Norway's ambassador tells Haaretz: More restrictive societies not an answer to terror
Svein Sevje expresses support and solidarity for Israel; says hopes conflict can be resolved in the spirit of Oslo Accords.
Israelis have shown an outpouring of sympathy regarding last weekend's horrific attacks in and near Oslo, Norwegian ambassador to Israel Svein Sevje told Anglo File on Wednesday.
Ambassador Sevje returned to Norway yesterday to see his family, but he told Haaretz before departing for Oslo that the embassy in Tel Aviv has received a "tremendous" stream of visitors wishing to convey their sympathies for the victims of the cruel killings. Sevje underscored that he received "lots of letters and mail from Israelis expressing their condolences and support and solidarity, which was quite touching."
At the same time, he says he is not ignorant of the anger expressed by some Israelis, who accuse the Norwegian government of insensitivity to the security concerns of Israelis, and even anti-Semitism, because it supports efforts to create an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. "Maybe Israelis didn't understand how much compassion there was [in Norway] when you were attacked," says Sevje, referring to the wave of Palestinian bombings and shootings that Israelis faced in the 1990s.
"We felt this in Norway, it was followed very closely. I'm not sure if [Israelis] noticed all the statements of solidarity," says Sevje. "There was no schadenfreude then, that 'You deserve this because of the way you treat the Palestinians.' It was a genuine feeling of solidarity and compassion."
In the wake of last weekend's terror attacks, Norwegian leaders have not called for a surveillance state that would limit democratic rights, the ambassador says. "Our prime minister and foreign minister have stated that Norway will still be recognizable tomorrow," says Sevje. While some additional security measures may need to be considered, Sevje says he hopes they will not come at a drastic cost in democratic freedoms.
"The answer to this is not closing in and a more restrictive society; it's more transparency, more involvement, that must be the answer," the ambassador adds.
Hildegunn Egdetveit, a Norwegian historian in Israel, told Anglo File the popular discourse in her country since the horrific attacks has focused on expressions of national unity. "The people hug each other in the street, swelling with understanding and love. It's a bit unreal. In a way, they are demonstrating that they're not giving in to this madman, said Egdetveit, who has lived in Jerusalem for the last 12 years and originally hails from Norway's West Coast. "They want to prove by their reaction that [the terrorist] has totally failed."
Many Israelis are discussing how the attacks are connected to conflicts in the Middle East. The mass murder suspect published an online manifesto just prior to the bombing and shooting spree, expressing hatred for Muslims and advocating their expulsion from Europe.
But at present, the Norwegian nation is still grieving for its loss, and has not yet begun to discuss in earnest the wider implications of the murderer's motivations. "It's important to give Norway time to mourn the fact that it's no longer untouched by terrorism. I don't know if they really understand what's happened to them. But I know they're in deep mourning and shock," says Egdetveit.
She says it's important that they take a time-out before beginning to debate grim ramifications of the political killings. "The wounds are still open."
Karin Abraham, a Norwegian-language journalist stationed in Israel for the past five years, didn't have any family or friends in the area of the attacks, but she monitored up-to-the-minute, first-hand news reports coming out of Utoya Island while the slaughter was being carried out. "I followed people who were on the island, tweeting, asking people not to call, for instance, because they were hiding in the bushes. I almost felt like I was in the middle of it."
Abraham says she surveyed press coverage on the incidents, including Israeli reactions to the carnage. She says that some opinion pieces in the Israeli media that place the blame for the Oslo and Utoya attacks on state-sponsored multiculturalism, and its supposed failure to facilitate the social integration of Muslim immigrants, have not gone unnoticed by Norwegians. Many of them are upset by the news, she says.
"A lot of people in Norway reacted quite strongly to the editorial in the Jerusalem Post. Many in Norway thought it was quite harsh," says Abraham, referring to an opinion piece that suggested that the massacres were an "opportunity to seriously reevaluate policies for immigrant integration in Norway and elsewhere." When word circulated that at least some Israelis expressed smug satisfaction over the attacks, saying that they were a kind of karmic justice for appeasing Muslim political interests, Abraham says that "there was a lot of disappointment about that."