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Palace caught in ‘scandal’ over medal

UPDATED: King Harald, his staff at the Royal Palace and county officials were hit by a wave of criticism this week over their decision to award a royal service medal to a Norwegian accused of anti-Semitism. Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang refused to hand over the medal to Trond Ali Linstad as planned, and the medal ceremony set for Tuesday at the National Theater in Oslo was cancelled, as was an alternative event later in the day.

Neither King Harald nor palace officials would initially comment on the controversial decision to award a royal medal to Trond Ali Linstad, who’s been accused of anti-Semitism. The award ceremony later was cancelled indefinitely. PHOTO: Sølve Sundsbø/Det Kongelige Slott

Officials at the National Theater in Oslo decided to cancel the ceremony for what they called “security reasons.” Children were due to be present, and there was concern for their well-being.

“We’ve had a lot of reaction over the past day, along with warnings of demonstrations,” Ida Margrethe Halvorsen, communications chief for the National Theater, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “We have therefore decided to cancel this arrangement in our locale.”

NRK later reported that Linstad was poised to receive the medal later in the afternoon at an impromptu event set up as an alternative to the National Theater ceremony, but it was cancelled, too, after a discussion involving Palace officials and Linstad.

“It’s clear the Palace has been under severe pressure lately and has asked for some time to think,” Linstad told NRK. “We accept that.”

Marianne Hagen, communications chief at the Palace, broke her silence on the issue Tuesday afternoon and told news bureau NTB she had “been in contact with Linstad” and expressed to him that awarding him the medal had become “complicated.” She added: “We have agreed to a meeting on Monday.” She refused to comment whether the awarding of the medal may be withdrawn.

The highly unusual controversy over a royal decoration attracted widespread coverage in major Norwegian media this week, not least after a senior researcher at the Holocaust Center in Oslo told news bureau NTB that the royal award was a “scandal” because it honours a man who holds highly critical views of the Jewish community.

“Linstad plays on the classic world conspiracy notion about Jews, as if the Jews are a single entity who work collectively with an evil plan,” Terje Emberland of the Norwegian Holocaust Center told NTB. “It’s a scandal that a person who makes such statements gets the king’s service medal.”

Linstad, a 69-year-old Norwegian who was educated as a doctor, was active in Norway’s workers’ communist party (AKP) during the 1970s and later chaired a pro-Palestinian committee in Norway. He converted to Islam, has supported the Iranian revolution of 1979 and has become active in Muslim circles in Oslo and nationwide.

He stirred controversy with his “Muslim manifesto” published in newspaper Aftenposten two years ago, in which he claimed that Muslims oppose liberal democracies because Allah is the only authority, and Muslims therefore shouldn’t cooperate with national authorities. His manifesto was evaluated by some as arguing for a form of “Muslim segregation.”

Linstad has also been accused of being anti-Semitic, after writing on his website that his readers should be critical of “the Jews in the world” because of the “influence they have in newspapers and other media, in many political organs” and through alleged “networks” where decisions are made. He also has urged readers to “beware the Jews,” referring to their alleged lobbying and interest in expanding Israeli territory. One anti-racism organization in Oslo called Linstad’s writings “one of the worst collective attacks on Jews that has been made since World War II.”

It’s believed he was nominated for the king’s service medal for his work with Urtehagen, a foundation he launched around 10 years ago to set up Oslo’s first Muslim day care centers for children and, later, a high school. Linstad told VG Nett that he stands behind his writings, but told newspaper Aftenposten that he’s been “misunderstood.” He claims he’s not anti-Semitic but rather “anti-Zionist, anti-colonist” and opposed to “sectarian” states established on Palestinian land, whether they be “Jewish, Buddhist or whatever…”

It’s up to county authorities in Norway to receive and process nominations for the king’s service medal in silver (Kongens fortjenstmedalje i solv), the lowest grade of royal decorations. They in turn send a proposal to the Royal Palace, where a final decision on such awards is made.

Neither staff at the Royal Palace nor officials at the county authority (Fylkesmannen i Oslo og Akershus) would initially comment on the controversy around Linstad’s award, with each passing responsibility for it on to the other. Kari Øyen Fay at Fylkesmannen’s office told Aftenposten that the actual proposal sent to the palace regarding a medal for Linstad had been withdrawn from public review.

The award, though, was being denounced by the head of the Jewish community in Oslo, Ervin Kohn, and former Member of Parliament for the Conservative Party Annelise Høegh, who now serves as chairman of the Holocaust Center, which received state funding as part of compensation for the expropriation of Jewish-owned property during the Nazi German occupation of Norway during World War II.

“It’s surprising if a declared anti-democrat who spreads anti-Semitic attitudes gets this award,” Høegh told Aftenposten.

Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang, generally an enthusiastic supporter of the royal family and royal decorations in Norway, was supposed to make the royal award on behalf of King Harald, but withdrew.

“I usually award the King’s service medals with pleasure, but in this case I evaluated it as problematic,” Stang told Aftenposten. “Linstad has surely made a good contribution in some areas, but in order to hand over such an award I need to be able to identify myself with the recipient to a bit higher degree.”

NTB earlier had reported that Linstad would still receive the medal, but in another ceremony at the Urtehagen School in Oslo’s Grønland district. VG Nett reported that the award to Linstad was initially proposed by Jan Akerjordet, who works as an adviser to Urtehagen School. Now it’s unclear whether it will be awarded at all.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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