Introduction to Behind the Humanitarian Mask: the Nordic Countries, Israel, and the Jews by Manfred Gerstenfeld

Introduction by Manfred Gerstenfeld

In recent years the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has published several articles about the Nordic countries, Jews, and Israel in both the Jewish Political Studies Review and Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism. Gradually a picture has emerged of these countries that differs greatly from the often superficial friendliness the visiting tourist experiences, or the impressions one gains abroad from the few usually positive articles in international media. Little is known about the multiple negative events in the Nordic countries regarding Israel and the Jews.

The Jerusalem Center’s collaboration with the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies has made it possible to group and update in this volume several earlier articles and interviews and to complement them with additional essays. This volume aims to provide a more strategic picture of the Nordic countries’ attitudes toward Israel and the Jews than is available elsewhere in English.

Our research clarifies that in recent years part of the societal elites, particularly in Sweden and Norway, have been responsible for many pioneering efforts to demonize Israel. Prominent among the perpetrators are leading socialist and other leftist politicians, journalists, clergy, and employees of NGOs. This demonization is based on the classic motifs of anti-Semitism, which often also accompany its new mutation of anti-Israelism.

Darker Attitudes

Behind the Nordic countries’ righteous appearance and oft-proclaimed concern for human rights often lurk darker attitudes. This volume’s main purpose is to lift their humanitarian mask as far as Israel and Jews are concerned. This disguise hides many ugly characteristics, including the financing of demonizers of Israel, a false morality, invented moral superiority, and “humanitarian racism.”

Such humanitarian racists think—usually without expressing it explicitly, sometimes not even being conscious of it—that only white people can be fully responsible for their actions while nonwhites cannot (or can but only to a limited extent).

A journalist for the Norwegian conservative daily Aftenposten reacted to the prepublication of this author’s essay on Norway in this volume, stating that its tone was “extraordinarily shrill.” This was a bizarre remark in view of the tone of the daily that employs him. Assuming that he was writing in good faith, it illustrates a major problem: being in denial about matters that occur in one’s own environment.

In recent years Aftenposten has published a variety of extreme anti-Semitic cartoons, articles, and letters to the editor. Before World War II it also published anti-Semitic articles. No overview of twenty-first-century West European anti- Semitism can be complete without reference to this paper. The facts presented in this volume about this Norwegian “quality daily” demonstrate how hypocrisy and anti-Semitism converge.

When discussing the more general convergence of these two tendencies during the preparation of this volume, one example seemed to impress my conversation partners in particular. In Norway, Jewish ritual slaughter has been forbidden since well before World War II, under Nazi influence. On the other hand, except for Norway, Japan, and Iceland no countries allow whaling. The Norwegian quota for the 2008 season is the highest, with over one thousand whales to be killed.1 These mammals are harpooned and die in an exceptionally cruel way.

Meeting Israel’s Challenges?

 Arrogance and double standards toward Israel often go together. Would Norway and Sweden have remained democracies if they had had to cope with the kinds of challenges Israel has faced in the past decades? There are several indications that they would not have.

In May 2008, Håkan Syrén, commander of the Swedish Armed Forces, warned that if security conditions were to deteriorate the country would not have the protection it needed.2 In the same month it became known that at the Oskarshamn nuclear plant safeguards were lacking “to ensure that security checks are performed on everybody entering the plant.”3 The facility’s operating company OKG reacted by saying it hoped to remedy the situation by October 2008.

In Norway General Robert Mood, inspector-general of the army, “has described the army’s current capability as only being able to defend perhaps one neighborhood in Oslo, much less the entire country.”4 In June, the Norwegian vice- admiral Jan Reksten, commander of the country’s troops in Afghanistan said that the Norwegian base at Meymaneh is less secure than “similar bases” belonging to other NATO forces. Colonel Ivar Haisel, the base’s future commander said that if the Taliban attacked as they had in May the Norwegians would no longer have weapons superiority.5

The opening essay of this volume offers more substantiation of the point: seemingly these countries would not  fare  well  if  they had  to  face  Israel’s challenges.

The Future

It is likely that, because of future global developments, clearer perspectives will emerge on the double standards of many members of Nordic elites toward Israel and Jews. In rapidly changing times it is important to document situations at a given moment. Then, in the future, no one will be able to say “we did not know” about the extreme bias promoted in their name by some of the elites of these societies. As will be shown in this volume, the information on the significant anti- Semitism—to a large extent disguised as anti-Israelism—was there and could be gleaned largely from these countries’ media.

This book is dedicated to the memory of Simon Wiesenthal. No person better symbolizes the courage required to fight for decades, often alone, against huge odds to expose the executioners of World War II. The struggle against the anti- Jewish and anti-Israeli attitudes in the Nordic countries is likely to be a lengthy one as well.



  1. Alister Doyle, “Iceland and Norway Resume Whale Exports to Japan,” Reuters, 2 June 2008
  2. “Sweden Can No Longer Defend Itself,” The Local, 15 May 2008
  3. “Night Security Lacking at Nuke Plant,” The Local, 29 May 2008
  4. Sveinung Berg  Bentzrød,  “Army  Forced  to  Sharpen  Knife  as  Cost  Cuts  Loom,” Aftenposten, 30 May 2008.
  5. Svenn Goll, “Norwegian Base Weakest in Afghanistan,” Aftenposten, 5 June 2008

Comments are closed.