Thursday, July 27, 2006

Israeli Complaint against Norwegian Cartoon

Israel's ambassador to Norway, Miryam Shomrat, has filed a complaint at PFU against the cartoon in Dagbladet about Ehud Olmert. She also said she was «disappointed» in the Norwegian government because it has neglected to react against the assault by some Arabs against a Jew some time ago. Meanwhile, the bishop of Oslo has urged the government to officially condemn what happened.

PFU (Pressens Faglige Utvalg) is the body in Norway where everybody can file complaints against press articles. Israel's ambassador has now filed a complaint against the cartoon that appeared in Dagbladet comparing Israel's treatment of the Palestine people with the Holocaust against the Jews under the World War II. According to her, the cartoon shows a lack of historical knowledge about the Holocaust, which she finds absolutely unacceptable. Lars Helle, editor in charge of the newspaper, is rather confident about the case, and says the cartoon clearly is within the borders of the freedom of expression.

This case has some clear resemblances to the case about the Danish Mohamed cartoons, but there are some striking differences too. First of all, Israel's ambassador filed a complaint at PFU, thus following the correct way to do this. She hasn't asked for an intervention from the Norwegian government, nor demanded a meeting with the Prime Minister. Lars Helle and Finn Graff can enjoy the warm summer weather without having to fear for their lives or their security, or of their family. Furthermore, it is not much probable that some Norwegian embassy will be under attack or burnt down any time soon because of the cartoon. As a result, I'm having the impression that the Israeli ambassador is an offended, but otherwise civilized person. That does not mean that I think she's right about filing a complaint: regardless of one's opinion about the cartoon, it would be unacceptable if every cartoonist would have to check and ask the approval from every embassy involved whenever he wants to draw a cartoon about an international event. Moreover, the Israeli ambassador is paying much more tribute than necessary to Finn Graff, particularly considering his comments form less than a year ago about, exactly, those Mohamed cartoons.

In an event somewhat related to this, the ambassador said in a Internet conversation with the readers of the Norwegian newspaper Vårt Land that she was «disappointed» because the government hasn't made any official comment on the assault against a Jew in the streets of Oslo not so long ago. It has, however, already more than once expressed concerns about the military actions of Israel in Lebanon. In the Internet conversation she received much support from the readers of Vårt Land, for which she was very grateful. A couple of days later Ole Christian Kvarme, the (conservative) Lutheran bishop of Oslo, followed up saying he too is disappointed about the lack of reaction from the Norwegian government. He added that the ambassador's call should be completely unnecessary in a country like Norway. According to him, the assault was an anti-Semitic act and totally unacceptable.

The Christian-democrat Ingebrigt S. Sørfonn (Krf), president of «Friends of Israel» in the Norwegian parliament Stortinget agrees that the Norwegian government should react officially. He asks the government to contact the representatives of the Jewish community in order to discuss the situation. He also said the media and the political parties bear a lot of responsibility because of their repeated calls for a boycott of Israel the last months and years, and points in particular to the local groups of the Socialist Left Party (SV) in South Trøndelag and Bergen. The president of SV in Hordaland, Jørgen Melve, disagrees, and says Sørfonn is talking nonsense when he tries to blend anti-Semitism with one's opinion about the state of Israel and its behavior in one and the same discussion.

Morten Høglund of the Progress Party (Frp), also a member of «Friends of Israel», criticized the position of SV and the Labor Party (Ap) too. He accuses the two parties of speaking with two tongues: one in the government on a national level, and one on a local level in the provincial councils, and says it contributes to the confusion about what the two parties' real opinion about the matter is. He also accuses them of being biased against Israel since they never have called for a boycott of Syria or Iran.

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Convicted Soviet Spy Member of Swedish Left Party

The former Soviet spy Stig Bergling has been member of the Swedish Left Party (v, Vänsterpartiet) since the beginning of this year, it became clear in an interview he gave to the largest Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter. Officially it is no problem for the party that a convicted spy has become an active member, «because has done his time in prison, and everybody deserves a second chance».

