Enemy of the People

by Bruce Bawer
The trials and tribulations of a pro-Israeli politician in Norway

Alan Dershowitz has called it “the most anti-Semitic and anti-Israel country in Europe today.” Hanne Nabintu Herland, a religious scholar at the nation’s leading university, has criticized it for “refus[ing] to distance itself from Hamas as a terrorist organization.” Its government, as NR’s Jay Nordlinger has noted, was “the first outside the Islamic world to recognize Hamas.”

We’re talking, as you might have guessed, about Norway.

In the corridors of Norwegian power, Israel-hatred and sympathy for Islamic terrorists have long been the norm. In 2011, Norway’s ambassador to Israel distinguished between Anders Behring Breivik’s murder spree and Hamas atrocities in Israel: While the former, he said, was inspired by an ugly ideology and was utterly undeserved by its victims, the latter is a result of Israel’s own “occupation” — and thus, presumably, justified, or at least understandable.

Among the pillars of Norwegian civil society these days are Basim Ghozlan, a supporter of Hamas suicide bombings who runs Norway’s Islamic Federation, and Shoaib Sultan, who, though refusing to criticize Iran’s execution of gays and Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s description of the Holocaust as a “gift from Allah,” was accorded the high honor of arranging last year’s Constitution Day festivities in Oslo.

Nordlinger again: “Norway’s attitude toward Israel is approximately that of the Middle East Studies department of the University of Michigan.” Precisely.

All this Israel-hatred is, it should be emphasized, grounded in Norway’s left-wing establishment — the mainstream media, the academy, and the political elite. Last September’s elections, which brought a non-socialist coalition to power, shook that establishment to its roots. Not because of the senior partner in the coalition — the soft-socialist, go-along-to-get-along Conservative party — but because of the junior partner, the Progress party, a faction of free-market enthusiasts who are unabashedly pro-U.S. and pro-Israel.

Among the Progress party’s most fervent supporters of America and Israel is Kristian Norheim, a 38-year-old member of Parliament and the party’s foreign-policy spokesperson. On July 12, he posted on his Facebook page a cartoon from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, drawn by Randy Bish. It showed an armed Hamas terrorist holding up a small child, and was captioned “the Hamas missile defense shield.” Norheim’s posted comment on the cartoon: “Sad, but true.”

To anyone who deplores terrorism and is appalled by Hamas gangsters’ habit of hiding behind women and children — and of sequestering themselves in schools, hospitals, and mosques — the cartoon is nothing more or less than a morally admirable response to a morally despicable practice. But the Norwegian establishment reacted to Norheim’s posting with outrage. The cartoon, protested the Socialist Left party, was “tasteless,” an expression of “extreme views.” The Labor party’s Anniken Huitfeldt called it “one-sided . . . propaganda” that was “unworthy” and “stupid.” Rasmus Hansson of the Green party called Norheim “shameful” for posting the cartoon and Trine Skei Grande, head of the Liberal party, said that by giving it a thumbs-up he’d lowered the level of debate.

All this, mind you, in a country where newspaper cartoons routinely depict Israeli leaders like Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon, and Ehud Olmert in Nazi uniforms.

Pols, pressmen, and professors alike called on Norheim to be more “nuanced” and “balanced” on the Israel–Palestine issue. In official Norway, that means one thing: Condemn Israel as the aggressor, and embrace Hamas terrorists as victims.

On July 14, Norheim’s Facebook posting was the lead story on NRK radio’s news-discussion program Dagsnytt 18. A composed Norheim made his views clear: Both sides deserve criticism when they kill civilians, but the fact is that while Israel strives to avoid harming civilians, Hamas uses them as shields, and considers every Israeli a legitimate target. Norheim’s fellow guest, Socialist Left parliamentarian Heikki Holmås, came out of his corner with fists flying — slamming Israel’s “violation of international law,” its “wall,” its “ruthless killing of civilians,” its “continual humiliation of Palestine.” NRK’s host, for her part, asked Norheim to explain what he meant about Hamas using people as shields — as if no one had ever heard of such a thing before. She added tartly that, by posting the cartoon, he’d taken “a clear position in an ongoing conflict” — had he done so, she inquired, with his party’s permission?

In the next day’s issue of the newspaper Dagen, Holmås went further, accusing Norheim of “supporting the murder of Palestinian children.” A paid flack for Hamas couldn’t have done a better job of defending and deflecting, of twisting and torturing the truth. (Perhaps when Holmås’s party — which now has the support of less than 3 percent of voters — finally collapses, there’ll be a job for him in Ramallah.)

One of the many telling indications of the Orwellian nature of the “debate” over Israel and Hamas in Norway is this: After Norheim posted that cartoon, Jon-Inge Hansen, news editor of Varden, a paper published in Norheim’s hometown, Skien, unfriended him on Facebook. “Your attitude regarding the death of civilians in Gaza,” Hansen wrote on Norheim’s wall, “is so offensive to me that I can’t handle it anymore. Good luck with your conscience. I’m taking mine and leaving.”

That anyone could look at Bish’s cartoon and see it as anything but a condemnation of Hamas’s callous attitude toward civilian life might seem preposterous. But not in official Norway, where Hamas’s savagery is virtually exempt from criticism — and where Hamas’s critics are by definition heartless haters of Palestinians.

— Bruce Bawer is the author, most recently, of The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind. 

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