Norwegians are often told about the Israel-lobby in the US and its influence on US foreign policy. Of far more interest to us Norwegians however, is the anti-Israel lobby in Norway and its influence on Norwegian foreign policy. The Venn diagram below captures the main components of this lobby; 1) a pro-Palestinian component (Palestinakommiteen) 5) a racist component (Vigrid, Muhammed Ali Chisti, Arfan Bhatti) and 7) an anti-Zionist component (One-state solution proponents such as Nils Butenschøn). The corresponding intersects are 2,3,4 and 6. While it is difficult to allocate contemporary individuals to either of the subsets, Per Imerslund (1912-1943) exemplifies how one can be anti-Semitic and pro-Zionist at the same time, although this precise example is a subject of debate in itself.
The components differ from each other. Their objectives are not the same. For instance LO (Main Norwegian TUC) support for the Palestinian cause and calls for sanctions against Israel are based on the organization’s political outlook, not racism. Contrariwise Neo-Nazis (arguably- for Nazis, racism and politics are inseperable) base their hostility against Israel on racism. Yet the components overlap and intersect. Just as there are pro-Palestinians who are in favor of a jewish state, there are anti-Zionists who are racially motivated and racists who sympathize with Israel’s enemies. The common interest of the groups, organizations and individuals which together constitute the anti-Israel lobby lies in criticism of Israel as a jewish state.
But how do we describe the anti-Israel lobby beyond this?
In “Israel-Lobby” Walt and Mearsheimer use the term “Israel-Lobby” as a label for “…the loose coalition of individuals and organizations that actively want to shape US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction. The lobby is not a single unified movement, with a central leadership, however, and the individuals and groups that make up the broad coalition sometimes disagree on specific policy issues”. The Israel-Lobby is assumed to consists of a mix of American Jews, Neo-Conservatives and Christian Zionists. The effectiveness of the lobby is explained thus: “In a democracy, even relatively small groups can exercise considerable influence, if they are strongly committed to a particular issue and the rest of the population is largely indifferent.” It is emphasized repeatedly that the strength of a lobby must be seen in relation to the strength of its adversaries, in short, that the power of the US Israel-Lobby lies in the absence of effective opposition.
The Palestine-Lobby in Norway
Interest groups are a normal part of Norwegian society. Like in other countries, interest groups in Norway work to shape perceptions and legislature. At times, certain groups may exercise their influence in a way which is bad for the country as a whole. The boundary between politics and interest groups can be blurry. As examples of this we see Bjarne Håkon Hansen (Labor) and Carl I. Hagen (Progress Party) both concluding their political careers in order to work for the PR firm First House.
This article argues that the activity of the groups and individuals who make up the lobby are the main reason why Norway pursues policies in the ME that make little sense on either strategic or moral grounds.
This article does not question Norwegian support to the Palestinian people. It questions the extent and shape of that support, as well as its unconditional nature, but primarily the underlying domestic political culture from which the Palestine-Lobby draws nourishment.
This chapter identifies the central components of the Palestine-lobby and describes how it has developed over time.
The friends of Palestine
Norway’s relations with Israel is mirrored by the relationship between two lobbying organizations in Norway’s Parliament - the “Friends of Palestine” and the “Friends of Israel”.
The “Friends of Palestine” counts, as of November 2009, 29 members. 10 of the 29 belong to the Socialist Left while 18 belong to Labor. Both of these are government parties. In addition there is one member belonging to a non-government party – the Conservatives.
The “Friends of Israel” counts, as of November 2009, 27 members. 14 of the 27 belong to the Progress Party while 10 belong to the Christian Democrats and 3 belong to the Conservatives. All three of these are opposition parties.
So the “Friends of Palestine” not only outnumbers the “Friends of Israel”, but also packs a far harder political punch. It is because of this unbalanced relationship that Norway sees so much anti-Israel activity, yet the larger picture completely escapes media scrutiny. While Akersgata – Norway’s Fleet Street – does pick up on events, be it Jostein Gaarder’s op-ed, the January riots or the boycott proposal at NTNU, it is adamant that these are isolated events which bear little relation to each other. Israelbashing in Norway is not recognized for what it is – the results of the work of a sophisticated network of determined individuals who regard Israel as a symbol of western aggression against the developing world.
