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Antisemitism · Jewish history

While parallel to such bigotry elsewhere in Western Europe in Norway, antisemitism in Norway has had a distinct history, reaching its apex during the Holocaust in Norway. It has also been a subject of discussion in the public debate about the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Middle Ages

Norwegian kings, Vikings, and others who traveled in Europe in the Middle Ages undoubtedly encountered Jews and attitudes toward them during their travels, but the first mention of Jews in Norse literature is found in Postola sögur in Iceland in the 1200s, where they are mentioned along with the more general pagans. The literature of this time referred to Jews as "gyðingar," "juði," or in the Latin form "judeus." Jews were also mentioned in unfavorable terms in subsequent literary Icelandic sagas, such as Gyðinga saga (Saga of the Jews).[1]

Reformation and Enlightenment

In 1436 and 1438, archbishop Aslak Bolt prohibited celebrating a day of rest on Saturday, lest Christians replicate the "way of Jews," and this prohibition was reinforced through several subsequent ordinances, including those in Diplomatarium Norvegicum.[2][3]

While Norway was part of the Danish kingdom from 1536 to 1814, the Danish introduced a number of religious restrictions both to uphold the Protestant Reformation in general and against Jews in particular. In 1569, Fredrik II ordered that all foreigners in Denmark had to affirm their commitment to 25 articles of faith central to Lutheranism on pain of deportation, forfeiture of all property, and death. These restrictions were lifted for Sephardic Jews already established as merchants in Altona when Christian IV took over the town. Christian also issued the first letter of safe passage to a Jew (Albert Dionis) in 1619, and on 19 June 1630, general amnesty was granted to all Jews permanently in residence in Glückstadt, including the right to travel freely throughout the kingdom.[4]

Public policy toward Jews thus varied over the next several hundred years. The kings generally tolerated Jewish merchants, investors, and bankers whose contributions benefited the economy of the Danish-Norwegian realm on the one hand, while seeking to restrict their movements, residence, and presence in public life. Several Jews, particularly in the Sephardic Teixera family but also some of Ashkenazi origins, were given letters of passage to visit places in Denmark and Norway; but there were also several incidents of Jews who were arrested, imprisoned, fined, and deported for violating the general ban against their presence, even when they claimed the exemption granted to Sephardim.[5]

The European Enlightenment led to moderately easier restrictions for Jews in Denmark-Norway, especially in Denmark's southern areas and cities. Some Jewish families that had converted to Christianity settled in Norway. Writers of the time increased their interest in the Jewish people, including Ludvig Holberg, who figured Jews as comical figures in most of his playes and in 1742 wrote The Jewish History From the Beginning of the World, Continued till Present Day, presenting Jews to some extent in conventional, unfavorable stereotypes, but also raising the question about mistreatment of Jews in Europe.[6][7]

Consequently, as stereotypes against Jews started entering the awareness of the general public during the Enlightenment, there were also those who rose in opposition to some, if not all, of the underlying hostility. Lutheran minister Nils Hertzberg was one of those who wrote against Norwegian prejudice, ultimately influencing the later votes on the constitutional amendment to allow Jews to settle in Norway.[8]

Constitutional ban

Based on short-lived hopes that Denmark's concessions at the Treaty of Kiel in 1814 would allow for Norwegian independence, a constituent assembly was convened in Eidsvoll in the spring of 1814. Although Denmark had only a few months before completely lifted all restrictions on Jews, the assembly, after some debate, went the other way. Jews were to "continue" to be excluded from the realm, as part of the clause that made Lutheranism the official state religion, though with free exercise of religion as the general rule.

Several of the framers had formulated views on Jews before the convention had started, among them Lauritz Weidemann, who wrote somewhat incoherently that "The Jewish nation's history proves, that this people always has been rebellious and deceitful, and their religious teachings, the hope of again arising as a nation, so often they have acquired some remarkable fortune, led them to intrigues and to create a state within a state. It is of vital importance to the security of the state that an absolute exception be made about them."[9]

Those who supported the continued ban did so for several reasons, among them theological prejudice. Nikolai Wergeland[10] and Georg Sverdrup felt that it would be incompatible with Judaism to deal honestly with Christians, writing that "no person of the Jewish faith may come within Norway's borders, far less reside there." Peter Motzfeld also supported the ban, but on the slightly different basis that the Jewish identity was too strong to allow for full citizenship. Other prominent framers, such as Hans Christian Ulrik Midelfart spoke "beautifully" in defense of the Jews, and also Johan Caspar Herman Wedel-Jarlsberg expressed in more muted terms the backwardness of the proposition.[11]

Those who opposed admission of Jews prevailed decisively when the matter was put to a vote, and the second paragraph of constitution read:[12]

§ 2. The evangelical-Lutheran religion remains the State's public religion. Those inhabitants who profess to it, are obliged to raise their children in the same. Jesuits and monastic orders may not be tolerated. Jews remain excluded from admission to the kingdom.

This effectively maintained the legal status quo from about 1813 but put Norway sharply at odds with trends in both Denmark and Sweden, where laws and decrees in the early 19th century were granting Jews greater, not more limited liberties.

Meanwhile, a small number of Jewish converts to Christianity had settled in Norway, some of them rising to prominence. Among them were Ludvig Mariboe, Edvard Isach Hambro, and Heinrich Glogau. In 1817, Glogau had challenged Christian Magnus Falsen, one of the proponents of the ban against Jews at the constitutional assembly about the meaning of the prohibition, asking whether he should be embarrassed by his ancestors or his homeland when relating his legacy to his children.[13]. Falsen responded by asserting that Judaism "carries nothing but ridicule and contempt toward the person that does not profess to it...making it a duty for each Jew to destroy [all nations that accept him]."[14]

Indeed, a number of Jews who found themselves in Norway were fined and deported. A ship bound for England floundered off the west coast of Norway in 1817, and one of those who washed ashore was Michael Jonas, a Polish Jew. He was escorted out of the country under heavy guard. This heavy-handed approach caused consternation, and the chief of police in Bergen was ordered to personally pay for the costs of the deportation. There were also deportation proceedings against suspected who couldn't produce a baptismal certificate, among them the singer Carl Fredrich Coppello (alias Meyer Marcus Koppel), opticians Martin Blumenbach and Henri Leia, Moritz Lichtenheim, and others.[15]

Repeal and initial immigration

Wreath on Wergelands grave May 17 2009

Every year the Jewish community of Norway commemorates Henrik Wergeland, the driving force behind the repeal of the ban

The deportation of Jews who had either come to Norway by accident or in good faith caused some embarrassment among Norwegians. The first who advocated for a repeal was the poet Andreas Munch in 1836. But it was Henrik Wergeland who became the leading champion for the Jews in Norway.[16][17]

10th parliamentary session, 1842

Henrik Wergeland was the son of Nikolai Wergeland, one of the members at the constitutional assembly who had most strongly objected to admitting Jews to the country. The younger Wergeland had long harbored prejudice against Jews, but travels in Europe had changed his mind. He published the pamphlet Indlæg i Jødesagen on August 26, 1841, arguing passionately for a repeal of the clause. On February 19, 1842, his efforts to put the matter to a vote in the Norwegian parliament was successful, when the proposition was referred to the Constitution Committee. On September 9, 1842, the motion to repeal won a simple majority: 51 to 43, but, falling short of a supermajority (2/3rds) it failed.[18]

On 26 October 1842, Wergeland published his book Jødesagen i det norske Storthing ("The Jewish issue in the Norwegian parliament"), which in addition to arguing for the cause also provides interesting insights into the workings of the parliament at the time.[19]

Parliamentary sessions in 1845, 1848, and 1851

Wergeland had submitted a new proposal to parliament later on the same day that the first repeal had failed. He died on July 12, 1845. The constitution committee referred their recommendation to repeal exactly a month after his death, on August 12. Several versions were put to vote, but the most popular version won 52 votes to repeal, only 47 to keep; worse than the last vote.

In 1848, the motion to repeal earned 59 to 43 votes, still falling short of the 2/3rd required. In 1851, finally, the clause was repealed with 93 votes to 10. On September 10, all remaining legislation related to the ban was repealed by the passage of "Lov om Ophævelse af det hidtil bestaaende Forbud mot at Jøder indfinde sig i Riget m.v." ("Law regarding the repeal of the until now prohibition against Jews in the realm, etc.")[20]

Early 20th century emerging public opinion

In spite of fears that Norway would be overwhelmed by Jewish immigration following the repeal, only about 25 Jews immigrated to Norway before 1870. Because of pogroms in Czarist Russia, however, the immigration accelerated somewhat in the late 19th and early 20th century. By 1910, there were about 1,000 Jews in Norway.

Though the minority was small and widely dispersed, several stereotypes of Jews gained currency in the Norwegian press and popular literature in the early 20th century. In books by the widely read authors Rudolf Muus and Øvre Richter Frich, in which Jews are described as obsessed with money and sadistic. The attorney Eivind Saxlund published a pamphlet Jøder og Gojim ("Jews and Goyim") in 1910, which was characterized i 1922 as "antisemitic smutt literature' by a writer in Dagbladet. Saxlund sued for libel and lost, but earned the admiration of the newspaper Nationen, who praised Saxlund for fighting "our race war." [21] In 1920, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was published in Norway under the title Den nye verdenskeiser ("The New World Emperor").

