best country in the world to live in.
All of this supports the image the Norwegian elite want to present to the world, that of a progressive paradise, open minded, tolerant, moral, democratic, fair and humanitarian. During these tragic days however, this partly false image often invites the proliferation of myths.
Upon closer scrutiny, Norway reflects a different picture. It is difficult to analyze complex entities such as a nation. It helps to have a much smaller lens through which one can observe it. Often, a country’s attitude toward Jews and Israel is a useful indicator. This is also the case in Norway, however surprising that may be. The number of Jews is less than 2,000 - of whom 800 belong to the two existing communities in Oslo and Trondheim respectively. And Israel is, in reality, a small and far away country.
A recent survey published by the Oslo Municipality found that 33% of Jewish high school students are physically threatened or abused at least two to three times a month. One Jewish girl declared that all Jewish students she knows have been harassed at school. No other religious group is discriminated there even nearly as much. This phenomenon has been known publicly for ten years, yet the authorities had chosen to ignore it.
The major Norwegian media are characterized by shallowness and “political correctness.” Norway is ranked falsely among leading countries concerning freedom of the press. That is because censorship there is executed by the editors of newspapers rather than by the state.
Among Norway’s elite, there are major purveyors of Israel-hatred. Several ministers in the Labor-left Socialist government are part-time anti-Semites; the state TV and radio company NRK has its anti-Israel bias officially approved by the Broadcasting Council. There is a dominant anti-Israel stance in the Norwegian media and significant anti-Israelism in its academia. Trade unions are much better described as ‘hate unions.” Some Norwegian Lutheran bishops are major hate inciters.
As the Utoya tragedy is so huge, no one is giving much attention to the fact – and rightly so as it has no bearing on the horrors of the murders — that before the shootings at the youth camp, the participants were incited against Israel. That was done both by the camp organizers, the Labor party youth movement, AUF and by visiting lecturers, including foreign minister Joan Gahr Stoere. Signs reading “Boycott Israel” are clearly seen in press photographs from the site.
Fortunately, there are many true and politically active friends of Israel in Norway. One finds them mainly among opposition politicians and parties, as well as Zionist Christians. They cannot however, compensate for the evil continuously inflicted by the cultural elites.
If one were to challenge Norwegian Jews in a debate, they would have no choice but to admit that they were rarely - if ever - considered an integral part of Norway, and are only “tolerated” by society. Even several Norwegian Jews in Israel who helped me with my research wish to remain anonymous.
As stated before, attitudes toward Jews and Israel provide a lens on Norwegian society. Thereafter, one can see similar phenomena concerning others more easily. Non-Jewish academics with dissenting views have told me how they are discriminated against in universities. Christians, in particular Evangelical ones, mention how the elite despise and marginalize them. The Christian weekly, Norge Idag - the only paper that dares to take a critical look at the Norwegian elite - is hampered in many ways. Mainstream bookstores do not sell their publications which include Dershowitz’s book, “The Case for Israel.” Public libraries refuse to buy their books. Once a study of these and other phenomena is undertaken, it will become clear that the intolerance of those currently in power runs quite deep.
Last week Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg stated publicly that Norway’s answer to this heinous crime will be “more democracy, more openness and more humanity, but never again more naivety.” If this statement is more than propaganda, the Norwegian government and its country’s cultural elite have a long and difficult road ahead. It includes systematic development of self-questioning and self-criticism. Whether those currently in power are capable of this is highly doubtful.