An article in a leading Norwegian newspaper last weekend lambasted Israel and Judaism and said Israel has lost its right to exist in its present form.
Entitled "God's chosen people," the article by author Jostein Gaarder in Aftenposten is raising a storm in Norway. Gaarder, author of the book "Sophie's World," links the Israel Defense Forces' acts in Lebanon to Jewish history and foresees the coming dismantling of the state as it exists today, with the Jews becoming refugees.
In an interview with Haaretz Gaarder said yesterday that he was misunderstood. "As John Kennedy declared in Germany 'I am a Berliner' - I say now 'I am a Jew,'" he said.
The article compares Israel's government, the Afghan Taliban regime and South African apartheid, and states, "We no longer recognize the State of Israel" and "the State of Israel in its current form is history."
"We call child murderers 'child murderers,' and will never accept that they have a divine or historic mandate excusing their outrages," Gaarder writes. "Shame on ethnic cleansing, shame on every terrorist strike against civilians, be it carried out by Hamas, Hezbollah or the State of Israel!"
Gaarder repeatedly refers to the role Judaism plays in Israel's territorial aspirations, writing, "We don't believe in the notion of God's chosen people. We laugh at this nation's fancies and weep over its misdeeds."
He writes, "It is the State of Israel that fails to recognize, respect or defer to the internationally lawful Israeli state of 1948. Israel wants more; more water and more villages. To obtain this, there are those who want, with God's assistance, a final solution to the Palestinian problem."
The article has triggered off thousands of comments and dozens of stormy debates in the Norwegian media. It also has sparked off a debate about Gaarder's alleged anti-Semitic tendencies and the right to criticize Israel.
The Jewish journalist and music critic Mona Levin spoke out in public against Gaarder and said she was shocked by the Norwegian government's silence. She blasted the cabinet for not denouncing what she described as "the most appalling thing I've read since 'Mein Kampf.'"
"We're dealing with an ignorant man, a hate-filled man who derides Judaism," she said in an interview from Oslo. Levin said it was unacceptable that a man of such international repute (26 million copies of his book have been sold) could attack an entire ethnic group and that politicians would remain silent.
"This is a classic anti-Semitic manifesto, which cannot even disguise itself as criticism of Israel," said Professor Dina Porat, head of the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University.
"The writer does not address the conflict in its contemporary context but reaches back thousands of years to assert that the Jewish people have traits of cruelty that have remained unchanged and account for the current war," she says.
Porat says that according to the European Union, denying Israel's right to exist - arguing that its existence is racist - is an anti-Semitic statement. She also finds in Gaarder's text the use of classic anti-Semitic symbols, like infanticide.
"I've been head of the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism for 15 years and it's not every day that I get to read such a radical document, in terms of its content and rhetoric," she said.
Gaarder writes, among other things, "We do not believe that Israel mourns 40 killed Lebanese children more than it has lamented for more than 3,000 years 40 years in the desert. We note that many Israelis celebrate such triumphs like they once cheered the scourges of the Lord as 'fitting punishment' for the people of Egypt."
He writes that the first Zionist terrorists started operating in the days of Jesus.
Speaking to Haaretz on Tuesday, a day before he stopped talking to the media, Gaarder said he was misunderstood and emphasized that he is a friend of Israel and the Jews.
"I think what Hezbollah is doing is terrible," he said, adding that he supports Israel's right to exist as a national homeland for the Jews since 1948.
Gaarder said he does not question Israel's right to exist, "but not as an apartheid state." He said he could understand how his article could be interpreted as "anti-Jewish" and admitted that if he were to rewrite it, he would change a few things.
He is aware he has hurt the Jews in Norway, he said, adding that he would make sure the article is not translated into other languages. However, Gaarder refused to retract publicly his main theme.
Aftenposten's political editor Harald Stanghelle said he saw no problem publishing Gaarder's article.
"Of course I don't agree with what he says," he said. "But an open debate on the issue is better than a covert one.
"Gaarder's voice is important in the Norwegian discourse and it was right to publish the article," he said.
Meanwhile, the furor over Gaarder's article coincides with a series of anti-Semitic incidents in Norway, including the desecration of an Oslo Synagogue and cemeteries and the assault and battery of a skullcap-wearing youngster.
Quotes from article were taken from an unofficial translation.