Alan Dershowitz and Norwegian Anti-Semitism
On March 29, the internationally renowned lawyer, Harvard law professor, and supporter of Israel Alan M. Dershowitz published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about his recent experience in Norway. A Norwegian organization, he explained, had invited him to the frozen North and “offered to have me lecture without any charge to the three major universities” in the country. Now, in these days when lecture fees for high-profile figures like Dershowitz can be outrageously steep, one might expect that any institution of higher education would jump at the prospect of a free lecture by someone of his stature. Yet Norway’s universities turned down Dershowitz’s proposed talk on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Why? The University of Oslo offered no reason for its decision; the University of Trondheim’s excuse was that the topic was “controversial.” (As if one of the major purposes of a serious university weren’t to discuss controversial ideas!) The law dean at the University of Bergen suggested that Dershowitz serve up a lecture on the O.J. Simpson case (in which Dershowitz served as an advisor to the defense team), “as long as I was willing to promise not to mention Israel.” Dershowitz noted that after decades of holding forth around the world, the only country in which he’d previously been denied a university lecture platform was South Africa during the apartheid era. (At the time, he was representing Nelson Mandela.) Dershowitz ended up giving lectures in Norway under the auspices of student groups.
To anyone familiar with the recent history of Norway, the shabby treatment of Dershowitz by the academic establishment should come as no surprise. The Norwegian cultural elite prides itself on its supposed love of dialogue, and its political leaders are quite self-righteous about their willingness to sit down and talk with the likes of Hamas. But that love of dialogue always seems to evaporate when the potential dialogue partner is a supporter of Israel or a proud, unapologetic, un-self-hating Jew.
Norwegian Israel-haters routinely insist, of course, that their hatred of the Jewish state is not an expression of anti-Semitism. But the record strongly suggests otherwise -- and it’s a record that goes back a long way. Every May 17th, Norwegians cram the streets of their cities, wearing quaint native costumes and waving Norwegian flags to mark the day in 1814 when their nation’s constitution was signed. One fact that has long since been dropped down the memory hole is that the second article of that constitution banned Jews from the country. (The exact sentence, in the quaint Dano-Norwegian of the day, is: “Jøder ere fremdeles udelukkede fra Adgang til Riget.” Translation: Jews are still excluded from admission to the Kingdom.)
To be sure, the ban on Jews was lifted in 1851 (only to be reinstated by Quisling in 1942, and again lifted in 1945). But a significant difference between the U.S. and Norwegian constitutions is that while the text of the former remains intact, with its embarrassing old passages retained in the official document (as they should be) and with all changes registered in amendments that appear in chronological order following the original text, the memory of the so-called “Jewish article” has been neatly erased from Norway’s founding document. Though the English-language pages on the Norwegian government’s official website include what is identified as the “complete text” of the country’s constitution; it isn’t complete at all. Not only is the notorious sentence about Jews missing; there’s no indication that it ever was there. But never mind: if the “Jewish article” is gone, the sentiment behind it is alive and well. Indeed, in recent years, the eagerness of bien pensant Norwegians to appease their Muslim countrymen -- and, indeed, the entire Islamic world -- has helped fuel an increase in public expressions of anti-Semitism, especially by the people who are supposed to be Norway’s best and brightest.
It’s important to note here that Norway’s current Jewish population is tiny -- at most about 2,000. In the entire country there are only two synagogues. One of them is in Oslo, a couple of blocks from where I live. In September 2006 four men were arrested for shooting at it. There’s now a guardhouse out front, with an armed guard inside. Along with the Israeli and American embassies, the synagogue would appear to be the most carefully guarded building in Oslo. By contrast, there’s no sign of an armed presence anywhere in the vicinity of the Royal Palace, the Parliament, or any of the major government office buildings.
If the synagogue is a target for assault, it’s hardly because it’s been a center of controversy. On the contrary, as Oslo’s Muslim population has grown, and as anti-Semitic rhetoric by Norwegian Muslim leaders and their cultural-elite allies has escalated, Oslo’s Jews have striven to maintain a low profile. If Norway’s most prominent Muslims have routinely savaged Western values and haven’t hesitated to make it clear that they identify more with their native cultures and with the Islamic umma than with Norway, Norwegian Jews, in the face of ubiquitous Israel-bashing, have gone to extraordinary lengths to assert their Norwegian identity and to distance themselves from Israel.
Indeed, even as life has become more difficult for Jews in Oslo -- to the extent that children have been advised not to wear Stars of David or yarmulkes in order to avoid harassment -- Norwegian Jews have refrained from complaining, and have instead continually asserted that they’re doing just fine, thank you. No wonder, then, that when Dershowitz met with leaders of Oslo’s Jewish community, he observed that “all they would say is that ‘things are wonderful,’ before falling silent.” But how, he asked, can things be so wonderful for Jews in a country where, for example, kosher butchering is illegal? To which an audience member “quietly replied: ‘We don't talk about certain things.’”