Opposition to antisemitic prejudice ran across party lines. Fridtjof Nansen, C J Hambro, and Sverre Støstad held a principled line against it. Primarily, the newspapers Aftenposten and Nationen, as well as Tidens Tegn served as platforms for anti-Jewish sentiments, also on the editorial pages.

More specifically, Jews as a group were characterized - in various contexts - as being:

  • Unscrupulous merchants and tradespeople - trade associations, including retailers, wholesalers, and craftsmen, were deeply suspicious about what they alleged were immoral, damaging, and even illegal activities from their Jewish competitors. Jewish merchants were various accused of overpricing for items and also dumping, usually for inferior goods. Jews were excluded from guilds and trade associations.
  • Subersive communists - Jews were often identified with the Bolshevik movement in Russia, this canard being conflated with the capitalist stereotype under the idea that Jewish capitalism was a tool in the service of communism.
  • Freeloaders - in particular, Norwegian authorities feared that an easing of restrictions on Jewish immigration would lead to an influx of immigrants who were dependent on public assistance, or who would displace employment among non-Jewish Norwegians.

Norwegian immigration policy shifted following World War I to a far more restrictive line, and Jews were particularly singled out. The ministries of justice and foreign affairs were often at odds on the issue of Jewish immigration, but in practice the policy made it difficult for Jews to immigrate or settle in Norway. Restrictions were justified on an economic basis (Jews would either create destructive competition for Norwegian merchants and tradespeople, or freeload on public assistance), political concerns (communists and other subversive elements would create political instability), or general xenophobia against "foreign" groups. Whether the immigration policy was driven by the characterizations above, or vice versa is not clear.


Post-World War II

Current issues

On 7 January 2004, the Norwegian newspaper Dagsavisen printed an editorial cartoon that depicted a stereotypical religious Jew rewriting the ten commandments to include "thou shalt murder, kill, liquidate, execute".[22] According to the Israeli Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld, this cartoon was antisemitic.

There have been episodes of desecration of the synagogue in Oslo,[23]. On 17 September 2006 the synagogue in Oslo was subjected to attack with an automatic weapon,[24] only days after it was made public that the building had been one the planned target for the Algerian terror group GSPC that had been plotting a bombing campaign in the Norwegian capital.[25] The synagogue in Oslo is under continuous surveillance and protected by barriers. On 2 June 2008 Arfan Qadeer Bhatti was convicted on the shooting attack and given an eight year preventive custody sentence for serious vandalism. The Oslo city court judge could not find sufficient evidence that the shots fired at the synagogue amounted to a terrorist act.[26] In July 2006 during the 2006 Lebanon War the congregation issued an advisory warning Jews not to wear kippot or other identifying items in public for fear of harassment or assault.[27]

In 2008, a symposium held by Israeli scholars, entitled Behind the Humanitarian Mask: The Nordic Countries, Israel and the Jews, accused Norway and Sweden of institutional racism against Jews[28]. Former Prime Minister Kåre Willoch responded to the accusations by claiming that concern about antisemitism is a "traditional deflection tactic aimed at diverting attention from the real problem, which is Israel's well-documented and incontestable abuse of Palestinians." Dr Manfred Gerstenfeld, chairman of the Board of Fellows at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said that "Norway is the most anti-Semitic country in Scandinavia." [28]

On November 27, 2008 the satirical comedian Otto Jespersen said during a comedy routine on national television that
"I would like to take the opportunity to remember all the billions of fleas and lice that lost their lives in German gas chambers, without having done anything wrong other than settling on persons of Jewish background."
Otto Jespersen
A Norwegian Jew who himself lost 50 family members during the Holocaust has filed a complaint against Jespersen. A number of fellow comedians and his TV station have backed the controversial performer. Jespersen also presented a satirical monologue on anti-Semitism that ended with, "Finally, I would like to wish all Norwegian Jews a Merry Christmas - no, what am I saying! You don't celebrate Christmas, do you!? It was you who crucified Jesus", on December 4.[29] Jespersen has received criticism for several of his satirical attacks on social and ethnic groups as well as royalty, politicians and celebrities, and in defence of the monologue TV2 noted that Jespersen attacks in all directions, and that "if you should take [the monologue] seriously, there are more than just the jews that should feel offended." [30]

Also in December 2008, the Norwegian author and journalist Mona Levin claimed Kåre Willoch made a racist statement when his response to the question whether USA were likely to change their Middle East policy was: “It doesn’t look too good, because he has chosen a Chief of Staff who is a Jew, and, as we know, many American voters look much more to the Bible than to the reality of our days — and with a meaninglessly mistaken interpretation of the Bible.” Levin made the accusation of Willoch making a racist statement on a live TV debate, Willoch denied the accusation, and received support from the three other debaters, excluding Levin[31]. Willoch called Levin's allegations a "total distortion of his statements" adding that "This was a purely political assesment of whether this chief of staff will lead to greater or lesser changes in the relationship to the Middle East, and I imagine that it will lead to a more pro-Israel politic from USA." [32].

