6. Dominating Public Discourse

If there is an anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian lobby in Norway, it will need to ensure that the public debate echoes its salient arguments: that Palestine is “good” and that Israel is “evil”. Only if this Manichean perspective can be brought to bear upon the electorate can the lobby succeed in winning support for sustained economic and political support to anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian forces of Hamas, Fatah, and an assorted host of NGOs. Simultaneously the lobby will seek to marginalize critics who challenge the axioms of the lobby. To what extent then, do we find this pattern of one-sided support of Palestine and axiomatic criticism of Israel in the public debate on Israel in Norway?

The media is the message

Multiple surveys and investigations have shown that the mainstream Norwegian media is biased against Israel and in favour of the Palestinian cause.

NRK’s “Cut and omit” broadcasting 2000: Editor Odd Sverre Hove’s analysis of how NRK covered the Intifada on the daily news. The analysis examined broadcasts from September 27th to November 21st,  the first eight weeks of the second intifada. Hove’s central conclusions were a) that NRK systematically ignored the Palestinian gunfire which caused the Israelis to return fire b) that NRK consistently blended reporting with analysis c) that NRK failed to distinguish terrorism from self-defence.

Observer 2004: In April, May and June of this year, the following three out of eighteen conflict theatres dominated the media picture completely, receiving 84 percent of the coverage: Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East. Senior analyst in Observer, Henrik Høidahl, stated: “More than three million people have died in the civil war in Congo. This is many times more than in Iraq and Afghanistan together, yet we hardly hear of it in the Norwegian media. The coverage of foreign affairs is not in any sense proportional to the suffering”.

Observer 2006: NTB reported that this survey, of nine Norwegian newspapers, found that 32 percent of the coverage was on Iraq, 30 percent was on the Israel/Palestine conflict, 21 percent was on the war in Lebanon, 13 percent was on Afghanistan and the remaining 4 percent were on other conflicts.

Retriever 2009: This survey was carried out for NRK. It examined for bias 1 958 articles, comments and editorials in Norwegian media, from December 12th 2008 to January 9th 2009. Analyst Kristina Nielsen described the survey thus: “We have examined each article and seen if it assigns responsibility in one or the other direction. Where factual events are referred to, we have identified them as neutral. Articles where it for instance is voiced that one party is more responsible than the other, are identified as biased.” The following distribution of bias was found:

Media Pro-Palestine Neutral Pro-Israel
Dagbladet 32 66 2
VG 29 61 10
Dagsavisen 27 72 1
NRK (TV) 17 78 5
Aftenposten 14 90 6
TV2 12 86 2
NRK (radio) 12 84 4
Vårt Land 9 74 17
Total 15 80 5

Retriever concluded: “The findings of this analysis show that Norwegian media disseminate the Palestinian narrative to a much larger extent than they do for the Israeli narrative. As the tendency actually was stronger prior to the attacks commenced on December 27th, this is an indication of how this is representative of the media-picture over time, and not just as a consequence of the invastion.”

Blood-red journalists

The table below shows the results from the annual survey Nordiske Mediedager in 2009, which is carried out by Norsk Respons[1]. As we can see, members of the Norwegian media corps are more likely to vote left-of-centre than a member of the general public. A full 66 percent of the Norwegian media corps that if the election was tomorrow, they would vote for either Arbeiderpartiet, SV or Rødt. The same parties, which attract only 45 percent support with the general public, constitute the base of anti-Israel politics in Norway.

General public 2009 Journalists 2009
Rødt 4% 5%
SV 8% 18%
Arbeiderpartiet 33% 43%
Senterpartiet 3% 2%
Venstre 8% 14%
KrF 7% 1%
Høyre 16% 13%
Frp 19% 3%
Other 2% 2%
No. recipients 570 348

The results from Nordiske Mediedager 2010 show the same pattern. If Stortinget – Norway’s parliament – was to be put together by Norwegian journalists we would have seen the following distribution of parliamentary seats:

General public 2010[2] Journalists 2010[3]
Rødt 1 9
SV 13 39
Arbeiderpartiet 49 72
Senterpartiet 11 1
Venstre 2 22
KrF 12 0
Høyre 43 26
Frp 38 0
Other 0 0
Seats in total 169 169

Ignorance

In 2008 a survey by Norsk Respons examined the general knowledge level of Norwegian journalists[4]. Professor Frank Aarebrot, at the time at the University of Bergen, stated that he was shocked over the results. Torgeir Foss, who has been working for Norske Mediedager since 1988, said that the survey showed the most sensational findings since he started working with it in 1988, and that it all is “just saddening”.

Groupthink in the media

Groupthink is a mode of thought which occurs in cohesive groups whose members strive to reach consensus without critically questioning the analysis by which this consensus is reached. Irving Janis defines groupthink thus: A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.

