There are "forces" in Israel that unfairly portray Norway as anti-Semitic, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store charged on Monday. He was responding to various reports critical of Norway in the local press.
"There are references to anti-Israel sentiments in the Israeli press, and I see part of that as a campaign, which is being organized and orchestrated from circles who point out enemies of Israel [in Norway]," Store told Haaretz during a visit to Jerusalem on Monday. He refused to speculate who he thinks is behind the campaign.
Last summer, Israeli papers reported that a Norwegian diplomat who had compared Operation Cast Lead in Gaza with the Holocaust had been promoted, and that Norway had honored novelist and Hitler admirer Knut Hamsun with celebrations and a commemorative coin for his 150th birthday. Several Israeli papers also quoted Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman scolding Norway for not walking out during last April's Durban II conference - which was widely criticized as biased against Israel - the way most other Western nations did.
Ahead of Store's visit this week, a Jerusalem Post columnist described the current Norwegian government as "rabidly hostile" toward Israel. And Haaretz quoted a Norwegian opposition leader saying Israeli concerns about Norway are "understandable."
But Store, who himself recently made headlines for endorsing a book that accused Israel of premeditated mass murder during Cast Lead, said these incidents are not representative.
"When I read these allegations in the Israeli press - and some of them I find almost a smear against Norway - my response is: Go and check with the leaders of [the] Norwegian Jewish community," he said. "You will get a [different] story. Yes, there is this gruesome phenomenon of anti-Semitism, also in our society. But I don't buy it at all that Norway is one of the worst cases."
While it is true that a major Norwegian pension fund divested from Elbit Systems because of the company's involvement in building the West Bank separation fence, this did not imply an anti-Israel bias, Store said. The fund divests whenever a company "breaches ethical standards," he explained, adding that it had also divested from certain French, American and Russian firms.
Furthermore, the fund is currently invested in 40 different Israeli companies that are not involved in building the fence, he noted. "That's the big picture."
Store also commented on the November 2009 appointment of deputy minister of the environment Ingrid Fiskaa, who in April 2008 said she sometimes wished the United Nations would send "precision-guided missiles against selected Israeli targets."
"I will be the first to say that these are senseless statements," Store said. "And she's not responsible [for] our Middle East policy at all. But there are things in every person's past in terms of political views and statements."
Rejecting criticism over his contribution to the back cover of the controversial book, Store said he merely applauded the authors for speaking up about what they saw, without judging the validity of their conclusions. In the book, which contains eyewitness testimony by two Norwegian physicians in Gaza during Cast Lead, the physicians, Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse, accused Israel of perpetrating a "systematically implemented and comprehensive massacre."
"What I said was that during the Gaza war, all independent press was closed out and that when there is no coverage, the first victim is the truth," Store said. "I believe that these doctors ... reported what they saw. I believe that was important."
Writing a blurb for the back cover does not mean he endorses the book's content, Store insisted.
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