1. Bennett M. Epstein: No More Norway
Fri Jun 7, 2002 1:08 am
Why I won't be seeing the fjords this summer By Bennett
M. Epstein May 20, 2002
On the heels of Mr. Roed-Larsen's now-infamous remark that Israel
"ceded all moral ground" in Jenin, comes word from his home country of
Norway that some supermarket chains have decided to place special
identification stickers on products from Israel. Other
Scandinavian countries may follow suit. The Norwegians say the stickers
do not constitute a "boycott" of Israel; they just want their customers,
who are overwhelmingly pro-Palestinian, to pay attention to where these
products are produced. Maybe the rest of us should run down to our
local supermarkets with a pad of yellow "post-it" notes so that
consumers of Norwegian salmon or Jarlsberg cheese can also pay
attention to where those are produced. Stick them on the packages with a
note: these products come from a place with a shameful past that continues
to operate as a European free zone for Neo-Nazis and other right wing
extremists. Those asking the question of whether Europeans are
anti-Israel because of Israel's actions in fighting terror, or because
of their own latent anti-Semitism, should study the example
of Norway. Behind the current disclaimer of a boycott you will find
that Norwegians are quite experienced at boycotting Israel. Norwegian
labor unions have recently refused to off-load Israeli farm
produce. Last year, a Norwegian "labor youth movement" organized a
campaign to ban Israeli singers from the Eurovision song contest. Another
Norwegian group has been boycotting Israeli oranges since the early 90s.
This group, "Boikott Israel," rejuvenated by the latest "Intifada" to
include a boycott of all Israeli commerce, denies on its website that it
is anti-Semitic but states that its goal is the end Israel's "50 year
occupation" of, and the return of all refugees to, a "free Palestine." Not
anti-Semitic? In 1941, the graffiti on Jewish businesses in Oslo read:
"Jews, go to Palestine." To campaign now in Norway to get the Jews out of
"Palestine" seems anti-Semitic to me, if only by process of elimination.
Indeed, the roots of Norwegian boycotts of Israel run deep.
Anti-Semitism has held a unique place in Norwegian politics since the
1930s when Vidkun Quisling, later the leader of a Nazi puppet government
in Norway, formed the National Union Party. While many Norwegians fought
with the Resistance, many became eager collaborators of the Nazis,
including some 60,000 members of the National Union. Under its auspices,
Norway formed its own branch of the SS and established academies sending
hundreds of officers each year to the German military. One very active
neo-Nazis group in Norway today is theInstitute for norsk
okkupasjonshistorie (Institute for the History of Occupied Norway),
composed of descendants of members of the Quisling party, the Waffen SS
and others dedicated to cleansing their wartime reputation.
The aspect of the holocaust in Norway that was particularly
Norwegian was the liquidation of Jewish property, much of which was
divided up by Quisling and his followers. When the war ended,
the Norwegian reparations commission shamelessly accepted doctored figures
kept by the Quisling government in order to reject most Jewish claims and
avoid paying others more than pennies on the dollar. Then in 1997 a
new commission, appointed after a journalistic expose of the injustice of
the first commission, issued a report, which actually recommended adherence
to the earlier decision. However, a scandal erupted when it was discovered
that an organization of former Nazis had provided a scholarship to a
researcher on the new commission. The Norwegian prime minister ultimately
intervened and compelled the government to accept a dissenting report.
Today, neo-Nazis propaganda, band concerts and other events are
commonplace in Norway. Norway's ultra right-wing groups play host to
gatherings of like-minded groups from Sweden and Denmark with little fear
of official interference. More significantly, according to a report
published by the Stephen Roth Institute of Tel Aviv University, the extreme
right wing Progress Party is the second largest party in Norway with 25 out
of 160 seats in the Parliament. Among other racist and anti-immigration
views, this party advocates banning male circumcision. Schechita (kosher
slaughter) is already forbidden by Norwegian law.
Given their past and present history, Norwegians are hardly
qualified to accuse any other country of having ceded "moral ground." Their
warning stickers on Israeli goods are the modern-day equivalent of painting
"Joden" on the Jewish-owned businesses of Oslo and Trondheim in 1941. We
needn't be reminded that after that, all of Norway's remaining Jews were
deported to Auschwitz. Fewer than 30 survived the Holocaust. I'm not
the sort that usually pays attention to boycotts and counter-boycotts,
because often you don't know who you are really hurting. But there is a
good reason why I won't be buying Norwegian products any time soon, or
cruising on the Norwegian Line. Their stickers have caught my
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