Good bye Mr. Støre, hello Mr. Eide

PM Stoltenberg has spent the last week pondering how to reposition his now less than appreciated government in time for next years general election. It has not been all that great for the coalition lately, with all sorts of scandals hitting  them over their stiff necks. A little careless wasting of public funds, lavished on close friends and powerful contacts, or a whimsical failure to implement security measures which could have drastically reduced the casualties of the 22 July terror, and now, a soaring death toll at our most prestigious hospitals after putting more effort into ticking the right boxes on dreary paperwork than actually ensuring that hospitalized patients get the medical care we presumably are paying through our noses for…

Hence, as of yesterday, a complete cabinet reshuffle, designed to capture the mood of the electorate (but recirculating failures… is that a recipe for success?), which means that Mr. Støre no longer represents us as a nation, as he now has been tasked with sorting out our ailing health system. On his way out, he received criticism for the way he has left Norway’s relationship with Europe in tatters, I think the critics safely could have added the relationship with Israel as well, and why not also throw in the relationship with China, Sri Lanka and many other places where we have naively put our noses where it ought not to be…

In his place as FM, we now have former minister of defense, Espen Barth Eide. A rising political star according to pundits, but I wonder if the right honorable gentleman is not secretly wishing that he held his tongue when he lashed out at Israel after last years horrific terror attacks in Oslo and Utøya. The attitudes Israeli journalists criticized have turned out to be a fundamental problem in the often difficult relationship Norway has to Israel and the Jews:

Comment: A time to heal?

LAST UPDATED: 08/05/2011 06:10

Two weeks after the attack in Norway, the country’s deputy foreign minister makes an appeal to ‘The Jerusalem Post.’

Floral tributes in OsloPHOTO: REUTERS

Norway’s response to the terrorist attacks in Oslo and on Utoeya is more openness, democracy and tolerance.

However, Norwegians have been shocked by some of the assertions that have been made about Norway in the aftermath of these attacks.

This week has been one of mourning as the people killed in the terrorist attacks in Oslo and on Utoeya are laid to rest. Many of the injured are still in hospital.

Norwegian society has shown a common, quiet determination not to let terrorism stop us or change us. Life has continued. At the same time, the political parties have put their differences aside for a while, to allow mental and physical wounds to heal. It has been a time for holding hands, not pointing fingers.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has stated that Norway will be recognizable after the terrorist attacks, that our answer is more democracy, more tolerance and more togetherness.

The Norwegian people have responded to this call. Hundreds of thousands have gathered in streets and squares all over the country with a clear message inspired by the words of one of the survivors: If one man can create this much evil, just imagine how much love all of us can create together.

We have been moved by the heartfelt condolences we have received from around the world. We thank the Israeli political leaders, headed by President Simon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, for their kind and comforting words at a very difficult time for our country.

Many Norwegians, however, have been astonished by assertions recently made in The Jerusalem Post by two of its regular columnists, Barry Rubin and Caroline Glick.

For example, Barry Rubin wrote on Monday that “…the youth camp he attacked was engaged in what was essentially… a pro-terrorist program.”

According to Rubin, the camp was “justifying forces that had committed terrorism against Israel” by advocating an end to the blockade of Gaza and recognition of a Palestinian state.

Rubin even implicitly blamed Norway’s Middle East policy for the attacks in Norway. He wrote, “If terrorist murders by Hamas and Islamists did not stop well-intentioned future leaders of Norway from considering them heroic underdogs, an evil local man could think his act of terrorism would gain sympathy and change Europe’s politics.”

This was, Rubin claimed, an example of the “Oslo Syndrome” whereby rewarding terrorists with political gains promotes more terrorism.

Rubin and Glick have also made much of the supposed statements by Norwegian Ambassador Svein Sevje toMa’ariv, according to which he distinguished between the motivation behind terrorism in Israel and in Norway. Glick and Rubin are not alone in doing so. Several other Israeli media have latched on to this as well.

On this point, of course, it was not Glick or Rubin who was at fault. The ambassador was incorrectly quoted by Ma’ariv. He did not compare the motivation behind different terrorist attacks; he simply tried to answer a question about whether the terrorist attacks in Norway would change perceptions of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. He stated that many Norwegians see the conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territory in the context of the occupation and religious extremism, and that this view would probably not change after the events in Oslo and on Utoeya.

There should be no doubt: Norway has never condoned terrorism. The Norwegian government has always been adamant that terrorism, regardless of motivation and regardless of where it occurs, is completely unacceptable.

Our political position is crystal clear. And we have a proven track record of committing our political, financial and military resources to peace-building activities around the world, where combating both terrorism and the causes of terrorism are important objectives. Furthermore, it cannot be claimed that supporting recognition of a Palestinian state or an end to the blockade of Gaza is the same as supporting terrorism.

The suggestion that Norway would condone or promote terrorism, particularly in the direct aftermath of this terrible attack, is both incorrect and disappointing.

We will continue to meet statements that we disagree with in a spirit of democratic tolerance and openness, and we will continue to defend the right of The Jerusalem Post and its columnists to hold different view to ours. But we cannot deny that statements like those I have referred to have dismayed us, particularly at the present time.

The writer is state secretary at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.