The Norwegian media corps will risk being affected by groupthink then, to the extent that they constitute a cohesive in-group. In making such an assessment there are many different variables to consider. One important variable lies in political outlook, where we have already identified (see above) that the Norwegian media corps is “blood-red”. From a political perspective therefore, a significant proportion of the Norwegian media corps does indeed constitute a cohesive group – the vast majority of it supports left-wing parties which are savagely critical of Israel, and 28 percent support political parties which directly or indirectly calls for the destruction of Israel (SV and Rødt).

Another variable which contributes to cohesion lies in the socio-economic backgrounds we find that many Norwegian journalists have. Journalists openly admit that most of them are from the academic middle class, with highly educated parents who – more often than not – work for the state, rarely in the private sector but virtually never within commerce or the trades.

To the extent that the Norwegian media corps does engage in groupthink on the Israel-Palestine issue, we can expect to see symptoms of it among other in a sense of invulnerability, leading to excessive risk-taking, and stereotyping of opponents to the group. We find a prime example of how this can play out in the Norwegian media corps’ treatement of Israeli academic Manfred Gerstenfeld (See below).

Think tanks and research centres

Research in Norway is predominately carried out by research-centres attached to universities. Other large research-centres are FAFO and PRIO. When judging the produce of such centres, it rapidly becomes apparent that there is little understanding of Israel’s actions and politics. For example, in January 2009 Universitetsavisa – the newspaper at the University of Oslo – identified the attitudes of 22 Norwegian researchers as expressed in newspapers between December 26th and January 13th[5]. In twelve of the articles the researcher distanced himself from Israel’s operations. In ten of the articles the researcher was more of less neutral. None of them voiced support for Israel’s actions. When Universitetsavisa asks researcher Hilde Henriksen Waage whether Norwegian researchers as a group are left-of-centre, she answers in the negative, claiming that Norwegian researchers are merely observing Israel from a number of different professional perspectives. This is an interesting comment coming from Hilde Henriksen Waage, who for years has being disseminating a conspiracy theory against Israel.

In 2009 the Jerusalem Post published an article on anti-Semitism which contained several factual errors. The Norwegian media, which is equally adept at publishing erroneous information, showed no mercy but pounced upon the case with great ferocity. “There were mistakes in the article” Norwegian journalists gloated. “There is no anti-Semitism in Norway” they concluded. It was at this point that Hilde Henriksen Waage launced her theory, claiming that “something akin to a smear campaign” had been waged against Norway for some time. NTB disseminated her theory to a number of newspapers at the time, and Waage has repeated it since. Here it is interesting to observe that the theory remains completely unsubstantiated. A theory such as Waage’s naturally awakens many questions such as: How do we identify this campaign? Who is behind it? Why is it being conducted, and how does it differ from legitimate criticism? Alas, at no point in time has the Norwegian public received any answers to these questions whatsoever. Hilde Henriksen Waage merely repeats, again and again, that someone in Jerusalem is plotting against Norway, and newspapers disseminate her theory without asking unnecessary questions. Eventually the theory of a “smear campaign” even made its way to Norway’s Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre.

In February 2010 Jonas Gahr Støre went on a tour of the Middle East. During his stay in Israel he was met with critical and questioning articles in both Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post. Støre made light of this, saying to Norwegian media that the criticism was part of domestic Israeli politics and had little to do with Norway. In an interview in Haaretz however, Støre claimed that Norway was being smeared in what he described as an “orchestrated” campaign. When the Haaretz journalist inquired as to the details of this campaign, Støre declined to elaborate.

Another well-known researcher often questioned about the Middle East is Nils Butenschøn of the Norwegian Institute for Human Rights. When asked about the situation in Israel, Butenchøn will often suggest that the time has come to seriously contemplate a one-state solution. What the Norwegian journalists seem to be blissfully unaware of is that this has been Butenschøn’s position for forty years. In 1969 Butenschøn accepted leadership of Palfront – a pro-Palestinian movement associated with the Socialist Left, not to be confused with the communist affiliated Palkom – with the vision of winning “entire organizations and parties” for Palestine.

Policing campus

It is not necessarily a matter of concern when special interest groups propagandise and recruit at universities and colleges. It can be so however, when the group in question disseminates hurtful lies and incites to hatred. For instance it is not in itself problematic that the Palestinian cause finds organized support at many institutions of higher learning. It becomes problematic however, when we find the extent to which that the support goes beyond supplying humanitarian assistance and facilitating peace negotiations: the Palestine Committee has a long history of disseminating horror stories, from the complete fiction of Palestinian women being forced to march naked through the streets of Tel Aviv in 1948 to NORWAC’s claim that operation Cast Lead was part of a deliberate campaign of ethnic cleansing, with the expressed goal of murdering as many civilians as possible.

