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Antisemitism in Norway

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Antisemitism in Norway

Antisemitism in Norway has a history, including the Holocaust in Norway. It has also been a subject of discussion in the public debate about the Arab-Israeli conflict. An antisemitic event was the editorial cartoon printed in Dagsavisen that depicted a Haredi Jew rewriting the ten commandments to include "thou shall murder". According to several political commentators, the antisemitism in Norway is institutional. Alan M. Dershowitz sharply criticized Norway for its treatment of Jews, writing that "All Jews are apparently the same in this country that has done everything in its power to make life in Norway nearly impossible for Jews. Norway was apparently the first modern nation to make stunning of domestic animals compulsory, outlawing the method for production of Kosher meat. Currently, about 1400 Jews live in Norway.


Middle Ages

Norwegian kings, Vikings, and others who traveled in Europe in the Middle Ages undoubtedly encountered Jews and attitudes toward them during their travels, but the first mention of Jews in Norse literature is found in Postola sögur in Iceland in the 13th century, where they are mentioned along with the more general pagans. The literature of this time referred to Jews as "gyðingar," "juði," or in the Latin form "judeus." Jews were also mentioned in unfavorable terms in subsequent literary Icelandic sagas, such as Gyðinga saga (Saga of the Jews).

Reformation and Enlightenment

In 1436 and 1438, archbishop Aslak Bolt prohibited celebrating a day of rest on Saturday, lest Christians replicate the "way of Jews," and this prohibition was reinforced through several subsequent ordinances, including those in Diplomatarium Norvegicum.

While Norway was part of the Danish kingdom from 1536 to 1814, the Danish introduced a number of religious restrictions both to uphold the Protestant Reformation in general and against Jews in particular. In 1569, Fredrik II ordered that all foreigners in Denmark had to affirm their commitment to 25 articles of faith central to Lutheranism on pain of deportation, forfeiture of all property, and death. These restrictions were lifted for Sephardic Jews already established as merchants in Altona when Christian IV took over the town. Christian also issued the first letter of safe passage to a Jew (Albert Dionis) in 1619, and on June 19, 1630, general amnesty was granted to all Jews permanently in residence in Glückstadt, including the right to travel freely throughout the kingdom.

Public policy toward Jews thus varied over the next several hundred years. The kings generally tolerated Jewish merchants, investors, and bankers whose contributions benefited the economy of the Danish-Norwegian realm on the one hand, while seeking to restrict their movements, residence, and presence in public life. Several Jews, particularly in the Sephardic Teixera family but also some of Ashkenazi origins, were given letters of passage to visit places in Denmark and Norway; but there were also several incidents of Jews who were arrested, imprisoned, fined, and deported for violating the general ban against their presence, even when they claimed the exemption granted to Sephardim.

The European Enlightenment led to moderately easier restrictions for Jews in Denmark-Norway, especially in Denmark's southern areas and cities. Some Jewish families that had converted to Christianity settled in Norway. Writers of the time increased their interest in the Jewish people, including Ludvig Holberg, who figured Jews as comical figures in most of his plays and in 1742 wrote The Jewish History From the Beginning of the World, Continued till Present Day, presenting Jews to some extent in conventional, unfavorable stereotypes, but also raising the question about mistreatment of Jews in Europe.

Consequently, as stereotypes against Jews started entering the awareness of the general public during the Enlightenment, there were also those who rose in opposition to some, if not all, of the underlying hostility. Lutheran minister Niels Hertzberg was one of those who wrote against Norwegian prejudice, ultimately influencing the later votes on the constitutional amendment to allow Jews to settle in Norway.

Constitutional ban

Based on short-lived hopes that Denmark's concessions at the Treaty of Kiel in 1814 would allow for Norwegian independence, a constituent assembly was convened in Eidsvoll in the spring of 1814. Although Denmark had only a few months before completely lifted all restrictions on Jews, the assembly, after some debate, went the other way. Jews were to "continue" to be excluded from the realm, as part of the clause that made Lutheranism the official state religion, though with free exercise of religion as the general rule.