In January 2009, a Norwegian gentile pro-Israel protester was attacked by anti-Israel protesters rioting in Oslo. Cries such as "take him, he's a Jew" and "fucking Jew" were heard.[33] Fortyfive arrests were made, the majority of which were people of foreign descent[34].

In 2009, two articles in Jerusalem Post discussed the alleged rise of anti-semitism in Norway. The articles stirred controversy in Norway, and several notable Norwegian Jews refuted the article. It also received strong criticism for basing the allegations on statements from controversial sources, most notably a source that later turned out to be lying about both his identity and his affiliation with the Norwegian army. The responses from Norwegian Jews led to Jerusalem Post posting a follow up piece called "Inside story: Stumbling in Norway" [35] retracting many of the allegations, and summing up the response from Norwegian Jews:

In general, they say, Norway does not suffer from widespread anti-Semitism. Norwegian Jews are an accepted and respected part of the country. But, they add, there are rare incidents of tension over their Jewishness, usually with children being teased in school or with Muslim immigrants bringing their politics into their day-to-day meetings with Jews.[35]

Shechita controversy

Kosher meat production is currently illegal in Norway. However, Halal meat production is approved and legal, despite the methods employed being equivalently painful to animals as the comparable Judaistic meat production.[36]

From the outset, concerns about animal welfare were intermingled with racist arguments. The prejudice against Jews became a focal point in the controversy about the legality of shechita, the Jewish practice of ritual slaughter. The issue had originally been raised in the 1890s, but a municipal ban on the practice in Oslo brought the matter to national attention.

Protests were raised in the Norwegian press, during the 1890s, against the practice of shechita. Although the Jewish community responded to these objections by assuring the public that the method was in fact humane, the controversy continued until 1929, when the Norwegian parliament banned the practice. The ban remains in force today.[37]

Efforts to ban shechita put sincere humane society activists in league with antisemitic individuals. In particular, Jonas Søhr, a senior police official, took a particular interest and eventually rose to the leadership of The Norwegian Federation for Animal Protection. The animal rights cause was used as a means to attack not just the slaughter methods of the small Jewish community in Norway, but also the community itself. Those opposing the ban included Fridtjof Nansen, but the division on the issue crossed party lines in all mainstream parties, except the Farmer's Party, which was principled in its opposition to schechita.[38]

A committee was commissioned on February 11, 1927 that consulted numerous experts and visited a slaughterhouse in Copenhagen. Its majority favored a ban and found support in the Department of Agriculture and the parliamentary agriculture committee. Those who opposed a ban spoke of religious tolerance, and also found that schechita was no more inhumane than other slaughter methods. C J Hambro was one of those most appalled by the antisemitic invective, noting that "where animal rights are protected to an exaggerated extent, it usually is done with the help of human sacrifice" [39]

The former chief rabbi of Norway, Michael Melchior, argues that antisemitism is one motive for the bans "I won't say this is the only motivation, but it's certainly no coincidence that one of the first things Nazi Germany forbade was kosher slaughter. I also know that during the original debate on this issue in Norway, where shechitah has been banned since 1930, one of the parliamentarians said straight out, 'If they don't like it, let them go live somewhere else.'"[40]

