Israeli Ambassador Angers Norwegians by Criticizing Royal Family

OSLO - Israel's ambassador angered Norwegians this week, including the tiny Jewish community, by criticizing the popular royal family for failing to express sympathy over an attack on Norway's main synagogue.

At least one gunman opened fire on the synagogue before dawn on September 17, spraying the downtown Oslo building with at least a dozen bullets. No one was injured.

In a statement yesterday, Israeli Ambassador Miryam Shomrat said that it had not been her intention to criticize the royal family in an interview broadcast by the state television network NRK late Monday.

In the interview, Shomrat said that Norway's popular figurehead monarch, King Harald V, and his family should have made a statement of sympathy with the Jewish community.

"A gesture from the royal household last Friday, [on the eve of] the Jewish New Year's celebration, would have been appropriate," she said. "It would especially have been a sign of solidarity from the royal family if they had come to the synagogue after it was fired on."

The comments drew immediate and sharp reaction in Norway, where the royal family is seldom criticized.

"I think this is a very unsuitable comment from an ambassador [of] another country," Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said, noting that the government had expressed sympathy, and that the justice minister was at the synagogue the day after the shootings.

Former prime minister Kaare Willoch, now seen as an elder statesman in Norway, said: "I think this is completely unreasonable, especially considering how strongly our royal family stresses the right of all people to respect and protection."

The criticism also angered members of Norway's tiny Jewish community, which numbers about 1,300 people.

"I was furious. Now I am just saddened," said Anne Sender, a leader of the Mosaic Religious Community in Oslo. She said that she spoke to the ambassador yesterday morning.

"The ambassador has apologized. She said she went too far," Sender said on NRK. "What the ambassador said is very regrettable, and in no way was she speaking on our behalf."

In her own statement later yesterday, Shomrat pushed part of the blame onto the Norwegian media, saying they had made her answers to two questions sound like criticism. "I want to emphasize that it was far from my intention to criticize the king," she wrote.