Several of the framers had formulated views on Jews before the convention had started, among them Lauritz Weidemann, who wrote somewhat incoherently that "The Jewish nation's history proves, that this people always has been rebellious and deceitful, and their religious teachings, the hope of again arising as a nation, so often they have acquired some remarkable fortune, led them to intrigues and to create a state within a state. It is of vital importance to the security of the state that an absolute exception be made about them."

Those who supported the continued ban did so for several reasons, among them theological prejudice. Nicolai Wergeland and Georg Sverdrup felt that it would be incompatible with Judaism to deal honestly with Christians, writing that "no person of the Jewish faith may come within Norway's borders, far less reside there." Peter Motzfeld also supported the ban, but on the slightly different basis that the Jewish identity was too strong to allow for full citizenship. Other prominent framers, such as Hans Christian Ulrik Midelfart spoke "beautifully" in defense of the Jews, and also Johan Caspar Herman Wedel-Jarlsberg expressed in more muted terms the backwardness of the proposition.

Those who opposed admission of Jews prevailed decisively when the matter was put to a vote, and the second paragraph of constitution read:

This effectively maintained the legal status quo from about 1813 but put Norway sharply at odds with trends in both Denmark and Sweden, where laws and decrees in the early 19th century were granting Jews greater, not more limited liberties.

Meanwhile, a small number of Jewish converts to Christianity had settled in Norway, some of them rising to prominence. Among them were Ludvig Mariboe, Edvard Isak Hambro, and Heinrich Glogau. In 1817, Glogau had challenged Christian Magnus Falsen, one of the proponents of the ban against Jews at the constitutional assembly about the meaning of the prohibition, asking whether he should be embarrassed by his ancestors or his homeland when relating his legacy to his children. Falsen responded by asserting that Judaism "carries nothing but ridicule and contempt toward the person that does not profess to it...making it a duty for each Jew to destroy [all nations that accept him]."

Indeed, a number of Jews who found themselves in Norway were fined and deported. A ship bound for England floundered off the west coast of Norway in 1817, and one of those who washed ashore was Michael Jonas, a Polish Jew. He was escorted out of the country under heavy guard. This heavy-handed approach caused consternation, and the chief of police in Bergen was ordered to personally pay for the costs of the deportation. There were also deportation proceedings against suspected who could not produce a baptismal certificate, among them the singer Carl Fredrich Coppello (alias Meyer Marcus Koppel), opticians Martin Blumenbach and Henri Leia, Moritz Lichtenheim, and others.

Repeal and initial immigration

The deportation of Jews who had either come to Norway by accident or in good faith caused some embarrassment among Norwegians. The first who advocated for a repeal was the poet Andreas Munch in 1836. But it was Henrik Wergeland who became the leading champion for the Jews in Norway.

10th parliamentary session, 1842

Henrik Wergeland was the son of Nikolai Wergeland, one of the members at the constitutional assembly who had most strongly objected to admitting Jews to the country. The younger Wergeland had long harbored prejudice against Jews, but travels in Europe had changed his mind. He published the pamphlet Indlæg i Jødesagen on August 26, 1841, arguing passionately for a repeal of the clause. On February 19, 1842, his efforts to put the matter to a vote in the Norwegian parliament was successful, when the proposition was referred to the Constitution Committee. On September 9, 1842, the motion to repeal won a simple majority: 51 to 43, but, falling short of a supermajority (2/3) it failed.

On October 26, 1842, Wergeland published his book Jødesagen i det norske Storthing ("The Jewish issue in the Norwegian parliament"), which in addition to arguing for the cause also provides interesting insights into the workings of the parliament at the time.

Parliamentary sessions in 1845, 1848, and 1851

Wergeland had submitted a new proposal to parliament later on the same day that the first repeal had failed. He died on July 12, 1845. The constitution committee referred their recommendation to repeal exactly a month after his death, on August 12. Several versions were put to vote, but the most popular version won 52 votes to repeal, only 47 to keep; worse than the last vote.

In 1848, the motion to repeal earned 59 to 43 votes, still falling short of the 2/3 required. In 1851, finally, the clause was repealed with 93 votes to 10. On September 10, all remaining legislation related to the ban was repealed by the passage of "Lov om Ophævelse af det hidtil bestaaende Forbud mot at Jøder indfinde sig i Riget m.v." ("Law regarding the repeal of the until now prohibition against Jews in the realm, etc.")

