Why is Norway aiding Israel’s crimes?
Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada, Oct 4 2016
Protest in front of Norway’s foreign ministry in Oslo, Sep 8. (Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/ ActiveStills)
Last month, two Norwegian artists published an “apology” from their country’s national theater over its collaboration with Israel’s government-backed Habima theater. The video apology was a performance, meant to highlight Norway’s complicity in Israel’s crimes and its use of culture to whitewash them. The artists, Pia Maria Roll and Marius von der Fehr, sparked a national debate in Norway. Their intervention has received a warm welcome from the Palestinian arts community as well as from Israelis who are active against their country’s occupation, colonialism and apartheid. But the “apology” provoked a furious reaction from the Israeli government, which demanded that all copies of the video be scrubbed from the Internet. Norway’s embassy in Tel Aviv rushed to reassure supporters of Israel’s abuses that the apology wasn’t really from the Norwegian national theater and that Norway’s government opposes boycotts of Israel.
What the diplomats conspicuously failed to do is to affirm that Norwegian citizens’ outrage is a predictable reaction to Israel’s actions. Kathrine Jensen, chair of the Palestine Committee of Norway, founded in 1969, told EI:
It is no surprise to us that the government has a strong public position against boycott of Israel. The Progress Party, one of the two political parties in government, has an extreme position regarding support for Israel in their political platform. The government of PM Erna Solberg has vowed to increase trade and academic cooperation with Israel. What is more surprising is the fundamental lack of principle found in some of the reactions and comments regarding the national theater ‘apology.’ Instead of dissociating itself from the apology, the Norwegian embassy “should have defended the principle of freedom of speech and emphasized that Norwegians have the right to express their opinion and speak their mind. A rise in Islamophobia is also making Palestine advocacy more challenging. In Norway, like other European countries, refugees, immigrants and Islam are ingredients (fuelling) increased attacks against political activists, particularly those who advocate for BDS.
Lars Gule, a university professor and board member of BDS Norway, told EI:
We are working for a comprehensive boycott, including an academic and cultural boycott of Israel. So far we have not been hindered in our work by Norwegian authorities. However, we would like Norwegian diplomats to make clear to Israeli authorities and citizens that it is not illegal in Norway to call for a boycott of Israel. The official Norwegian position on boycott of Israel, on the illegal settlements, is well-known and deplorable. By pretending that Israel is a normal state and that the occupation can be terminated through negotiations without serious pressure on Israel, the official position has shown itself to be incredibly naive. Norwegian boxtops refuse to endorse boycott or any other form of pressure on Israel, as this would jeopardize Norway’s role as head of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, the international body that coordinates aid donors to the PA, including the EU, UN and Pindostan. For Norwegian boxtops, the prestige of this chairmanship seems more important than justice for the Palestinian people. Norway’s role in the defunct peace process dates back to its brokering of the 1993 Oslo accords between Israel and the PLO. Deference to Pindostan also plays a role in Norway maintaining the illusion of negotiations that ended in less than nothing, a situation that is worse for the Palestinians than it was before the Oslo process started. In the longer run, the Norwegian government needs to recognize the racist character of political Zionism and Israeli policies in relation to Palestinians. To achieve this will take time. Mobilizing the trade union movement for a boycott of Israel will be an important step in this direction.
The Electronic Intifada attempted to gain some clarity from the Norwegian foreign ministry. We put to them that other governments, Sweden, the Netherlands and Ireland, had emphatically recognized that BDS activism is protected by free speech. The ministry provided a terse response:
Norway’s position on these questions should be clear: the government strongly opposes boycotting Israel, and there is freedom of expression in Norway.
This is a grudging recognition that Norwegian citizens do indeed have a right to boycott Israel. The government could hardly say otherwise, given its prime minister’s recent public showdown with Facebook over free speech. But does this opposition to holding Israel accountable extend even to boycotts that are limited to Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank? Norway’s policy is that Israel’s settlements violate international law. In a follow-up, EI asked the Norwegian foreign ministry: what is Norway doing to stop Israeli settlements and why would Norway oppose its own citizens organizing effective boycotts aimed at stopping settlements? Their answer:
We have no further comments in this matter.
Not only does Norway’s government oppose effective action against Israel’s violations of international law, it assists them. While Norway burnishes its image as a global humanitarian leader, Norwegian-supplied arms were used in Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza.