A question of wording

Aftenposten apologized for use of expression evoking Holocaust

Jødespørsmålet

Photo: Inge Grødum / Aftenposten
Aftenposten ran this illustration as part of its apology.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

On Feb. 13, Aftenposten ran an editorial feature in its print and online editions on the distinction between antisemitism and critique of Israel, aimed to dispel frequent confusion of the terms. The title of the print edition started with the expression, a compound word in Norwegian, Jødespørsmålet (the Jewish question). Despite being first used in English in the mid-18th century and now designating the broad debate of the 19th and 20th centuries on the status of and attitudes toward Jews in European society, Jødespørsmålet has an onerous overtone. From their ascent to power in 1933 through the end of World War II, the Nazis’ plan of genocide codenamed die Endlösung der Judenfrage (the final solution to the Jewish question) begot the mass murder of the Holocaust.

The feature was published online with the title: “Er de anti Israel eller antisemitter? Spørsmålet splitter venstresiden på begge sider av Atlanteren.” (Are they anti-Israel or anti-Semites? The question divides the political left on both sides of the Atlantic). In the print edition, the title was “Jødespørsmålet splitter venstresiden på begge sider av Atlanteren” (The Jewish question divides the political left on both sides of the Atlantic). The use of “The Jewish question” in the print edition arose in response to a need to shorten the title in layout. The use of the offensive expression was not caught in pre-publication quality control before the edition went to press. It then was noticed. An ensuing ruckus at all levels of the newspaper’s production process culminated on Feb. 15, when Espen Egil Hansen went public to say that, as editor-in-chief, he accepted the ultimate responsibility for the use of the expression. His apologia was published in the editorial lead on Feb. 18.

This correspondent confesses a professional admiration for Hansen’s action, not least because it reflects President Harry S. Truman’s famed phrase “The buck stops here.”

This article originally appeared in the March 8, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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