See also



  1. Mendelsohn (1969), pps 9-10
  2. Mendelsohn (1969), p 10
  3. Jacobsen (2006)" …, ok ær theth løgurdax helg, som Juda oc hædhninga plega at halda, æn æy cristne, …" citing Bolt's statutes on Saturday holidays and prayer.
  4. Mendelsohn (1969), pps 11-13
  5. Mendelsohn (1969), pps 16-31
  6. Mendelsohn (1969) pps 34-38
  7. Holm, Helge Vidar; Torgeir Skorgen. "Blind på det ene øyet" (in Norwegian). Bergen, Norway: Bergens Tidende. Retrieved 2008-03-17. "Ludvig Holbergs antisemittisme lar seg like lite fornekte som hans aksjer i den dansk-norske slavehandelen, og Immanuel Kant går Holberg en høy gang med sine pinlige raseteorier og antisemittiske utfall mot jødene som nasjon." 
  8. Mendelsohn (1969) pps. 38-40
  9. "Jødeparagrafen - Kronologi 1814" (in Danish). Oslo: Norwegian parliament. 2001-05-15. Retrieved 2008-03-18. 
  10. Nikolai Wergeland's son was Henrik Wergeland, the poet who later would play a decisive role in reversing his father's views
  11. Mendelsohn (1969), pps 43-44
  12. Riksforsamlingen (1814-05-17). "Grunnloven undertegnet på Eidsvoll 17. mai 1814" (in Danish). Stortinget. Retrieved 2008-03-18. "§ 2. Den evangelisk-lutterske Religion forbliver Statens offentlige Religion. De Indvaanere, der bekjende sig til den, ere forpligtede til at opdrage sine Børn i samme. Jesuitter og Munkeordener maae ikke taales. Jøder ere fremdeles udelukkede fra Adgang til Riget." 
  13. "“Er det en jøde tilladt at handle i Norge…”" (in Norwegian). Mulighetenes land? Innvandring til Norge fra 1500 - 2002. Norsk Folkemuseum. Retrieved 2008-03-31. "Mine Børn ere norske, hvad skal jeg sige dem, idet jeg forelegger dem deres Fædrenelands Grundlov? Skal jeg beskæmme mine Forældre eller Grundloven?" 
  14. Mendelsohn (1969) pps 54-56
  15. Mendelsohn (1969), p. 56-57
  16. Mendelsohn (1969), p. 60
  17. "Henrik Wergeland og "Jødesaken"" (in Norwegian). National Archives of Norway. Retrieved 2008-03-31. 
  18. "Jødeparagrafen - Kronologi 1842" (in Norwegian). Norwegian parliament. 2001-05-15. Retrieved 2008-03-31. 
  19. Henrik Wergeland (1842-10-26). "Jødesagen i det norske Storthing" (in Norwegian). Dokumentasjonsprosjektet. Universities in Oslo, Trondheim, Bergen, and Tromsø. Retrieved 2008-03-31. 
  20. Mendelsohn (1969), pps 218-275
  21. Selbekk (2001), pp. 30-33.
  22. Liphshiz, Cnaan (2008-11-28). "Norwegian ex-premier counters anti-Semitism accusations, slams Israel". Haaretz. Retrieved 2009-01-29. 
  23. Aftenposten Newspaper: "Synagogue vandalized"
  24. Aftenposten Newspaper: "Synagogue shooting spurs calls for tighter security"
  25. Aftenposten Newspaper: "Synagogue was terror target"
  26. Bhatti acquitted of terrorism, convicted on other charges, Aftenposten, 3 June 2008
  27. Aftenposten Newspaper: "Jews warned against harassment"
  28. 28.0 28.1 Liphshiz, Cnaan (2008-11-25). "Israeli academics to accuse Scandinavian countries of anti-Semitism". Haaretz. Retrieved 2009-01-20. 
  29. [1]
  30. [2]
  31. Nordstoga, Anders (2009-01-14). "Mona Levin: - Willoch er rasist og viser jødehat" (in Norwegian). Aftenposten. Retrieved 2009-01-20. 
  32. "Willoch: Levin vrenger uttalelsene" (in Norwegian). NRK. 2009-01-15. Retrieved 2009-04-06. 
  33. KLUNGTVEIT, HARALD S. (2009-01-09). "Ta ham! Jævla jøde!" (in Norwegian). Dagbladet. Retrieved 2009-01-20. 
  34. "Ta ham! Jævla jøde!" (in Norwegian). Dagbladet. 2009-01-09. Retrieved 2009-01-20. 
  35. 35.0 35.1 Gur, Havir (2009-04-07). "Inside Story: Stumbling in Norway". JP. Retrieved 2009-04-07. 
  36. Kay, Barbara (2009-01-14). "Behind the humanitarian mask in Scandinavia". National Post. Retrieved 2009-01-20. 
  37. Johansen, Per Ola. "Korstoget mot schächtningen" (in Norwegian). Oss selv nærmest. Oslo: Gyldendal Norsk Forlag. p. 63. ISBN 8205150621. 
  38. Johansen,p. 64-68
  39. Johansen, p. 69
  40. Europe's new face of anti-Semitism 5 countries now ban production of kosher meat as synagogues burn, boycott of Israel continues, World Net Daily, December 3, 2002

External links

Erez Uriely; Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism; No. 50 1 November 2006 / 10 Cheshvan 5767