Akersgata – Norway’s Fleet Street – will regularly tell its readers of how the Israel-Lobby affects US foreign policy. At the same time it manages to completely avoid any mention of how the Norwegian Palestine Lobby affects Norway’s foreign policy.
This is quite spectacular.
The Palestine Committee
Palkom was founded in September 1969. For a while the pro-Palestinian community in Norway was split in accordance with the left’s division over the Soviet Union. Palfront split of from Palkom in 1976, over the question of whether the Soviet Union constituted a threat to Palestine or not.
The Joint Committee for Palestine (FUP)
FUP was founded in 1980. The driving force leading to its foundation was Palfront, which wanted to consolidate its hold on pro-Palestinian sentiment in society. Historian Tarjei Vågstøl writes:
“A strategy note to the national meeting in 1979 elucidated the issue, but was not entirely positive. The note established that the role of Palfront was not only to shape a Norwegian opinion, but to organize it. The question was how.”
After several failed attempts, the FUP was finally founded on May 12th, 1980. Historian Tarjei Vågstøl writes:
“The list over participating organizations was quite impressive: Arbeidernes Ungdomsfylking, Ghassan Khanafani kulturfond, Norges Kommunistiske Ungdomsforbund, Noregs Unge Venstre, Norsk Kvinneforbund, Norsk Studentunion, Palestinafronten, Senterungdommens Landsforbund, Sosialistisk Ungdom, Sosialistisk Venstreparti.”
Other organizations which joined up shortly afterwards were: Norsk Grafisk Forbund, Norsk Barnevernpedagog forbund, and Norges Kristelige Studenterbevegelse.
Palfront’s rival, the AKP-ml dominated Palestine Committee, was not invited to join nor accepted as a member when it applied.
Members in 2008: Aftenpostens Grafiske Klubb, AUF, Den Palestinske Forening, Fellesorganisasjonen for barnevernspedagoger, sosionomer og vernepleiere (FO), Internasjonale Sosialister, Norges Handikappforbund (NHF), Norges Kommunistiske Parti (NKP), Norges Kommunistiske Ungdomsforbund (NKU), Norges Kristelige Studentforbund (NKS), Norsk Folkehjelp region Midt Norge, Palestinagruppene i Norge, Palestinakomiteen, Rødt, Rød Ungdom, Senterungdommen, Sosialistisk Ungdom, Sosialistisk Venstreparti, LO i Oslo, Oslo Grafiske Fagforening, Teologene, Ungdom for Fritt Palestina (UFFP), Utdanningsforbundet Sør Trøndelag, Ungkommunistene i Norge.
The role of the government parties
As mentioned above the parliamentary group “Friends of Palestine” consists almost exclusively of parliamentary representatives from the government parties, while it does have one member from the opposition. Meanwhile not a single parliamentary representative from any of the government parties is member of the group “Friends of Israel”. Regarding the government parties, we furthermore find the following:
The Socialist Left has been central to the Palestine-movement since its beginnings. The party’s working program for 2009-2013, page 29 states:
SV supports the Palestinian’s struggle against Israeli occupation and enforced exile, their right to an independent state with East-Jerusalem as their capital and the refugees’ right of return. SV will exercise pressure upon Israel and be an active participant in the struggle against the apartheid-wall on the occupied Westbank in accordance with the statement made by the international court in Haague. Israel must negotiate with the Palestians’ elected representatives, regardless of party. Lacking international pressure upon Israel is a significant cause for how Israel can continue the occupation. SV will work for international sanctions against Israel, and believes one must consider both economic sanctions and sanctions withing culture, sports and academia. SV will work for an international arms-boycott and arms-embargo against Israel as long as the state continues its attacks on the Palestinian civilian population.
Here are some relevant highlights from the history of the Socialist Left:
“Nazi nurse turned commie celeb”: It has been quipped about Hanna Kvanmo, leader of SV from 1977 to 1989, that she was a “Nazi nurse turned commie celeb”. While this is an exaggeration (Kvanmo was neither) it is correct that she served as a red cross nurse for German soldiers on the eastern front during WWII before becoming a socialist leader. In 2002 she tried to have Shimon Perez stripped of the Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded in 1994.
Government – friends of Palestine: Norway’s government is a red-green coalition consisting of Labor, the Socialist Left and the Centre Party. Representatives from these three parties account for 27 of the 28 members of the Parliament group Friends of Palestine. The one representative of the opposition who is a member of Friends of Palestine – Torbjørn Røe Isaksen from the Conservatives – is also a member of Friends of Israel. Friends of Israel count 27 members, all of whom belong to opposition parties. The Friends of Palestine outgun and outnumber the Friends of Israel. A full 10 of the Friends of Palestine belong to SV.Source:Vårt Land.
“USA and Israel twin axis of evil”: On January 8th of 2009 a mob of pro-Palestinians attacked an orderly pro-Israeli peace rally, waving the flags of Hezbollah, chanting “Khayber khayber” and throwing bottles, stones and even a Molotow Coctail. In the riots that ensued many of the rioters sought refuge in a march in which leader of SV Kristin Halvorsen was marching under a poster saying “Evil’s largest axis USA and Israel”. Oppostion leader Siv Jensen of the Progress Party was threatened upon her life for having spoken at the pro-Israel rally and was placed under police protection for an extended time. Source: Dagens Næringsliv.
“Precision-bomb Israeli targets”: Deputy Minister of Development Ingrid Fiskaa stated in Klassekampen (Class struggle), on Saturday April 19th of 2008, that she had moments where she wished the UN would “send precision-guided missiles against selected Israeli targets”. Only four years previously she had managed to come out in support of the use of suicide-bombers in Iraq. Source: Klassekampen.
Media darlings: Taking into consideration how the above is only a sample of the behaviour SV routinely engages in, one might ask why it is that the media has not torn the party to shreds. The answer is, at least in part, that the Norwegian media corps is deeply sympathetic to the Socialist Left. As surveys show, almost 37 percent of Norwegian journalists vote for SV. Source: Dagbladet.
Many Norwegians feel there is something deeply wrong about having a party like the Socialist Left in government. It is highly questionable whether the party could be where it is if it were not for the cooperation they receive from the media.
Labor and the Labor movement
AUF was already a supporter of the Palestinian cause when Torbjørn Jagland in 1979 stated that “DNA must show solidarity with the Palestinian People’s struggle”. The mother party started moving in the same direction in the early 1980s. In 1981 Gro Harlem Brundtland met with Yassir Arafat in Stockholm, and in 1982 a Labor delegation visited Arafat in Tunisia. In the same year Labor stated in its working program that a Palestinian state had to be established, in 1983 Labor recognized the PLO and Labor’s working program of 86-89 demanded that the Palestinians be given “rights to their own land”.
Reagarding the Labor movement, we see that LO (TUC) panders heavily to the Palestine-Lobby. We can see indications of this in 2009, when during the May 1st parade in Trondheim, the Palestinian people’s cause proved the most popular. During LO (Trade Union Confederation) leader Roar Flåthen’s May 1st speech, he singled out Israel alone among the nations of the world, for criticism. LO’s action programme for 2009 specifies:
In many countries the labor movement works under difficult conditions. One example of a labor movement which works under particularly difficult conditions is PGFTU in Palestine, which LO supports and has cooperated with for many years.
Professional rights are violated and labor representatives are tortured and killed. Collective negotiations, three-party cooperation, equal rights and solidarity work directed towards women are important fields of cooperation. Women’s participation on all levels of international labor movement must be strengthened.
LO will continue this cooperation in order to strengthen their battle against the occupation and to strengthen the workers rights in today’s difficult situation. The politics of occupation have led to worsened conditions for the Palestinian people. LO demands that increased international pressure be brought to bear against Israel. LO will increase its own efforts of placing the Palestinian people’s rights on the agenda in the public debate in Norway.
After having read this, please observe the following: In the 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights, a combined effort of ITUC, CSI and IGB, we find the following:
Exercising one’s trade union rights remains a dangerous activity in the region. In Iraq the president of the Journalists’ Union was the victim of an assassination. His successor closely escaped death after a bomb exploded outside the union’s head office…
Iran remains one of the gloomiest places in terms of freedom of association. Hundreds of workers were arrested for taking part in trade union activities, particularly in the education sector. The Revolutionary Courts pronounced 11 new anti-union prison sentences, and sentenced four workers, including two women, to flogging.
In Saudi Arabia, an Indonesian servant who had been raped was sentenced to one year in prison (where she gave birth) and received 100 lashes.
Trade unions are still banned in Saudi Arabia (where only the national workers’ committees are allowed to be set up in companies with over 100 workers), Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
Yet the LO does not mention any of these countries in their action programme. Only Israel.
The Lobby captures the centre
As is apparent from the above, the lobby is not a unified, structured organization. Rather it consists of a loose network of organizations, from the Parliament group “Friends of Palestine” and interest groups (Palestine Committee) to supporters in political parties (Socialist Left) and the Labor movement. While the lobby originated in the left-of-centre and still draws most of its support from there, it cannot be said to consist entirely of left-of-centre elements. Rather, the lobby has developed into a centre-left phenomenon. This development is the result of a deliberate strategy which has been pursued for decades.
As historian Tarjei Johannessen Vågstøl writes:
“One argument for Nils Butenschøn when he accepted leadership of Palfront in 1976, was that now was the time to win support for the Palestinian cause beyond the utmost left-of-centre. Already from the beginning they lay a plan to achieve this. Independent activists were important, but the goal was to win entire parties and organizations for Palestine. The strategy consisted of starting “on the left”, with NKP (Norway’s Communist Party) and SV (Socialist Left) and then move towards the Labor movement and the Labor party. NKP they won over quite easily, and in 1977 the work started with SV. Nils Butenschøn was elected into the Foreign Affairs Committee in SV, and worked from the “inside”. At SV’s national meeting the same year they won support to PLO with a bench-proposal, and Berge Furre (who originally had been against the proposition) did what he could to “entrench the viewpoint in the organization.
The greatest obstacle was still to win through to the “social democracy” which they regarded as the key to change Norwegian politics. As previously mentioned LO (TUC) and the Labor party had long been cooperating with their Israeli sister-organizations, and several within the upper echelons were friends of Israel. The best form of attack was to start outside of the party itself: “In the end the social democracy must be won through the labor-movement and the youth-movement”, it said in a strategic introduction Odd Kristian Reme held at the meeting of the National Board on September 10th 1978. Here they drew on experiences from the solidarity work for Vietnam, where it had given results when one managed to build up pressure from the local levels of the labor-movement, and comparison was made to the Chile-action, where the labor-movement was represented. The tough work with the local levels of the labor-movement began in the summer of 1978, when a delegation from the Palestinian Workers Union (PWU/GUPW) visited Norway, but since the summit was reached early in the 1980s , I will deal with this issue more thoroughly in the next chapter.”
Today Nils Butenschøn is the highly profiled director of the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights. He is considered an expert on Middle Eastern affairs, and his expert opinion is often asked by various media. His goals appear to be the same as they were when he assumed leadership of Palfront in 1976 – to win hearts and minds for Palestine and to abolish the Jewish state. The fact that Nils Butenschøn today is not regarded as partisan is a measure of his success.
On the basis of the above we see that our conclusion must be similar to that of Walt and Mearsheimer in “Israel-Lobby”. The Norwegian Palestine-Lobby is no conspiracy – it operates in the open. It proudly advertises its own existence, although it insists upon being a popular grassroots movement rather than a lobby. It attempts to shape Norwegian foreign policy by insisting that the Palestinian leadership be given preferential treatment and that Israel be punished.
The Norwegian Palestine-Lobby operates just like any other lobby. What makes it unique is that it holds an unparalleled position – no other foreign policy lobby has anything resembling the same clout.