Ex-Norwegian prime minister Kåre Willoch spoke out Thursday against Israel and a group of Israeli scholars who earlier this week held a symposium in Jerusalem devoted to accusing the Scandinavian countries of racism, anti-Semitism and Israel-hatred.
"It's a traditional deflection tactic aimed at diverting attention from the real problem, which is Israel's well-documented and incontestable abuse of Palestinians," Willoch, who presided as Norway's prime minister in the 1980s, told a Norwegian daily.
Willoch, a long-time critic of Israel, was reacting to accusations leveled at an event hosted on Tuesday by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, which, as reported by Haaretz, is described by the organizers as "probably Israel's first comprehensive discussion into Scandinavia's approach to the Jewish people and state."
The English-language event attracted approximately 50 listeners, including at least five Scandinavian journalists, who later wrote about the event.
"Norway is the most anti-Semitic country in Scandinavia," Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld, a scholar of Western European anti-Semitism from the Center said at the symposium.
Gerstenfeld, a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to Israel many years ago from Holland, projected cartoons he had found in Norwegian mainstream press over the past few years.
One cartoon, which appeared in Dagsavisen, the same paper which published the ex-premier's reaction, showed an ultra-Orthodox Jew engraving "thou shall murder" into an alternative Decalogue. Another cartoon from the daily Dagbladet showed Ehud Olmert dressed up as a guard at a death camp, smiling and holding a rifle.
"These cartoons are one of many ugly anti-Semitic phenomena in Norway," he said.
"There is something wrong with a society which is willing to accept these Nazi cartoons. With a Jewish population of only 1,300, Norway has led the pack in anti-Semitism before, during and after WWII."
In his reaction, former premier Willoch said: "Anyone who accuses Norway of anti-Semitism is closing his eyes and ears." Other Norwegian politicians were also quoted in the article in similar context.
Besides Gerstenfeld, the humble-sized event offered two more speakers: Zvi Mazel, a former ambassador to Sweden who spoke of a "deep-rooted" anti-Semitism in Sweden, and Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the U.S.-born director of the Wiesenthal Center in Israel - which co-sponsored the event - who addressed Norway and Sweden's failure to prosecute Nazi war criminals.
Earlier this year, the three men contributed to a recently-published book entitled "Behind the Humanitarian Mask," which served as the kernel for the symposium. The book accuses the Scandinavian countries of adhering to a form of "a white supremacist" approach, which views non-whites such as the Palestinians as eternal victims and aid-recipients who are not responsible for their actions.
The Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish and Danish ambassadors were invited to the event but did not come. However, five Scandinavian journalists were in attendance to counter some of the allegations.
"Why is criticism of Israel automatically considered anti-Semitism," Louise Stigsgaard Nissen, Middle East Bureau chief for the Danish daily Berlingske Tidende, asked. "Why can't one criticize Israel as one criticizes the U.S. without being called an anti-Semite?"
While Zuroff argued that Israelis generally accept harsh criticism when they do not suspect anti-Semitism, Gerstenfeld quoted the European Union's definition of anti-Semitism as a double standard. "One cannot criticize Israel for things other countries also do while refraining from criticizing those countries," he said.
Another Danish reporter said that by closing Gaza to reporters when international organizations speak of a humanitarian crisis there, Israel was "inevitably rendering itself suspect in human rights violations" and "inviting hostile treatment."
Each such statement was received by the audience with disapproving mumbles, until the guests began to argue aloud with the Scandinavians - who argued right back. "It's good to see some action around here," one JCPA regular said. "Usually these lectures end with a few approving nods and hear-hears."