Anti-Semitism and Holocaust

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-Nazi group in Norway today is the Institutt 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-Nazi 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 attention.

©2002 -

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