No, they don’t talk about certain things. Things like these:
- On April 8, 2002, Ingmar Tveitt, a friend of a member of the Norwegian Parliament, walked into the Parliament’s restaurant wearing a jacket with an Israeli flag pin on the chest pocket. After he’d spoken briefly with other diners, two security guards approached him and asked him to come with them “because they had received reactions” to his flag pin. “I asked who had reacted, and what they had reacted to, but got no answer,” Tveitt told Dagbladet. The guards escorted him to the wardrobe, where he was made to hang up his jacket. As Tveitt noted, “People walk around [in Parliament] with Palestinian scarves and other pro-Palestinian symbols without any reaction.” But Israel, of course, is a different matter.
- Of all living Norwegian writers, Jostein Gaarder is probably the one whose work has sold the most copies around the world. His best-known book is Sophie’s World (1991), in which a teenage girl learns the history of philosophy from a mysterious older man. It’s a widely beloved book, and a fond reader might easily picture Gaarder as a gentle, contemplative sort. Nope. In 2006, he published a vicious j’accuse of an op-ed in Aftenposten that read like something out of Der Stürmer. In it, Gaarder read the riot act to Israel: through its actions, he argued, it had entirely lost its right to exist. But Gaarder’s larger subject wasn’t Israel but the Jewish people -- or, as he put it sarcatically in the piece’s title, “God’s Chosen People.” Gaarder’s sheer cruelty and nastiness were breathtaking. “We do not believe in the concept of God’s chosen people,” he wrote. “We laugh at this people’s caprices and weep over their misdeeds.” He suggested that many Israelis celebrate the deaths of Lebanese children just “as they once cheered the plagues of the Lord as ‘fitting punishment’ for the Egyptian people.” And he envisioned “little Israeli girls writing hateful greetings on the bombs to be dropped on civilian populations in Lebanon and Palestine” and “strut[ting] with glee over the death and torment.” As if it were Israelis who were putting guns into the hands of children!
I’ve never seen any indication that Gaarder’s op-ed dented his domestic reputation in the slightest. On the contrary, a year after it appeared, bus shelters all over Oslo featured giant pictures of a grinning Gaarder, promoting a book club for children.
- Former Norwegian Prime Minister Kåre Willoch is consistently treated as a sage -- a man of deep wisdom and insight about international affairs. He enjoys profound respect, even deference, in almost every corner of the Norwegian establishment. He’s also a virulent anti-Semite. The examples are many, but one will suffice. In 2009, when Obama appointed Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, Willoch assailed him for picking a Jew. Emanuel’s selection, Willoch argued, augered a pro-Israel policy on Obama’s part. Author and journalist Mona Levin, one of the more prominent members of Norway’s Jewish community, called Willoch “a racist and anti-Semite…the hatred shines in his eyes when he talks about Israel…. There’s not one Jew in Norway who doesn’t feel the same way [I do].”
- On two nights in January 2009, the downtown area of Oslo, normally one of Europe’s sleepiest capitals, turned into a vision of Sarajevo or Gaza at their most violent. Hundreds of young Muslim men committed acts of vandalism that filled block after block of the city with broken window glass. Police turned out in full force, but seemed feeble and pathetic in the face of this massive provocation. The purported reason for the demonstration was anger over Israel’s actions against Hamas. In fact the whole thing was nothing but an explosion of passionate Jew-hatred. Indeed, a short book (which I have not seen) about these days of fury is entitled The Anti-Jewish Riots in Oslo. The scariest thing about the riots is that, although they revealed that a growing minority in Oslo is infected with virulent anti-Western and anti-Semitic sentiment, and though they clearly presaged far worse things to come, they were very quickly dropped down the nation’s memory hole. Nobody ever talks about them.
- In May 2010, as if to compete with Jostein Gaarder, another bestselling Norwegian novelist, Erlend Loe, gave a speech to several hundred demonstrators outside the Israeli Embassy in Oslo in which he expressed his “disgust” with Israel. The demo was in response to Israel’s attack on a supposedly “humanitarian” convoy headed toward Gaza. “Shame on you, Israel!” Loe shouted. “Shame on you!”
- Last month, Norway’s Socialist Left Party, a member of the current governing coalition, said that it was open to the idea of Norwegian military action against Israel: “The international community’s credibility in the confrontation with the Qaddafi regime is weakened when there is no reaction against other states in the region that commit assaults on civilians.”
There’s plenty more, of course, where that came from.
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!”
The rabbi himself made it clear that this guest’s reaction was far from unique: “I received calls and texts from people who finally realized that it’s time to speak up. One woman called me and said ‘we finally have to be vocal about who we are.’ Another said she took the courage to make a statement on Facebook and wrote ‘I am a Jew and I am sticking up for Israel.’”
In the U.S., that Facebook posting might not seem too radical. In Norway -- well, it’s a start, anyway. One can only hope that it’s the start of something big. Otherwise Jews in Norway might as well pack up and get out while the getting’s good, and raise their kids in some place where anti-Semitism, sharia, and the rank appeasement of the religion of peace aren’t quite so nakedly on the march. Because unless Norway’s Jews do start speaking up -- and doing so as loudly and firmly as those who despise them -- the conditions under which they live will only go from bad to worse. And if modern European history proves anything, it’s that there are times when the only thing more dangerous than being a conspicuous and obstreperous Jew is being a meek and compliant one.