Anti-Israelism and antisemitism in Norway

Bjarte Ystebø

Bjarte Ystebø is the editor of the Christian weekly Norge Idag. He is the founder of the Oslo Symposium and a frequent contributor to Norwegian media regarding Israel and antisemitism.

Norge Idag

The rule of thumb in Norway is that the further to the political left parties and organizations stand, the more anti-Israel they are. From 1948 until the early 1970s, Norway’s Labor Party (Arbeiderpartiet) was one of Israel’s best friends in the world. This has radically changed. Labor is now in line with the mainstream anti-Israel forces in Europe.

Another worrisome trend is the growth of the green movement. It is like a watermelon: green on the outside, red on the inside. The Green Party (Miljøpartiet De Grønne) did very well in the local elections in September 2019. That gave them political power in Norway’s two biggest cities, Oslo and Bergen.

The Green Party supports mainstream anti-Israel trends such as the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement. In Oslo, the municipality is considering accepting BDS, while in Bergen, this action is being stopped by blocking votes of the Christian Democratic party. Their momentum has stalled, but they may still end up with a decisive role in national politics after the elections in September.

The very large trade union, Landsorganisasjonen (LO), is also extremely anti-Israel. Their leftward shift on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has followed the Labor party. LO also supports BDS, citing their comrades in the Palestinian Labor trade union. Their policies are ideological and not interest driven. Many of their members make their living from the Norwegian oil and gas industry. This industry has potentially great advantages for collaboration with Israel and Israeli companies. 

Norwegian friends of Israel consider the national broadcasting company, NRK, to be their No. 1 frustration. It has been the leading narrator about the Middle East for decades. NRK has a long history of anti-Israel bias. The national broadcaster’s voice is supplemented by the other important Norwegian media: the commercial TV2 and the leading national newspapers, VG, Aftenposten, and Dagbladet. For their normal reporting, these newspapers mainly rely on international news agencies. VG, Norway’s largest-circulation newspaper, is perhaps the most nuanced in its opinion columns. Their political editor, Hanne Skartveit, is a voice of reason.

The university leaders are also frequently biased against Israel. In 2011, several universities rejected the offer of free lectures by Harvard professor, Alan Dershowitz. They felt he was too controversial. Academic boycott initiatives surface from time to time. In the technological disciplines, Israel is often treated more fairly. There is a growing partnership between Norwegian higher education institutions and businesses and Israeli academics and industries.

The Lutheran Church in Norway, known as the state church, was semi-separated from the state in 2012. Its leadership is left leaning. It will involve itself in issues such as the environment, the redistribution of resources, and immigration. These ideas frequently coincide with anti-Israelism in Norwegian society. The church is no exception.

Behind this anti-Israelism is Christian replacement theology. It has cost many Jewish lives through the ages. This theology says that when many of the Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah, God moved the promises given to Israel to the church—the followers of Jesus Christ. Therefore, these Christian currents are less positive toward the Jewish people and the state of Israel. Evangelicals in Norway, the United States, and other places in the world generally view Israel and the Jews as God’s chosen people and love and bless them.

The antisemitism on the streets and in schoolyards of Norway stems more from Muslims than from native Norwegians. Imams and other Muslim leaders do not address Israel or the Jews in public discourse. Many Muslims, however, are members of political parties, predominantly Labor. There they act in harmony with the party in political positions that are arguably antisemitic, including the romanticizing of the Palestinian liberation struggle.

There is little right-wing antisemitism in Norway. The neo-Nazi groups are weak, and the police have been effective in combating these subcultures by stopping recruitment.

From 1814 to 1851, Norway’s Constitution banned all Jews from the kingdom. This shadow still looms over the nation. Norway since moved from being one of the most pro-Israel nations in Europe, to somewhere near the bottom of the list. 

The opinions expressed by opinion writers featured in “On the Edge” are not necessarily those of The Norwegian American, and our publication of those views is not an endorsement of them. Comments, suggestions, and complaints about the opinions expressed by the paper’s editorials should be directed to the editor.

This article originally appeared in the June 4, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Bjarte Ystebø

Bjarte Ystebø is the editor of the Christian weekly Norge Idag. He is the founder of the Oslo Symposium and a frequent contributor to Norwegian media regarding Israel and antisemitism.