Early 20th century media, public opinion and policy

In spite of fears that Norway would be overwhelmed by Jewish immigration following the repeal, only about 25 Jews immigrated to Norway before 1870. Because of pogroms in Czarist Russia, however, the immigration accelerated somewhat in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. By 1910, there were about 1,000 Jews in Norway.

Though the minority was small and widely dispersed, several stereotypes of Jews gained currency in the Norwegian press and popular literature in the early 20th century. In books by the widely read authors Rudolf Muus and Øvre Richter Frich, Jews are described as sadistic and obsessed with money. The attorney Eivind Saxlund published a pamphlet Jøder og Gojim ("Jews and Goyim") in 1910, which was characterized in 1922 as "antisemitic smut literature' by a writer in Dagbladet. Saxlund sued for libel and lost, but earned the admiration of the newspaper Nationen, who praised Saxlund for fighting "our race war." In 1920, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was published in Norway under the title Den nye verdenskeiser ("The New World Emperor").

In 1916 Norwegian writer Mikal Sylten published an antisemitic periodical called Nationalt Tidsskrift. In 1917 he started using the Swastika as its symbol, several years before Adolf Hitler. The periodical was of a racist nature and published Antisemitic conspiracy theories. The periodical declared itself as the "only Norwegian journal that studies in depth Jewish true ties to events in the world and here at home" . An attache called Who's Who in the Jewish World was printed four editions starting 1925. This pamphlet contained a list of Jews and presumed Jews in Norway, sorted by occupation. Housewives and children were listed under Different Occupations. Sylten was tried for his collaboration with the Nazis during the German occupation in the legal purge in Norway after World War II.

Shechita controversy

Prejudice against Jews became a focal point in the controversy about the legality of shechita, the Jewish practice of ritual slaughter. The issue had originally been raised in the 1890s, but a municipal ban on the practice in Oslo brought the matter to national attention.

Efforts to ban shechita put well-intended humane society activists in league with antisemitic individuals. In particular, Jonas Søhr, a senior police official, took a particular interest and eventually rose to the leadership of The Norwegian Federation for Animal Protection. The animal rights cause was used as a means to attack not just the method of slaughter, but also the community itself. Those opposing the ban included Fridtjof Nansen, but the division on the issue crossed party lines in all mainstream parties, except the Agrarian Party (today, the Centre Party), which was principled in its opposition to schechita. Protests were raised in the Norwegian press, during the 1890s, against the practice of shechita, on the grounds that it was cruel to animals. The Jewish community responded to these objections by stating that the method was humane.

A committee commissioned on February 11, 1927 consulted numerous experts and visited a slaughterhouse in Copenhagen. Its majority favored a ban and found support in the Department of Agriculture and the parliamentary agriculture committee. Those who opposed a ban spoke of religious tolerance, and also found that schechita was no more inhumane than other slaughter methods. Ingvar Svanberg writes that many of the arguments against shechita were based "on the distrust of 'foreign' habits" and "often contained anti-Semitic elements". C. J. Hambro was one of those most appalled by the antisemitic invective, noting that "where animal rights are protected to an exaggerated extent, it usually is done with the help of human sacrifice"

The controversy continued until 1929, when the Norwegian parliament banned the practice of slaughtering animals which have not been first stunned or paralyzed. The ban remains in force today.

The former chief rabbi of Norway, Michael Melchior, argued that antisemitism is one motive for the bans: "I won't say this is the only motivation, but it's certainly no coincidence that one of the first things Nazi Germany forbade was kosher slaughter. I also know that during the original debate on this issue in Norway, where shechitah has been banned since 1930, one of the parliamentarians said straight out, 'If they don't like it, let them go live somewhere else.'"

No forms of religious slaughter are named as being banned in the Norwegian legislation. Norwegian law requires that animals be stunned before being slaughtered, without exception for religious practices, which is incompatible with shechita. (The Norwegian Islamic Council, on the other hand, has found that sedation is compatible with halal rules, provided that the animal's heart is still beating at the time of slaughter.) Representatives of both Muslim and Jewish communities, citing scientific studies, dispute the assertion that traditional halal and kosher slaughtering methods lead to unnecessary animal suffering. Norway's acceptance of hunting, whaling and sealing were also raised as proof of the alleged hypocrisy of the Norwegian position. Minister of Agriculture, Lars Peder Brekk of the Centre Party (which has always rejected shechita, see above), rejected the comparison.

Proponents of the continued ban, including officials from the Norwegian Food Safety Authority claimed that animals slaughtered according to shechita were conscious for "several minutes" after they were slaughtered, and writer and farmer Tore Stubberud claimed that animals in Judaism had "no moral status... pure objects for ... archaic, religious needs", and wondered whether the EU, in allowing for such slaughter had become "purely a bank, without values".

Statistics and Studies

An article published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs stated that antisemitism in Norway comes mainly from the leadership – politicians, organization leaders, church leaders, and senior journalists. Despite other opinions claims the Antisemitism in Europe originated in the Muslim immigration, this essay blame the European-Christian leadership in antisemitism that begins around 1000 CE, centuries before Jews came to Norway. Another issue rises from the article is the publishing of antisemitic caricatures. Since the 1970s many Pro-Palestinian caricatures published in the Norwegian media. But a comparison of those sketches with antisemitic caricatures from the Nazi-era rises some similarities. Common motifs such as "Jews are evil and inhuman", "Jews rule and exploit the world" and "Jews hate peace and propagate wars" repeat in latetly-published drawings, as well as in antisemitic sketches from the beginning of the twentieth century.

2004 cartoon in a Norwegian newspaper

On January 7, 2004, the Norwegian newspaper Dagsavisen printed an editorial cartoon that depicted a Haredi Jew rewriting the ten commandments to include "thou shall murder". According to the Israeli Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld, this cartoon was antisemitic.

Shooting at- and vandalism of the synagogue in Oslo

There have been episodes of desecration of the synagogue in Oslo. On September 17, 2006 the synagogue in Oslo was subjected to attack with an automatic weapon, only days after it was made public that the building had been one the planned target for the Algerian terror group GSPC that had been plotting a bombing campaign in the Norwegian capital. The synagogue in Oslo is under continuous surveillance and protected by barriers. On June 2, 2008 Arfan Qadeer Bhatti was convicted on the shooting attack and given an eight-year preventive custody sentence for serious vandalism. The Oslo city court judge could not find sufficient evidence that the shots fired at the synagogue amounted to a terrorist act.

Institutional racism claim, and reply by a former PM

In 2008, a symposium held by Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, entitled Behind the Humanitarian Mask: The Nordic Countries, Israel and the Jews, accused Norway and Sweden of institutional racism against Jews. Dr Manfred Gerstenfeld, chairman of the Board of Fellows at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said that "Norway is the most anti-Semitic country in Scandinavia." Former Prime Minister Kåre Willoch responded to the accusations at the symposium by arguing that allegations of antisemitism is a "traditional deflection tactic aimed at diverting attention from the real problem, which is Israel's well-documented and incontestable abuse of Palestinians."

A comedian's remark about fleas and lice on gassed Jews

On November 27, 2008 the satirical comedian Otto Jespersen said during a satiric monologue on national television that

"I would like to take the opportunity to remember all the billions of fleas and lice that lost their lives in German gas chambers, without having done anything wrong other than settling on persons of Jewish background."

A complaint against Jespersen, was filed by Imre Hercz; the Norwegian Press Complaints Commission sided with Hercz in 2009. A number of fellow comedians and his TV station have backed the controversial performer. Jespersen also presented a satirical monologue on antisemitism that ended with, "Finally, I would like to wish all Norwegian Jews a Merry Christmas – no, what am I saying! You don't celebrate Christmas, do you!? It was you who crucified Jesus", on December 4. Jespersen has received criticism for several of his satirical attacks on social and ethnic groups as well as royalty, politicians and celebrities, and in defence of the monologue TV2 noted that Jespersen attacks in all directions, and that "if you should take [the monologue] seriously, there are more than just the Jews that should feel offended."

Allegation that a former PM made a racist remark

In December 2008, the Norwegian author and journalist Mona Levin claimed Kåre Willoch made an allegedly racist statement when his response to the question whether USA were likely to change their Middle East policy was: "It doesn’t look too good, because he has chosen a Chief of Staff who is a Jew, and, as we know, many American voters look much more to the Bible than to the reality of our days – and with a meaninglessly mistaken interpretation of the Bible." Levin made the accusation of Willoch making a racist statement on a live TV debate, Willoch denied the accusation, and received support from the three other debaters, excluding Levin. Willoch called Levin's allegations a "total distortion of his statements" adding that "This was a purely political assessment of whether this chief of staff will lead to greater or lesser changes in the relationship to the Middle East, and I imagine that it will lead to a more pro-Israel politic from USA.".

2009 Oslo riots

In January 2009, anti-Israel protests in Oslo degenerated into anti-Jewish riots, with a non-Jewish pro-Israel supporter—carrying an Israeli flag—attacked by anti-Israel protesters shouting "take him, he's a Jew" and "fucking Jew". Some of the youngest rioters reported to have been told by older youths to "hunt for Jews", with one group severely beating up a shop owner accused of being a Jew. During the riots, almost 200 people were arrested, the majority of which had non-Norwegian names. Among other slogans, protesters shouted "Death to the Jews," "Kill the Jews", "Slaughter the Jews" in Arabic.

Eirik Eiglad, a Norwegian socialist activist who was present in Oslo during the riots, wrote the book The Anti-Jewish Riots in Oslo (2010), stating:

As far as I can judge, these were the largest anti-Jewish riots in Norwegian history. Even before and during World War II, when anti-Semitic prejudices were strong, public policies were discriminatory, and the Nazified State Police efficiently confiscated Jewish property and deported Jews on that despicable slave ship SS Donau - even then, Norway had not seen anti-Jewish outbursts of this scale. This country had no previous history of wanton anti-Jewish mass violence.

In cooperation with Norwegian education authorities, Islamic leaders in Norway initiated "dialogue meetings" with youths in mosques following the riots, with the aim of "using the Quran" to reach out to youths who had participated in the riots.

2009 articles in Jerusalem Post alleging rise of antisemitism in Norway

In 2009, two articles in Jerusalem Post discussed the alleged rise of antisemitism in Norway. The articles stirred controversy in Norway, and several notable Norwegian Jews refuted the article. It also received strong criticism for basing the allegations on statements from controversial sources, most notably a source that later turned out to be lying about both his identity and his affiliation with the Norwegian army. The responses from Norwegian Jews led to Jerusalem Post posting a follow up piece called "Inside story: Stumbling in Norway" retracting many of the allegations, and summing up the response from Norwegian Jews:

In general, they say, Norway does not suffer from widespread anti-Semitism. Norwegian Jews are an accepted and respected part of the country. But, they add, there are rare incidents of tension over their Jewishness, usually with children being teased in school or with Muslim immigrants bringing their politics into their day-to-day meetings with Jews.

2010 Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation report

In 2010, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation reported that anti-Semitic attitudes were prevalent at some Norwegian schools. Teachers at schools with large shares of Muslims revealed that Muslim students often "praise or admire Adolf Hitler for his killing of Jews", that "Jew-hate is legitimate within vast groups of Muslim students" and that "Muslims laugh or demand [teachers] to stop when trying to educate about the Holocaust". Additionally that "while some students might protest when some express support for terrorism, none object when students express hate of Jews" and that it says in "the Quran that you shall kill Jews, all true Muslims hate Jews". Most of these students were said to be born and raised in Norway. One Jewish father also told that his child after school had been taken by a Muslim mob (though managed to escape), reportedly "to be taken out to the forest and hanged because he was a Jew".

Norwegian Education Minister Kristin Halvorsen referred to the antisemitism reported in this study as being "completely unacceptable." The head of a local Islamic council joined Jewish leaders and Halvorsen in denouncing such antisemitism.

2011 complaint by Israeli embassy

The Norwegian Broadcasting Council is composed of eight members appointed by the Norwegian parliament and six appointed by the government. In April 2011, it appointed an independent external investigation by Middle East expert Cecilie Hellestveit of the International Law and Policy Unit into complaints made by the Israeli embassy in Norway that the Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) had been biased. A majority of the council decided that NRK's coverage had been "reliable, balanced and thorough".

