Ervin Kohn in Vårt Land; Denial of anti-Semitism. The Norwegian society has been afraid of examining anti-Semitism in Norway

published in Vårt Land June 11, not online.


Norway is not the most anti-Semitic country in Europe, as some people have claimed. For the first time, thanks to the Holocaust Center survey, we now have some documented facts and no longer need to rely on guesses or opinions based on isolated episodes.

The study documents that the Norwegian society actually has a problem with anti-Semitism. Just what has been revealed in other European countries, a long time ago. Therefore, it comes as no surprise to discover that Norway too suffers from bad attitudes.

Now is the time for debate, to analyze and implement preventive. We can do without the exaggerations and drama; the reality is harsh enough. A separate study by the Jewish community confirmed the main findings of the Holocaust center study; 22 children were interviewed  and a survey was done among the members.

Complex picture

I would rather be a Jew in Norway than in Spain or Hungary. I would rather be a Jew in Norway than Muslim in Norway. I’d also rather be a Muslim in Norway than in many other countries.

For many people, it is much easier to see the world in terms of ‘either – or’. I would like to propose ‘on the one hand – on the other hand’. That way you don’t close your door to any of the options and makes it easier to progress. For instance; I support both the Palestinian aspiration to statehood, as well as Israel’s right to live in safety. In a similar vein, I think Norway is a good country to live in for Jews, at the same time as I acknowledge that Norway also has problem with anti-Semitism.

Its not news that people are unkind to each other. It is also not news that children are unkind to each other – when nobody intervenes but let them get away with it. Who can prevent that people are unkind to each other? That’s right – you can. A bully who realizes that the wider society does not accept their bullying behavior, will soon enough give up.


It was shocking to learn from our own survey (DMT study), that teachers and head masters showed an attitude of indifference towards anti-Semitism in schools. It was depressing to learn about the headmaster who believed that the pupil should tolerate to be called a “fucking Jew” because it was not worse than being called a “fucking farmer (actually, a West Coast person, but that makes no sense to non-Norwegians) .” One must assume that the head master is informed that the conditions for farmers in Norway has been vastly different than it has for Norwegian Jews. Not only does this reveal a lack of historical knowledge, but also lack of empathy.

The DMT study also revealed that there are teachers and schools who understand this finer point and put an end to this evil behavior. I choose to believe that the vast majority of teachers fall within this category, the ones with healthy attitudes. But I cannot know this for certain. Therefore, one must hope that the effort to document anti-Semitic attitudes among teachers, head masters journalists, Muslims and also among the different Christian congregations, the Humanist Association, as well as NGOs and political organizations. If you have not asked the questions, your only avenue is to guess and opine.

What is anti-Semitism?

The Norwegian society has long avoided to grapple with the heavy subject of anti-Semitism. In stead, it has tried to hide it away under the much more appealing labels of racism and hate crime.

Denial is the correct term. Journalist and former leader of Red Youth, Mimir Kristjansson, wrote in an article “I was wrong” in Klassekampen 22.03.12. he admitted to have under estimated anti-Semitism among Norwegian left leaning activists and politicians. “We considered it to be so outrageous that we could not imagine that it could still occur . (…) For too long I thought Jew hatred was something that belonged to the 1940s. Unfortunately I was wrong.”

We are starting to appreciate that anti-Semitism is not like other types of racism. One of the special characteristics of anti-semitism is it does not require Jewish presence. We had anti-Semitism in Norway before any Jews were living here. We have anti-Semitism in schools without the Jewish pupils. Anti-Semitism is independent of integration or assimilation while at the same time being linked to notions of political and economic power. None of these characteristics are present in other types of racism in Europe.


It is important to acknowledge the presence of anti-Semitism because it helps us identify it and combat it. Anti-Semitism did not begin or end with the Holocaust. Therefore, research and education in anti-Semitism must be separated from education on World War II.

Knowledge of anti-Semitism and knowledge of Judaism, Jewish tradition and philosophy is a prerequisite for working with attitudes. Knowledge and creating awareness around the problems, is the vaccine that is necessary to resist the virus anti-Semitism represents; a virus which once more has demonstrated its ability to survive. Even if it is the Jews who die from it, it is the Non-Jews who suffer from the disease. The Jews are like the canary birds which were used in coal mines. They were the one who first would die of gas, and when the canary-birds died, it was time to get out.

There is no doubt that Jews have a special sensitivity to the virus. The society at large can use this in their learning process. I would recommend the book Jew-hatred (Eriksen, Harket and Lorenz, 2005) as required reading for all teaching colleges.


The learning process should also include lessons in drawing limits. What is anti-Semitism and what is it not? We must learn to distinguish it when it comes to humor, legislation and politics. The book on Jewish humorists is much thicker than the book on Jewish athletes. Norwegian non-Jewish comedians should of course be allowed to tell Jewish jokes. Some limits to stay clear of the mine fields are not difficult to draw. (Gas-chamber humor is not that funny; attempting to make fun of stereotypes is very tricky. Anything else that characterizes Jews: clothing, behavior, actions and attitudes are totally OK.)

Whipping boy

And then there is the issue of the Israel debate. How many times have we not heard it: “It must be allowed to criticize Israel without being accused of being an anti-Semite.” This argument can be heard in debates on Jew hatred before any mention of Israel has been made.

No one has ever said that one cannot criticize Israel. Nobody believes that all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism. However, not all criticism of Israel free of anti-Semitism. But where to draw the limit? The EU has created a “working definition of anti-Semitism” – a simple 1 page approach, which can serve as a good starting point.

Some claim that Israel’s policies promote anti-Semitism. Could it be the other way around? That it is anti-Semitic attitudes that make Israel to the nations’ whipping boy?

We must be cautions against explanations and excuses. Regardless of what Israel does, it can never justify anti-Semitic attitudes or attacks in Norway.


Studying the results from the Holocaust Center’s population survey, you find some responses that surprise you and some that don’t. One response is worrying; 38 percent of those surveyed believe that Israel treat the Palestinians like the Nazis treated the Jews during the 2 World War II.

How did this misconception take hold? Is it due to education on history and the lack of understanding of the industrial mass murder of six million Jewish Europeans?

Or does it stem from the Middle East? Can it really be unknown that the life expectancy of Palestinian women has increased by over 20 years under Israeli occupation? Was the same true for Jewish women under Nazi occupation? The Palestinian population in Gaza has quadrupled under the Israeli occupation between 1967 and 2005. Was this true also for Jews in the time of the Nazis?

We can rightly criticize the Israeli occupation and the pain inflicted on innocent Palestinians in Israel’s fight against terror. But what does that say about the massive Israel coverage in the media when such a large proportion of the population are unable distinguish between population explosion and extinction?