Listhaug’s apology ‘not good enough’

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UPDATED: The Norwegian Parliament was the scene of an extraordinary scolding session on Thursday, as one party leader after another lashed out at Justice Minister Sylvi Listhaug over claims she made last week that have hurt and outraged many Norwegians. Listhaug made repeated trips to the podium to apologize and explain herself, but leading Members of Parliament weren’t satisfied, and she faced both an official reprimand and lack of confidence vote.

Justice Minister Sylvi Listhaug, shown wearing a cross that also has sparked debate in the past, had to endure harsh scoldings in Parliament on Thursday, and apologize from the podium for offensive claims she made last week. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

The reprimand came at the end of what was a very bad day on the job for Listhaug. A majority of MPs voted to hand her the strongest criticism possible without directly calling for her resignation. Several said they had come to believe that Listhaug, who made the move from local to national politics less than five years ago, doesn’t understand her role as a government minister and the obligations it carries in terms of professional conduct.

The Labour Party also announced it would support a vote of no confidence against her. Such a vote may be held early next week, as the most serious reaction to her claims last week that Labour put the rights of terrorists above the interests of national security. That outraged not only Labour, which was the target of terrorist attacks on July 22, 2011 that killed 77 people, but also survivors, families of victims and many others.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg finally prevailed with her demand that Listhaug apologize in Parliament for the inflammatory claims. Her initial apology came after a string of parliamentary leaders had specifically addressed her with some of the strongest criticism ever heard on the floor of the national assembly called Stortinget. They accused her of “publicly making incorrect and damaging claims tied to the fight against terror in Norway.” They accused her of spreading “conspiracy theories” that are “not unlike those of a certain US president,” and of introducing and promoting a “new brand of aggression” into Norwegian politics. Her attack on the Norwegian Labour Party last week was branded as “completely unacceptable” and so unfair that it also sparked criticism from members of her own government.

Repeat offender
Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre was far from alone in being both highly offended and demanding an end to Listhaug’s penchant for inflaming those who don’t agree with her. Norwegian Broacasting (NRK) compiled a list of 11 such incidents since Listhaug, part of the right-wing faction of the conservative Progress Party, first became a minister in the Conservatives-led minority government coalition in 2013. Members of Parliament referred to several of them during Thursday’s “debate over the debate,” including the time she accused the Christian Democrats’ leader Knut Arild Hareide of “licking the backs” of Muslim religious leaders in Norway. Hareide, who now holds the crucial swing vote in Parliament, clearly sided with Labour and other opposition parties on Thursday when he branded Listhaug’s claims last week as “speculative, unprofessional and wrong.”

In her initial apology to Parliament on Thursday, demanded by Solberg after the prime minister had earlier apologized for Listhaug on Wednesday evening, Listhaug finally used the words that amount to an apology in Norwegian: “Jeg vil be om unnskyldning…” (literally the equivalent of “I beg your pardon…”) That had been lacking from a Facebook message late Tuesday when she finally expressed some regret for the offense she’d caused but stopped short of apologizing. That angered even more people and then she finally deleted the original Facebook post that ignited all the protests last Friday.

Justice Minister Sylvi Listhaug, under harsh questioning from Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Listhaug’s initial apology on Thursday, however, was largely a recitation of her Facebook post on Tuesday until she finally begged pardon and abruptly left the podium. That was clearly not good enough for Støre, and Listhaug then had to respond directly, from the floor of Parliament, to his tongue-lashing and questions about whether she actually believed her own claim that Labour “put the rights of terrorists above national security.” At first she avoided answering.

Then she was forced into the string of clarifications and return trips to the podium: “It’s of course the case that the Labour Party does not threaten national security,” she said, adding that her “unconditional apology”contained “an unconditional apology for its content.”

“I should never have published that post,” she admitted on another trip to the podium and on her fourth trip, she said that “I believe I have now offered an unconditional apology also for its text.” She apologized for having hurt so many people with her remarks and insisted she wants to contribute to constructive political debate.

The confrontation between opposition leader Jonas Gahr Støre and embattled Justice Leader Sylvi Listhaug. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Leading MPs remained unconvinced. She still faced a vote of no confidence Thursday afternoon, put forth by the Reds Party, and a vote on the Parliament’s strongest form of criticism towards a member of governement. It was put forth by Audun Lysbakken of the Socialist Left party (SV) and read that “Stortinget (The Parliament) believes that Justice-, Preparedness and Immigration Minister Sylvi Listhaug has publicly put forth incorrect and damaging claims tied to the fight against terror that are worthy of strong criticism.”

Støre claimed, meanwhile, that Listhaug would be told in no uncertain terms “how little the justice minister understands, regarding the weight of words and the ties between words and actions.”

Listhaug wasn’t the only one having to apologize to Parliament on Thursday. Prime Minister Solberg also ordered Education and Integration Minister Jan Tore Sanner of her own Conservative Party to also make “an unconditional apology on behalf of the entire government” for the offense caused by Listhaug and to which he contributed by suggesting that Støre was using the July 22 terrorist attacks to his political advantage. Sanner had already apologized for that in the media and Solberg herself had apologized to reporters as well.

“We can’t take back words and pictures but we can ask that our apology be granted,” Sanner said. “We can learn from this and contribute to a better debate climate in the future.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund