Norway’s Problem with Anti-Semitism

Soon Jews will have no visible presence in the most prosperous nation on earth. No one is protecting them

A heinous record: Some 750 Norwegian Jews were sent to Nazi concentration camps 

Norway regularly tops surveys of wealth and wellbeing. The 2012 Legatum Prosperity Index last month ranked it the most prosperous nation on earth.

For many people, however, the first image that now comes to mind when they think of Norway is the Breivik massacre. The 77 victims who died on July 22, 2011 were mostly young supporters of the ruling Labour party, which the far-right gunman Anders Behring Breivik accused of permitting the country’s “Islamisation”. 

Norway could soon come top of another ranking: as the first country in Europe to be Judenfrei or Judenrein (the Nazi terms for the ethnic cleansing of Jews).  

Anti-Semitism in Norway has become such a serious threat that many Jews are emigrating to Israel and elsewhere to escape it. Human rights activists, police and leaders of the rapidly shrinking Jewish community fear that soon, for the first time in centuries, Jews will have no visible presence in Norway at all.

I travelled to Norway last month with an open mind about the plight of the Jews and the rumours of the growing hostility toward them. As a leftwing critic of Zionism, of mixed Jewish and Catholic heritage, I was sceptical about the claims in some of the Israeli and alternative Norwegian press about the rise in anti-Semitism being the result of searching for scapegoats. What I found was a mixture of cowardly cultural relativism, examples of rabid Jew-hatred and a liberal Left that had joined forces with radical Islamists. 

Norway has a history of anti-Semitism dating back to before the Second World War. Many Norwegians collaborated during the five-year Nazi occupation and the Quisling regime, and about a third of all Jews—some 750 out of 2,100—were sent to concentration camps. But the prevailing view is that, until recently, Jews had existed alongside gentiles without too much fuss.  

Estimates of the number of Jews in Norway range from 800 to 1,200 out of a total population of five million. It is hard to be precise because of an increasing tendency of Norwegian Jews to distance themselves from their community and to live outside the remaining cultural and religious centres.  

Some put the blame for the new wave of anti-Semitism on the influx of Muslims during recent years—at least 200,000 Muslims now live in Norway. But the primary reason that Jews feel under attack appears to be their rejection by the Norwegian liberal elite, who have abandoned them to a vicious form of anti-Semitism thinly disguised as anti-Zionism. 

These so-called progressives collude with hardline anti-Israel activists. The country’s tiny population of Jews is subject to the obsessive attention of the Norwegian elite, who blame them for the plight of the Palestinians.

Such hostility filters down to the young and translates into playground anti-Semitism. One recent survey found that 60 per cent of school-age children in Norway had heard the word “Jew” being used as a derogatory term.  They are not only hearing this from radical Muslims.

Breivik, like many extremists whose primary targets are Muslim migrants and asylum seekers, professed “support” for Israel in his “war” against Islam, but at the same time recorded some deeply anti-Semitic views in his “manifesto”.

My research began with the Centre for Holocaust Studies (CHS), which has recently published a report on anti-Semitism in Norway. Tor Bach, a respected anti-racist campaigner and former editor of Monitor magazine, told me that recent studies showed “no rise in anti-Semitism”. When I mentioned that some Jewish activists had suggested that the influx of Muslims from the Middle East was at least part of the reason for the apparent rise, he said that to suggest that there is an “ongoing Islamification of a country with 200,000 Muslims out of a population of five million is . . . simply ridiculous.” 

Having been refused a face-to-face interview with Bach, I turned to the CHS report and read that almost two-thirds of respondents agree with the statement: “I am disappointed in the way the Jews, with their particular history, treat the Palestinians”.  Thirty-eight per cent said that they believe that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is similar to Nazi treatment of the Jews during World War II. One out of four believes that Jews today exploit the memory of the Holocaust to their own advantage, while 13 per cent believe that Jews themselves are to blame for their persecution. 

This, remember, is a survey of Norwegian gentiles (fewer than 5 per cent of whom are Muslim) speaking about Norwegian Jews. The left-liberal elite in Norway is going down the same road as some of the hard-Left in the UK and elsewhere: excusing and tolerating anti-Semitism against Jews because of their opposition to Israel and support of anti-Zionism.

Anti-Semitism in Norway, states the report, is “on a par with Great Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden”. But some particularly pernicious and dangerous beliefs are more widespread in the Norwegian populace; for example, 19 per cent of respondents agree with the assertion that “world Jewry works behind the scenes to promote Jewish interests”, and 26 per cent believe that “Jews consider themselves to be better than other people”. 

Both views are straight out of Mein Kampf and are echoed in the Norwegian media. For example, in 2008 a popular comedian, Otto Jespersen, said during a show on Norwegian national television: “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.” 

When the Norwegian media do focus on the problem, they tend to link anti-Semitism to Islam. In 2010, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation reported that anti-Semitic attitudes were prevalent at a number of Norwegian schools with significant Muslim minorities. Teachers 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”. 

The earliest Muslim migrants to Norway in the 1960s were primarily from Pakistan but today they are mainly from Middle Eastern countries and Somalia. The first generation had no interest or connection with the Middle East but some of the young men from those communities are becoming radicalised and supportive of other Muslims from that region. A number, say police, are committed to jihad and motivated to take up arms in support of their “Muslim brothers” from the Middle East.

In June 2011, a survey by the Oslo municipality found that 33 per cent of Jewish students in Oslo were physically threatened or abused by other high-school teens at least two to three times a month (compared to 10 per cent for Buddhists and 5.3 per cent of Muslims). The survey also found that 51 per cent of high school students considered “Jew” a negative expression and 60 per cent had heard other students use the term as an insult.

Sara Azmeh Rasmussen is a Norwegian writer of Syrian origin who has been commended for speaking out about anti-Semitism. Rasmussen has written extensively about her time in Syria with the Social Nationalist Party, which she describes as “virulently anti-Semitic”. I asked her what effect the party doctrine had on her views. 

“I believed that Jews were the source of all evils on the planet, that their conspiracy aimed to destroy my nation,” she said, “and that it was right to kill Jews. Eventually it was no longer necessary to explain the hatred towards Jews. Unfortunately the political Left can’t escape the blame. The liberal middle class has little contact with the new realities. They are to be found in the fine residential districts, in their offices, writing articles about liberal thoughts. How many of them have been in immigrant neighbourhoods or had a direct contact with radical Islamists?”

Does the liberal elite support anti-Semitic sentiment when expressed by Muslims?

“I wouldn’t say that they support it, but that their fear of stigmatising Muslims makes them blind to anti-Semitism flourishing among Muslims. They are not able to deal with hatred between two minorities.”

Both Jews and gentiles referred to a tipping point in the winter of 2008-09 during the Israeli incursion into Gaza, when pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrators clashed in Oslo in one of the worst manifestations of anti-Semitism the Norwegian capital had witnessed since 1945. Shouts of “Death to the Jews” were heard, and elderly pro-Israeli demonstrators were threatened and assaulted. 

During this time a young man described by witnesses as Middle Eastern handed out anti-Semitic fliers on a busy street in central Oslo that instructed the public how to harass Jews by dumping garbage by the synagogue, desecrating the Jewish cemetery, and drawing anti-Semitic cartoons. Young white pro-Palestinians marched with placards bearing the slogan “Kill Jews” daubed across them in Arabic. 

I visited the only kosher café in Oslo, tucked into the corner of an attractive store selling pottery and vintage goods. With enough space for just six people, Oscar’s Gate 54 is owned and run by Janne Jaffe Hesstvedt, a leading member of the Norway branch of the Women’s International Zionist Organisation. Her views on Israel are moderate (she is married to an Israeli with whom she argues passionately about some issues) and she is bewildered at the situation she, a third-generation Norwegian, finds herself in. 

“It was a pogrom,” she said, referring to the anti-Israel demonstrations of January 2009. “I think some of the migrant Muslims get the message that they have a free reign here.”

Hesstvedt told about the changes she has seen in Oslo in recent years. “After 9/11 my daughter was verbally attacked by some Muslim boys who shouted, ‘Bloody Jews, go back to where you came from.’ The school principal did not take it   seriously.”

I ask if she dislikes Muslims. “No. Look at us, we are so similar, we are like cousins, but there is this terrible thing between us. I don’t hate them but I do not trust them. I am scared of them.”

I was invited to Hesstvedt’s home for Shabbat dinner and met her husband Moshe and various friends and family. We ate gefilte fish and challah and the atmosphere was as warm and inclusive an occasion as Friday night with Jews is supposed to be. 

Two of the dinner guests told me they have heard the term “Jew” being used by young Muslim men as a term of abuse. “It did not use to be like this,” said one. “We were good at assimilating and were left alone by the [other] Norwegians.”

The next day I met Cora Alexa Doving and Vibeke Moe from CHS, who were keen to assure me that there was no real recorded rise in anti-Semitism and that it was clear that radical Muslims were the main instigators. They told me the police are monitoring approximately 100 such radicals, all of whom have criminal records and/or connections with jihadist groups. 

Anti-Semitic hate crimes are not recorded as such since the category does not exist in Norwegian law. However, under pressure from the Jewish community to take note of specific reports, the police recently stated that there was an increase in reports of hate crime towards Jews. 

 ”It is a little bit tricky that the Norwegians say that Jews should take a stand against Israel,” says Moe, “and that so many compare what is happening in Israel with the Nazi regime. But maybe they have a lack of knowledge about the situation in Israel, and ‘Nazi’ is used casually to describe something bad.”

For Norwegian Jews to be told they are responsible for the Middle East crisis, or that they should “take a stand” against Israel is analogous to telling all British Muslims that they are to blame for the Asian sex-grooming gangs.

I left Oslo with a sense of foreboding. This tiny Jewish community, despite its tenacious spirit that survived Nazi occupation, could well become extinct in a country that prides itself on being a liberal and tolerant nation.

No one, it seems, is protecting them. More than 60 years after the wartime collaborationist leader Vidkun Quisling was executed, the word “quisling” remains a synonym for traitor. If the Jews were now to be forced out of Norway altogether, future generations of Norwegians will be left with an equally shameful legacy. 

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