Public meeting at the Literature House today – what do we do about the new anti-Semitism?

Aftenposten and NRK organized a public meeting on how to confront the new anti-Semitism in Norway. The debate was sporadically very tense and SV’s Kristin Halvorsen got a dressing down over left’s failure to confront its anti-Semitic attitudes:

lifted from Aftenposten

A heated debate on the new Jew hatred

More than half of school pupils have experiences Jew hatred. What do we do. heated debate at the Literature House Monday evening.

New resaerch shows that Norwegian’s negative attitudes towards Jews has increased lately. Earlier this evening the Minister of Knowledge Kristin Halvorsen, and the winner of this year’s Freedom of Expression award  Sarah Azmeh Rasmussen, researcher Claudia Lenz from the Wergeland center, and the Jewish author and journalist Mona Levin participated in a debate on Jew hatred at the Literature House in Oslo.

If you thought Jew hatred was a thing of the past, you have been sleeping in class. A survey from the Oslo Schools, the largest and most multi-ethnic municipality in the country, demonstrated that the Jews as a group is the most vulnerable to racial slurs.
Suffer the most
The survey from Oslo shows us that one of three Jewish children are often affected by racism , while only 5 percent of Muslim children have experienced the same.A whopping 52 percent of students have experienced negative use of the word “Jew”. The survey shows that the word “Jew” is currently used as a general insult, both to Jews, Muslims and others in Norway.

After the first hour of the debate, there was a clear demarcation between Sara Azmeh Rasmussen and Kristin Halvorsen. Azmeh Rasmussen grew up in Syria and said that she grew up submerged in Jew hatred.

Submerged in Jew hatred
– The Muslim hatred of Jew is a classic, old phenomenon. It arose as a reaction to Judaism , which was perceived as a religion competing with Islam. What we see in Norway today is a much clearer, more pronounced Jew-hatred that is not presented as anything else, Rasmussen pointed out.

Kristin Halvorsen was angered by claims by  the Freedom of Expression Award winner Azmeh Rasmussen, as the pointed out that parts of the Norwegian left inadvertently legitimizes acts of Jew hatred. She wondered why the Left has not organized a peace ship in support of the more than ten thousand Syrian civilians who were killed in the last year’s fighting, while always identifying with the Palestinian cause.

Halvorsen rejected the criticism.

– One must be allowed to criticize the State of Israel’s policies without being called an anti-Semite. If this is not perceived as legitimate, we will not be able to identify the problems that we are obliged to discuss.  I reserve the right to criticize the State of Israel while simultaneously and actively fighting anti-Semitism, she said.

Azmeh Rasmussen nevertheless pointed out  that no one from the Socialistic Left supported her when she called for a peace rally in support of Syria. Halvorsen responded:

Then Finance minister (current minister of education) Kristin Halvorsen at the scandalous 2009 Gaza rally that called for Jewish blood and trashed downtown Oslo

– This I think is a pretty serious accusation. We have worked hard to find peaceful solutions between the Palestinians and Israel. That somebody tries to use this in a different context is a different matter; i cannot bear responsibility for that.
Has grown elephant skin
Mona Levin recounted her own experiences as a Jew in Norway, a minority with only 1400 members.

– I never imagined I would be debating this in Norway. Abuse, people urinating on the synagogue, taxi drivers who refuse to drive people to the synagogue in Oslo, this is the situation today. 11 separate events were registered only in March. My only encounter with this is when I read my emails, after I have written something in the papers. I have learned to not red the talk backs. Over time, one grows a very thick elephant skin. I am more disturbed by subconscious expressions of anti-Semitism, for example one can read in the newspapers, statements like “The Germans killed Jews, Gypsies, as well as other, completely innocent people.” It is this group think which is dangerous, where a lot of negative qualities are attributed the Jews, she said.

Kristin Halvorsen reiterated time and again that it was important to recognize the link between hatred of Muslims and Islamophobia. Mona Levin said that the two could not be compared, because the Holocaust by far surpasses the persecution of Muslims. She said:

– For ten years, I have been traveling around the country to talk about anti-Semitism. Not once have I talked about Israel or Israeli policies. I’m limiting my talks to the Jewish history in Norway. Halvorsen says that it must be legitimate to criticize Israel whilst simultaneously fighting anti-Semitism. Let me turn the argument on its head and say it must be possible to talk about anti-Semitism in Norway, without discussing Israel in the same breath.

New commemoration
After the opening deliberations, several persons from among the audience as well as keynote speakers offered suggestions for what can be done about the situation. Kristin Halvorsen said that specific education on the matter in Norwegian schools is the most important instrument. Mona Levin pointed out that the negative attitudes towards Israel in our school system is so pronounced that is can very often be difficult for her, and others, to present their views and contribute to the fight against anti-Semitism. Kristin Halvorsen said that it should  not be left to the individual teacher to teach about matters such  as the Holocaust.

– This is not something that should be delegated to the individual teacher. This is the responsibility for the school boards, as well as the rest of the society. Only then can we ensure that those whose parents have not learned about the persecution of the Jews in their home countries are also receiving this important knowledge, she said.

Both Levin and Halvorsen agreed that it is important to focus on the Jews who were deported from Norway to the Nazi concentration camps, because it is easier for teenagers to relate to what is closer [in time]. On January 27The PM, Jens Stoltenberg commemorated the the liberation of Jewish survivors from Auschwitz, apologizing for the deportations of Norwegian Jews.

– This year the date that was commemorated was the 27th of January. I think it would be more poignant to commemorate the 26th of November, the day when Jews were deported from Norway. This will bring the problem much closer to us, Levin suggested.

Fails to distinguish between People and government
In this matter, Norway is far from the harmonious country many people want to believe. Our attitudes to Jews are to a  surprisingly great extent shaped by the State of Israel, despite the fact that the country is far from representative of the Norwegian Jews.

In a study that was presented by the American organization Anti-Defamation League in March,  78 percent of Norwegians said that their attitudes toward Jews has worsened. Only Hungary and the Netherlands have a higher response rate to this question than Norway.

On the question “Is your attitude toward Jews affected by the actions undertaken by the State of Israel?” 39 percent responded yes. Nearly four in ten admit that they are unable to distinguish between the Jewish people and Israel. None of the ten European countries scored equally low on this question. Even in Hungary, a country currently in focus due to the extreme right-wing attitudes there, only 27 percent agreed with this statement.

The debate began at 19 It was led by Aftenposten’s cultural editor Knut Olav Åmås and Ellen Wesche Guttormsen from NRK. The debate was broadcasted live on NRK radio P2.