Thousands of Norwegian junior high- and high school students were taking part once again on Thursday in the annual fundraiser called Operasjon Dagsverk (OD), billed as Norway’s largest solidarity event. It was clouded, however, by calls for a boycott from pro-Israeli groups that object mightily to this year’s OD beneficiary: The international YMCA/YWCA campaign for Palestinian youth.
Money raised by the Norwegian youth through their dagsverk (day’s work) on Thursday will go towards boosting educational opportunities for young Palestinians, helping those traumatized after sitting in military prisons, financing young Palestinian women’s effort to create a “more fair and equal Palestine,” and teaching Palestinian youth about democracy, conflict resolution and their own rights. The goal is get more young Palestinians into school and then into the workforce.
An organization called Med Israel for fred (With Israel for Peace, MIFF), however, has been taking out full-page advertisements in Norwegian newspapers urging the Norwegian youth to “drop Operasjon Dagsverk.” It claims this year’s fundraiser will support organizations that want to boycott Israel. MIFF has been issuing a highly unusual call for a boycott of the annual Norwegian fundraiser instead.
In its paid ads directed at Norwegian youth, MIFF stresses that it’s “completely voluntary” to work on the annual OD-day and earn money that’s donated to OD’s annual cause. MIFF urged the Norwegian teenagers to choose not to take part, and to ask their friends to drop OD participation as well, on the grounds OD’s beneficiaries this year “demonize” Israel. MIFF likens this year’s OD to “a giant anti-Israel campaign” that will “indoctrinate” six years’ worth of Norwegian junior high- and high-school students with a negative view of Israel and Jews in general.
“These are insane and serious accusations,” Håvard Sjerdal of Norway’s YMCA/YWCA international chapter, KFUK/KFUM Global, told newspaper Dagsavisen, in which some of MIFF’s ads appeared. He claims money raised by young Norwegians, who are excused from school to spend the day earning money for ODinstead, will go towards improving equality and human rights for young Palestinians and help them deal with trauma.
The leader of Operasjon Dagsverk in Finnmark, among those also hit by a boycott carried out by several chapters of the conservative Progress Party’s youth group FpU, flatly denies OD is urging any boycott of Israel. “We’re not taking sides, we just want to give young Palestinians an education and trauma treatment,” Ida Elise Gaare Nøstvold told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).
Nøstvold also rejects FpU’s accusation that this year’s OD is politically motivated and hasn’t remained neutral by cooperating with the international Christian organization YMCA/YWCA. OD advocates also believe their campaign this year is in line with the goal of OD, which is for Norwegian youth to give up a day of their own education and earn money that can help youth elsewhere in the world get an education.