In light of the horror in Oslo today, it is instructive to look back on an interview with the Norway-based American poet, literary critic, author and PJM contributor, Bruce Bawer, by The Jerusalem Post’s Benjamin Weinthal conducted in Berlin in April, 2011. Here, in pertinent part, is the interview:
What is contemporary Norwegian anti- Semitism? What is propagating post-Holocaust hatred of Israel and Jews in Norway?
It’s a phenomenon of a sort that I never encountered in all my years in the US, and that I once thought had been banished to the dustbin of history. It’s most virulent among the cultural elite – the academics, intellectuals, writers, journalists, politicians, and technocrats.
They’re overwhelmingly on the left, and intensely hostile to the West, to capitalism, to the US and to Israel. Before the fall of the USSR, an extraordinary percentage of them were Communists. They have replaced their affinity to the Soviet Union with sympathy for the great totalitarian ideology of our time: Islamism. Thus they romanticize Palestinians and despise Israel.
Part of the motivation for this anti-Semitism is the influx into Norway in recent decades of masses of Muslims from Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia and elsewhere. Multiculturalism has taught Norway’s cultural elite to take an uncritical, even obsequious, posture toward every aspect of Muslim culture and belief. When Muslim leaders rant against Israel and the Jews, the reflexive response of the multiculturalist elite is to join them in their rantings. This is called solidarity.
Norwegian history also plays a role in all this. Anti-Semitism has a long, deeply-rooted history here. This was never a cosmopolitan country – no nation in Europe was less ethnically or religiously diverse. On the contrary, Norway was a remote, rural, mountainous land of pious Lutheran farmers whose early 19th-century constitution banned Jews from its territory.
With a few notable exceptions, Norwegians did not exactly cover themselves in glory during the Nazi occupation. Unlike their counterparts in Denmark, Norwegian gentiles made no major effort to protect their Jewish neighbors. To be sure, in the decades after the war,Norway was a staunch ally of the US and Israel; but the entrenched leftwing elite did its work through the schools, universities and media – producing a generation of Norwegians for whom being virtuous and intellectually sophisticated means, among other things, embracing the Muslim “victim,” and despising the Israeli “bully.”
On Oslo’s version of Fleet Street there is a bar, a journalists’ hangout, called Stopp Pressen (Stop the Presses). For years, there hung in its window a photograph of a smiling, beatific Yasser Arafat. From the way he was portrayed, you’d have thought he was Albert Schweizer. I walked by that picture almost every day for years. It was a good reminder of the sickness at the top ranks of this society.
How is modern anti-Semitism expressing itself in Norway?
Norwegian academics have sought to ban contacts with Israeli universities. Norwegianactivists have encouraged boycotts of Israeli products. Every so often, a high-profile professor or activist, or some famous author like Erlend Loe or Jostein Gaarder, will write a virulent op-ed or give an angry speech denouncing Israel and insulting Jews as a people. Nothing they say is ever fresh or new; on the contrary, it’s all pure cultural-elite orthodoxy.
Nothing, moreover, could be safer for them to say in this country; no one will seek to harm them physically or otherwise. On the contrary, their anti-Semitic drivel will only win them plaudits from their colleagues. Yet they are treated as bold, courageous, original truth-tellers.
Can you explain what is driving Norway’s Socialist Left Party – a member of the current governing coalition – to be amenable to using the Norwegian military to strike Israel?
The Socialist Left Party is the spiritual home of much, if not most, of the Norwegian cultural elite. Many of its members were once card-carrying Communists and Soviet sympathizers. They despise the US and hate the fact that Norway is in NATO.
At one time they would’ve gladly enlisted Norway in the Warsaw Pact, because in their view the great force for evil in today’s world is capitalism. Now they are eager to embrace jihadists and terrorists for the same reason.
Are Norwegians consumed with memorializing the Holocaust and dead Jews, but at the same time ignoring the lethal anti- Semitism directed at Jews in Israel and Diaspora Jews because of their support for Israel?
Yes. People who are professionally committed to memorializing the Holocaust will deplore it in one breath, and in the next will explain that the Muslims are today’s Jews and that the Israelis are today’s Nazis. Again, in large part I think this can be explained by history. It salves the conscience of many Norwegians about their parents’ and grandparents’ wartime moral choices to be able to tell themselves that, ‘well, that was long ago, and today Norwayis a virtuous bringer of peace, and Israel is a bloodthirsty warmonger.’
Do you consider Norway to have the highest levels of anti-Semitism among the Scandinavian countries?
It’s close, but if I had to bet on which country was the worst, I do think I’d pick Norway.
How dangerous is political and radical Islam in Norway?
Terrifyingly dangerous. And what makes it dangerous is the eagerness of the cultural elite to whitewash it. Islamists are welcomed into the elite. In recent years, one high-profile Islamist has been given a coveted position as a columnist for the country’s newspaper of record, while another has become a leading member of one of the political parties, and has established himself as a powerful figure in Norwegian society.
These men are invited to parties at the US Embassy, and enjoy friendly relations with top members of the Norwegian government and with members of the royal family. It seems clear that they are being groomed for high political office here.
Then there’s our resident terrorist, Mullah Krekar, and his family, who have long been the subjects of fawning newspaper and TV profiles in which they are depicted sympathetically as kind, gentle, suffering victims. (This is a man who founded the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam, and who is known to be guilty of murdering and torturing children.)
Two years ago, supposedly in response to Israel’s actions against Hamas, Muslims rioted in downtown Oslo, making a large area of the city look like Beirut or Sarajevo at their most violent moments in modern history. The violence was out of control, the damage extensive. Yet almost everyone got off scot-free.
Early last year, in the same Oslo Square where Quisling and his henchman once held rallies, scores of radical Muslims gathered to hear a Nazi-like message of hate against Jews, gays, secular democracy, America, the West, Israel. The speeches were chilling. Yet the men who gave those speeches continue to be treated with respect by Norwegian authorities.
What types of alliances exist between Norway’s leftists parties and Islamic groups?
Very cozy alliances. They share common enemies.
How can Norwegian authorities combat Islamic, left-wing and right-wing anti-Semitism?
In the next election, Norwegian voters need to hand the reins of government over to the Progress Party – the only one of Norway’s several major parties that is truly friendly to Israel, and the only one that is remotely honest about the realities of Islamism. Otherwise, nothing will happen.
In terms of Norway’s small Jewish community – estimated to be 2,000 – you wrote: “The upside of the Dershowitz story is that his anger over Norway’s shabby treatment of him – and of Jews generally – seems to have awakened at least some members of Oslo’s Jewish community. Baila Odidort, a reporter for a Jewish website, attended a breakfast at Chabad House in Oslo at which Dershowitz met with Jewish leaders. ‘For local Jews who have grown accustomed to keeping a low profile,’ wrote Odidort, ‘Dershowitz’s fearlessness was a stunning eye-opener.’”
Odidort provided a vibrant example: “After so many years of living here and hearing people tell me that day is night and night is day, I’ve stopped screaming that it’s not true,’ one of the guests at the Chabad House breakfast who preferred to remain anonymous told Rabbi Wilhelm after the meeting. ‘Mr. Dershowitz comes along and opens the window and says it’s a beautiful day!’”
What is the explanation for the reticence among Norwegian Jews to flex their pro- Israel muscles, and at the same time assertively confront modern Norwegian anti-Semitism?
They are extremely few in number. And they fear for their children’s future. But their silence is no solution. Their children have no future here unless they speak up.
Should Norway’s Jews consider making aliya [moving to Israel]?