Israel’s ongoing attacks on hospitals and other targets in Gaza continue to backfire on local Jewish communities abroad, including those in Norway. They’ve become targets of harsh criticism and even anti-Semitism, prompting Norwegian police to raise terror threats and boost security around local synagogues.
The organization representing the Jewish community in Norway, Det Mosaiske Trossamfund (DMT), has already declared that many of its members feel threatened and unsafe. “I think this is very frightening,” Hannah Dubowski, a 21-year-old member in Oslo, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) last week. “I have never felt unsafe as a Jew in Norway before, but now I do.”
She works as an official representative of the Jewish community, visiting schools and talking about her religion and what it’s like to be a young Jew in Norway in terms of identity, prejudice and stereotyping. “Right now I feel that being Jewish and having ties to Israel provokes others, and that’s very difficult,” Dubowski told NRK.
She’s far from alone, with DMT reporting that many Jews in Norway have experienced threatening situations, harassment via social media and even vandalism. Police in Oslo have had to remove banners depicting the Israeli flag with its Star of David replaced by a swastika, while Dubowski said some fellow Jews are now shielding their identities for fear of reprisals.
Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre stressed that Jews and all other minorities in Norway must feel safe, and called on Norwegians to remember their own history of discrimination against Jews. Several other top politicians including the leaders of the right-wing Progress Party and the left-wing Socialist Left Party (SV) claimed that any incidents of anti-Semitism are “frightening and unacceptable.” Inga Marte Thorkildsen, a former government minister for SV, wrote in various media last week that while “Israel had become a bully,” any and all discrimination or harassment of Jews must be stopped. They are, she suggested, not necessarily represented by Israeli officials “who have become more extremist than ever” and need to be confronted over their own brutality.
Police patrols around the synagogues in both Oslo and Trondheim have been boosted, also around the Israeli Embassy in Oslo. Local Muslim organizations also have joined others in claiming zero tolerance for any form of hatred against specific groups.
At the same time, however, both Støre and his foreign minister, Espen Barth Eide, repeated claims during the weekend that the Israeli government “has gone too far” with its incessant bombings of Gaza that also have killed and injured thousands of Palestinian civilians. Norway’s largest newspaper Aftenposten editorialized the same on Saturday, carrying a headling that “Israel has gone too far, much too far,” just as thousands of demonstrators marched again through Oslo with the same message.
“Israel has a full right to respond to the terrorist attacks by Hamas (the radical Palestinian organization) on October 7, there’s no doubt about that,” Aftenposten editorialized. “But the response must be reasonable, and there must be a plan for what happens afterwards. Both are lacking now.”
Bjørnar Moxnes, a Member of Parliament for the Reds Party, claims that it should be “fully possible” to criticize Israel’s “massive violation of the Rule of Law” and how Israel is “slaughtering civilians in Gaza” without being branded as anti-Semitic. He has, among other things, called on Norwegian officials to expel Israel’s ambassador to Norway, in order to show that “violating the Rule of Law and killing innumerable civilians must have consequences.”
Moxnes, a former leader of the far-left Reds, said his party has always distanced itself from anti-Semitism: “It’s important that we who oppose Israel’s occupation and rights abuses are careful to distinguish between Jews and the State of Israel,” he told newspaper Klassekampen. “Jews should not be held responsible for the what the Israeli state is doing.”
As Israel’s bombing continued through the weekend, with Israel claiming that hospitals hit in Gaza were shielding Hamas, many in Norway were also calling on Norwegian Jews to join the criticism of the Israeli government. They have included Vibeke Moe, a researcher at the Holocaust Center in Oslo. She called it “a democratic problem” that many Jews don’t dare speak out about the brutal conflict: “We’re losing an important voice, the minorities’ own.”
Qasim Ali agrees. He leads the organization for minorities Minorg in Norway, and seeks Jewish voices regarding the Israeli attacks. “Muslims have been asked since the 11th of September attacks (on the US) to distance themselves from terrorism, and more Muslim voices were sought,” Ali told Klassekampen. “We have no reason not to ask the same (of Jews) now.”
Some are speaking out, including Yonatan Shapira, a former helicopter pilot in the Israeli military who now hopes more Norwegian Jews will join others including the United Nations in demanding a ceasefire. Shapira has taken part in ongoing demonstrations in Oslo against Israel’s attacks and describes himself as a Palestinian activist for the past two decades.
“I’ve been talking about the conflict for 20 years and am not afraid to call a genocide a genocide,” he told Klassekampen. He objected in 2003 to what he called Israel’s “illegal and immoral” attacks on civilian Palestinians then, only to be stamped as a traitor by Israel’s far-right politicians. He now works as a pilot in Norway, and thinks more Norwegian Jews will join the debate: “When the situation is as extreme as it is now, I think we’ll see more and more talking about the war and a ceasefire.”
Meanwhile, 250 Norwegians still in Gaza
Line Khateeb of the Palestina Committee in Noway noted that the first few weeks following Hamas October 7 attacks on Israelis were plagued by what she called “a rough debate climate.” Anyone talking about Palestinian rights “was accused of supporting terrorism and anti-Semitism,” Khateeb told Klassekampen. She stressed that no minority, “neither Jews nor Muslims, should have to answer for the actions of either Israel or Hamas.”
Khateeb added that “it’s important no one demonizes the other side, but now it’s been four weeks with intense bombing and a confined population (within Gaza). This is the greatest catastrophe for Palestinians since 1948 (when the state of Israel was established and Palestinians were forced to give up what had been their land), and we need to protest that loud and clear.”
Thousands of foreigners also remain confined in Gaza, including around 250 Norwegians. Half of them are children, and Norwegian officials have been trying for weeks to get them out. Gaza’s borders remain sealed except for one possible exit route in the south to Egypt, which was also closed both Friday and Saturday. The border was due to reopen on Sunday, “but unfortunately no Norwegian citizens are on the lists of foreign citizens who will be able to cross the border today,” Tuva Raanes Bogsnes of Norway’s foreign ministry told NRK Sunday afternoon.