It is furthermore worrying to see how political allegiance to the Palestinian cause may blend in with even more explicit and overt forms of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. We find one example of this at the University College of Oslo, where the Muslim organization Islamnett is is “clearing Islam’s name” by confronting misconceptions about the religion. This is of course a honourable aim, and many would argue also a necessary one in a multicultural society like that of contemporary Norway. Yet when we examine the speakers and leaders associated with Islamenett[6] we quickly see the contours of a completely different kind of organization:

Zulqarnain Sakander, spoke at an Islamnett event on September 8th 2008, when he suggested that “the Jews” were behind the 9/11 bombing. Hussein Yee, claims that “the Jews” celebrated when the twin towers fell, and warns against friendship with Christians and Jews thus: “The Jews are the most extreme nation upon earth. We can never completely trust them”. Yee has also claimed that Jews may kill non-Jews without perceiving it as sin.

Essam Talima, an office manager of Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Here it is appropriate to recall that al-Qaradawi has stated that Holocuast was a “divine punishment”. He has also expressed hope that Muslims will partake in the next round of “divine punishment” against the Jews.

The élan at Oslo University College is furthermore evident in that in 2009, a full ten percent of the students there reported that they would vote for Rødt (Red). Perhaps it is no coincidence that it is at precisely this college that we find Lars Gule, the first Norwegian to win notoriety as an international terrorist when he went on a mission to blow up an Israeli hotel for the DFLP.

Objectionable tactics

It is important to stress that lobbying for Palestine is a perfectly legitimate endeavour. Demonizing Israel and making calls for actions which, directly or indirectly will lead to Israel’s destruction or place its inhabitants at risk, is not. Unfortunately we frequently do see examples of how the Norwegian debate on Israel virtually takes leave of its senses and spins out of control. One such example lies in Norway’s reception of Manfred Gerstenfeld.

Manfred Gerstenfeld is an Israeli academic on the board of the JCPA who has edited and co-authored two books on anti-Semitism in Norway. The first book, “Behind the Humanitarian Mask” was published in 2008 and awoke a moderate amount of interest, some of it benign, in Norway. Before the debate had a chance to take of however, Gerstenfeld was interviewed by TV2, a Norwegian television channel. Following this interview TV2 published an article on its website under the heading xx. The article offered two quotes allegedly made by Gerstenfeld, yy and zz. Gerstenfeld denied having made the statements he was quoted on, and took the case to the media complaints division PFU. PFU decided that Gerstenfeld’s statement of Norway being “a pioneer in anti-Semitism” was sufficiently similar to “Norway is the most anti-Semitic country in Europe” for TV2 to get away with it. PFU made the same ruling for Gerstenfeld’s two statements:  1) on the barbarity of whale-hunting and 2) on Norway’s lack of an intellectual culture, which TV2 had morphed into the following: “Norwegians are barbaric and unintelligent”. In spite of this TV2 changed the article in question, which no longer contains the offending quotes.

In 2010 Gerstenfeld edited and co-authored a Norwegian edition of “Behind the Humanitarian Mask” which focused exclusively on Norway. In this context he was interviewed by NRK’s correspondent to Israel, Sidsel Wold. Wold however lost the recorded interview, and instead aired a three minute broadcast which was problematic for three reasons: 1) Gerstenfeld’s voice was heard only for twenty seconds. This was not a recording from Wold’s interview, but something she had found on the internet. 2) Wold does not quote directly from Gerstenfeld’s book, but subjects the contents of it to her own free interpretation. It is difficult to recognize where Wold is speaking her own mind and where she is, allegedly, quoting Gerstenfeld. 3) Wold concludes on a completely different topic than that of the broadcast so far.

Synergy

The graphic below shows how a handful of activists, strategically placed, can maintain a debate for perpetuity. The individual activist does not have to be proactive to contribute, but can merely react to the initiative of one of his brethren. All four individuals on the chart are former or current leaders or members of the board of Palestinakomiteen.

It is important to point out that there is nothing sinister or illegal with this kind of activity. In an open, democratic society, we are all allowed to organize in the pursuit of our interests. But in order to a society to remain open and democratic, political activity has to be recognized for what it is. In Norway today, the pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli lobby “flies under the radar“.

While Norwegian intellectuals and journalists are quick to condemn the methods of the US Israel-lobby, they fail at identifying the very same methods when applied by the pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel lobby right here in Norway.


[1] http://www.nordiskemediedager.no/assets/PDF/Medievaner-journalister-2009.pdf

[2] Infact, April 2010: http://infact.no/?page_id=2

[3] NA24: http://www.na24.no/article2899236.ece

[4] http://www.vg.no/nyheter/innenriks/artikkel.php?artid=531408

[5] http://universitas.no/nyhet/52736/-norske-akademikere-er-venstrevridde/

[6] http://www.dagbladet.no/2010/02/24/magasinet/religion/islam/10532526/
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