Kosher meat production ban and boycott of members of Israel's academia

In April 2011, Alan M. Dershowitz sharply criticized Norway for its treatment of Jews, writing that "All Jews are apparently the same in this country that has done everything in its power to make life in Norway nearly impossible for Jews. Norway was apparently the first modern nation to prohibit the production of Kosher meat, while at the same time permitting Halal meat and encouraging the slaughter of seals, whales and other animals that are protected by international treaties. No wonder less than 1000 Jews live in Norway."

Dershowitz also stated, regarding efforts by Norwegian Academics to institute a boycott of Israelis that while administrations of Norwegian universities "have refused to go along with this form of collective punishment of all Israeli academics... in practice...Jewish pro-Israel speakers are subject to a de facto boycott" and cited this as a reason why the faculties of several Norwegian universities refused to invite him to speak about Israel (although he did subsequently give three lectures at the invitation of student groups). Dershowitz wrote that the only other country that prevented him from lecturing at its universities was South Africa during the apartheid era.

2011 survey of physical threats and abuse of Jewish teenage students

In June 2011, a survey by the Oslo Municipality found that 33 per cent of Jewish students in Oslo are physically threatened or abused by other high school teens at least two to three times a month (compared to 10% for Buddhists and 5.3% of Muslims) The survey also found that 51% of high school students consider "Jew" a negative expression and 60% had heard other students use the term. In according with this, Manfred Gerstenfeld has pointed out in 2013 that Jewish people in Norway suffer from old-world stereotypes and prejudice. He also cited a survey from 2011 that found out that 38 percent of Norwegians believe that Israel is a Nazi state.

2012 HL-senteret's report on antisemitism

In May 2012, the Norwegian Center for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities published a report based on a survey on antisemitism in the Norwegian population. This was the first broad study on the issue. The report found that about 12.5% of those surveyed had distinct antisemitic prejudices. The level of antisemitism was found to be relatively low compared to other European countries, relatively similar to the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark. Men, older people and those with little education showed more antisemitism than women, younger people and well-educated persons.

2012 Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe report

In October 2012, the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe issued a report regarding antisemitism in Norway, criticizing Norway for an increase in antisemitism in the country and blaming Norwegian officials for failing to address antisemitism. The OSCE also appealed to Norway to abolish a ban on Jewish ritual slaughter, which was in place since 1929, as an "important symbolic gesture."

2013 Comments by Norwegian Muslim Leaders

In an interview with Dagsavisen in January 2013, Nehmat Ali Shah, the imam at Norway's largest mosque—the Central Jamaat-e Ahl-e Sunnat mosque—and mosque chairman Ghulam Sarwar claimed that the existing hostility between Muslims and Christians is caused by Jewish influence. Dagsavisen reported that the two men claimed that "the fear Jews instilled in others explained fraught Muslim-Jewish relations as well as the Holocaust" and that "Jewish influence caused Norwegians to have a negative view of Islam." During the interview, Ali Shah stated that "People are ignorant because they get their information from the media, and the media only write negatively about Islam. Judaism has a better grip on the media. The Jews control the media and that's detrimental." With regards to the Holocaust, Sarwar stated "Why did the Germans kill them? One reason is that they make other peoples fear them...[Jews are] not a simple people." Shah also stated that not all Jews "ruined things" and added that "dialogue is very important to us.

Antisemitic incidents during 2014

  • In April, a school and sports facility were sprayed with numerous swastikas and racist slogans.
  • In September, a swastika was carved into the glass doors of the Trøndelag Theater the day after the premiere of a Jewish puppet theater performance.
  • In October, a Jewish cemetery was vandalized in Trondheim with sprayed marks and the word "Führer" scribbled on the chapel.
  • A Muslim act of support in the Jewish community of Norway

    In February 2015, more than 1,000 people formed a "ring of peace" around Oslo's main synagogue. This project was initiated by a group of young Muslims, as a respond to the latest terror attacks against Jewish centers in Europe.


    Antisemitism in Norway Wikipedia

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