Student Union opens ‘hasbara’ room in effort to fill public diplomacy vacuum.
The two despicable terror attacks in Oslo and on the island of Utoya carried out by Anders Breivik propelled Norway onto center stage.
Norway is a country that normally draws little attention – even Swedes and Danes who can read Norwegian are generally uninterested in what happens there. The only annual event that regularly generates publicity for Norway is the awarding of the Noble Peace prize.
Due to this lack of attention, the international image of Norwegian society is mostly superficial and differs from the reality.
What is currently being reported about Norway in the international media gives the impression that the country’s population of nearly 5 million represents much of what is good in the world. Statistics seemingly prove this. Norway is ranked the ninth most peaceful country in the world; second in the Press Freedom Index; tenth among the least corrupt countries in the world; and fourth in a survey that “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. In fact, 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 in which to live.
All of this supports the image the Norwegian elites want to present to the world – that of a progressive paradise, open-minded, tolerant, moral, democratic, fair and humanitarian.
But upon closer scrutiny, Norway reflects a different picture. It is difficult to analyze complex entities like nation-states. Sometimes, therefore, it helps to observe a country through a smaller lens in order to better perceive the reality behind the myths. Often, a country’s attitude toward Jews and Israel is a useful indicator.
This is happens to be the case with Norway, however surprising that news might come to some. After all, the number of Jews in Norway is miniscule – under 2,000, of whom 800 belong to the two existing Jewish communities in Oslo and Trondheim. And Israel is, of course, a small and distant country.
Nonetheless, a recent survey published by the Oslo municipality found that 33 percent 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.
This phenomenon has been known for at least the past ten years, yet authorities have chosen to ignore it.
The major Norwegian media are characterized by shallowness, political correctness, and a conspicuous lack of self-criticism. Norway’s elites include in their ranks major purveyors of hatred toward Israel. Several ministers in the Labor-left socialist government are at least nominal anti-Semites while the state TV and radio company NRK has its anti-Israel bias officially approved by the Broadcasting Council. There is a dominant strain of anti-Israel feeling in the Norwegian media and a significant anti-Israel stance in its academic circles.
Trade unions in Norway are much better described as hate unions. Some Norwegian Lutheran bishops are major hate inciters. Because the tragedy of the recent terror attacks is so huge, no one was paying much attention to the fact that before the shootings at the youth camp, participants were incited against Israel by their leaders from the Labor Party youth movement and visiting lecturers, including Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Störe. Signs reading “Boycott Israel” were clearly visible 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 and pro-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 they are 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 above, 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, particularly evangelicals, complain about how the elites despise and marginalize them. The Christian weekly Norge Idag – the only paper that dares take a critical look at the Norwegian elites – is hampered in many ways. It’s clear the intolerance of those currently in power runs quite deep.
About the Author: Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is a board member and former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (2000-2012). He is a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award (2012) of the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism.
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