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Now Norway is part of
`the world against us'

Ha'aretz, April 26, 2002
By Yair Ettinger

If Israeli and Palestinian representatives ever again wanted to meet in a neutral place to discuss a peace agreement, would Oslo be it? "Not in the foreseeable future," says Professor Nils Butenschon, director of the Norwegian Institute of Human Rights. Mutual distrust between Israel and Norway has grown too deep, he said.

A symptom of this distrust could be seen in Israel's harsh response to UN envoy Terje Larsen's criticism of the IDF's behavior in Jenin. Many outraged Israelis hastened to point out that Larsen is a former senior Norwegian government official, and that his wife is Norway's ambassador to Israel. The reaction stemmed from the fact that over the past few weeks, Norway has emerged as one of Israel's harshest critics - even, said one Foreign Ministry official, compared to other Scandinavian countries, all of which are known for their anti-Israel views.

Yet the harshest criticism is coming not from the Norwegian government, but from groups that in previous years had close very ties with Israel - academics, unions and the opposition Social- Democratic Party.

A week ago Norway's largest trade union, representing some 800,000 workers, declared a consumer boycott of Israel. It urged its members not to buy Israeli goods and to reject invitations from any Israeli bodies.

Supermarket chains promptly began labeling Israeli produce with special stickers to help the boycott, and truckers refused to transport Israeli goods from the ports. This week, a scheduled concert by a Hasidic band in Oslo was canceled - even though the band members were Swiss Jews, not Israelis.

The academic community has been particularly active. Oslo University has publicly urged its faculty to protest against Israel, and senior lecturers have gone even further, calling for a full-fledged boycott. The boycott call was issued through two open letters published in one of Norway's leading newspapers this month. In one, titled "Professors are abetting war crimes," Professor Edvard Vogt, a lecturer in law at Oslo University, wrote: "Among the Western countries, there is only one, Israel, that is involved in a war of expansion, that annexes and conquers the land of a neighboring people, bombs and destroys the neighboring people's infrastructure, shoots its children and aspires to ethnic cleansing. But most Israeli academics refrain from protest ... An educated Israeli who doesn't take a clear stand against his country's policy is a collaborator. And if we continue to cooperate with Israeli academics without holding them responsible, we are also collaborators... Just as Hitler did in Mein Kampf, Sharon and his partners have made their intentions clear ... There is no doubt that Sharon wants to establish `greater Israel'"

Author Yoram Kaniuk, who has been hosted in Oslo several times in recent years, said that when talk turns to politics, "you discover bottomless hatred. The impression is that suddenly it is permissible to say anything - against Israel and against Jews ... Have you ever heard them talk like that about what the Russians are doing in Chechnya, or about the oppression of 40 million Kurds?"

Unlike in many other European countries, attitudes in homogeneous Norway are not the product of a large Muslim population. Butenschon explains that after World War II, Norway felt a strong obligation to Israel, which translated both into military and economic aid and emotional attachment. Now, he said, "many Norwegians feel betrayed. Israel disappointed them from a moral standpoint and crossed red lines."