Who's Stig Bergling? He started to work for the Swedish security service Säpo, but as an officer in the military reserves he also worked for Defense and had access to secret information about Swedish military installations. During a mission for the UN in Lebanon in 1973 he sold documents to the GRU, the military intelligence service of the Soviet Union, but after his return to Sweden he continued to work for the Soviets. Eventually he was arrested in 1979 by the Mossad in Israel, and that same year by a Swedish court sentenced to lifetime in prison for espionage.

In 1987 he managed to flee from prison in Norrköping in a spectacular escape, and through Åland and Helsinki he found his way to his old employer, the Soviet Union. He lived for a while in Moscow and later in Hungary, but left for Lebanon in the autumn of 1990. He voluntarily returned to Sweden in 1994, and did his remaining three years in prison.

In his interview with Dagens Nyheter he says he did it mainly for the money, and calls himself not a communist. The latter is a rather hot potato in the former communist Left Party since the controversy around Lars Ohly in 2004. In a research and an interview for the Swedish national television channel SVT some rather undemocratic aspects of the current party president had come to the surface, and he was questioned and attacked about them in the interview. He defended himself by saying that someone who calls himself a communist not necessarily endorses a Soviet style communism. However, further research had shown that he had called himself a Leninist until as late as 1999. In the aftermath of the interview almost all national Swedish politicians, from the right to the social democrats, insisted that he would stop calling himself a communist, but he refused. Only a year later, on 30 October 2005, Lars Ohly said on Swedish television that we would stop to do so.

Whether the president of the Left Party isn't allowed or doesn't dare to call himself a communist any more – it seems to me more important what his real ideology is rather than how he labels it – today, the party has a former and convicted Soviet spy in its ranks. Officially this is not a problem for the party: he has done his time in jail, and just like everybody else he deserves a second chance. (And asked whether they were afraid he would sell the party strategy to political opponents, they said they were confident that would not happen.) However, a question that immediately pops up in my mind, is whether the party would be equally forgiving if Stig Bergling had sold Swedish military secrets to, let's say, the CIA. Or is it possible that the party makes a difference between a peccadillo (spying for the Soviet Union), and mortal sins (spying for the United States)? Maybe even more remarkable is that the party allows someone to become member who didn't spy out of pure conviction, but first of all for the money. Or at least claims he did so. Does this for example mean that if the Americans had offered him more money, he would have sold the information to them? Perhaps something the Left Party can reflect upon this summer.

Currently, the Left Party supports the social democrat minority government of Göran Persson, together with the Green Party (mp), from the opposition. It has however announced that it will not support a new left government after the general elections in the fall of this year, unless it can join the coalition, because it wants to have more influence on government policies. The party labeled itself communist until 1990, the year of the fall of Iron Curtain.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Jews being harassed in Norway

The Mosaic Community in Oslo advises its members to leave the kippah at home for the time being. Only last Saturday, a Jew was attacked in the streets of Oslo by some Arabs, and the Community therefore recommends its members to act carefully.

Only about 1,300 Jews live in Norway, but because of the tensions and the current events in the Middle East, they too run the risk of getting attacked. According to the Norwegian newspaper Vårt Land, a Jew was assaulted by some Arabs in the streets of Oslo last Saturday. As a result, the Mosaic Community has sent out an advice to its members to leave the kippah at home, or cover it under a cap. It is also warning its members against speaking Hebrew in public. During the last days, the Community has received several threats and other unpleasant messages.

The Jewish journalist Mona Levin declared she was shocked by the Mosaic Community's recommendations. In a reaction she said she was going to put on her Star of David again: «We should not hide that we are Jewish. If we do that, we betray ourselves.»

At the same time, the cartoonist Finn Graff saw a chance to place an anti-Israeli cartoon in the popular Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet. The cartoon shows Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as a Nazi commander in the concentration camp of Auschwitz. The scene comes from the movie Schindler's List, in which the commander shoots down a random Jew from his balcony. For the sake of clarity: Finn Graff is the same cartoonist who declared only half a year ago that he would not draw a cartoon about Muhammad out of fear and «respect». Apparently he has no problems with his fear, nor does he need to show any respect when he can insult Jews or Israel, or Christians for that matter.

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