New Israeli envoy met with hatred

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Raphael Schutz, Israel’s new ambassador to Norway, has received a mixed welcome to Oslo, to put it mildly. In the week since the Israeli Embassy in Oslo published a video on its official Facebook page, introducing their new top envoy, they’ve received 71 “Likes” but 39 comments, many of them full of hatred and vulgarity.

Israel's new ambassador to Norway, Raphael Schutz, met hostility when the Israeli embassy in Oslo published a video introducing him. PHOTO: Facebook

Israel’s new ambassador to Norway, Raphael Schutz, met hostility when the Israeli embassy in Oslo published a video introducing him. PHOTO: Facebook

Schutz, a veteran diplomat who formally assumed his post in mid-September, offered an informal portrait of himself and Israel, with video featuring him in a football stadium in Tel Aviv and walking along the city’s beach. He introduced himself simply as “Rafi Schutz,” immediately mentioned his passion for football and said the stadium in Tel Aviv was “the place I will miss the most” while stationed in Oslo.

Speaking in English, Schutz went on to invite Norwegians “to come over to Tel Aviv,” calling it his “preferred city,” but said he also was looking forward to his new posting in Oslo. He spoke of how Israel, after its founding, “had a tough environment and had to struggle for its existence,” but that was “no excuse” not to develop the country into “a center of innovation” with “state-of-the-art technology” and an advanced economy. “I hope and believe that there will be a big potential to make this Israeli experience relevant to the Norwegian economy,” Schutz said.

He also claimed that “Oslo, in the collective mind of the Israelis, is related to the urgent quest for peace,” and proudly stated how three Israelis (Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres) have won Nobel Peace Prizes, always awarded in the Norwegian capital. He ended his presentation with the standard, informal Norwegian farewell: Ha det bra! (roughly equivalent to “have a nice day”).

Spelling problems
While some Norwegians responded with short greetings in return, wishing him welcome, others resorted to hostility and foul language. Some couldn’t manage to spell their vulgar expletives correctly or even the most basic words like the name of Schutz’ country: Isreal (sic) ut av Norge (Israel out of Norway), wrote one hapless commenter.

Others were more thoughtful: “This man has a lot of work to do in creating an accepted face for Israel in Norway,” wrote one man in English. “I hope that he represents a human agenda and that he can help to build an including (sic) world.”

Another was written in all capital letters, apparently for effect, claiming that Israel should not be allowed to have an embassy in Norway as long as Palestine is not recognized and until Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory ends. Another urged a boycott of Israel products around the world.

Most of the comments were written in poor Norwegian, with so many vulgarities that the torrent became merely repetitive. That prompted one man to write (translated from Norwegian) “I think people could be a bit more on topic here. I don’t like Israel, or people who use such (vulgar) words, either. It doesn’t help the Palestinians’ cause.”

No big surprise
Embassy staff seemed to take the outpouring in stride. “To be honest, I wasn’t shocked when I saw the comments on Facebook,” George Deek, another diplomat at the Israeli embassy, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “This is something we experience all the time.” He said most hateful messages arrive via email or letter. “The only difference is that (everyone) can see it when it’s out on Facebook,” Deek added.

Ervin Kohn, deputy leader of Norway’s Anti-Racism Center and a leader at the Jewish Synagogue in Oslo, was more upset. “One thing is to hurt those of us who are children of Holocaust survivors and who have lost most of our family in the Holocaust,” Kohn told NRK, referring to some of the clearly anti-Semitic comments.  “But this also contributes to making Norwegian society sick. It disturbs our moral compass.”

Neither Deek nor others at the embassy had any immediate plans of removing the offensive comments, however. “It’s nothing we like having on our page,” Deek stressed to NRK, but added that having it there gives people insight into “what we experience all the time.” Some of the comments, including a veiled death threat, may be reported to police if found to be in violation of Norwegian law.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund