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With friends like Norway

Oslo says it opposes BDS but it's still bankrolling numerous groups that wage political warfare on Israel

This week, Shimon Peres visited Norway and was feted by King Harald V. In anticipation of that occasion, Norway’s ambassador to Israel, Svein Sevje, gave an interview to the Jerusalem Post highlighting the friendly relations and expanding business and cultural ties between his country and the Jewish state. Moreover, he stressed the Norwegian government’s support for Middle East peace based on two states for two peoples, and opposition to poisonous Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns. These deepening connections and rejection of delegitimization are welcome.

However, despite these strong expressions of support and friendship, the Norwegian government continues to provide tens of millions of kroner to organizations that actively promote BDS, campaign against the right of the Jewish people to self determination, and seek to undermine the Oslo Framework (the international framework originating in Norway, established to lead to the creation of a peaceful Palestinian state living side by side with Israel). These activities, financed with public money, directly oppose Norwegian policy, damage Norwegian-Israeli ties and damage the prospects for Middle East peace.

A number of Norwegian-funded groups have launched vicious campaigns libeling and harassing companies that do not share their extreme political views. For example, Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) receives more than 200 million NOK from the government, and has played a central role in getting companies excluded from the Norwegian Pension Fund based on tendentious and even false factual and legal claims.

NPA has also called for economic warfare against SodaStream. This Israeli company employs more than 900 Palestinian workers under conditions far better than they could obtain elsewhere. However, one of its many factories is located just within the West Bank, in an area slated to be part of Israel under any peace deal. In NPA’s radical world view, this marginal connection is enough to target the company and its employees, threatening them with financial ruin.

Much of NPA’s distorted “research” comes from the organization Who Profits (formerly a project of Coalition of Women for Peace, now they are “sister” organizations), a leading member of the anti-Israel BDS campaign. In addition to intense collaboration with NPA, Who Profits itself currently receives funding via the Fagforbundet Trade Union

Similarly, the Norwegian government funds the Civic Coalition of Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem (amount unknown) and in 2012, provided more than 8 million NOK to the YMCA-YWCA. These groups are both active in BDS.

In addition to BDS, the Norwegian government supports other forms of political warfare targeting Israel. One such grant involves massive funding provided to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), which in turn is funneled to local NGOs, in order to flood Israeli courts with hundreds of lawsuits, challenging Israeli sovereignty, and seeking to destroy the Oslo Accords.

Since 2011, the government of Norway, along with the UK and the EU, has provided the NRC with a staggering $20 million in taxpayer funds to wage legal warfare against Israel and the Oslo framework. This funding is directed towards the NRC’s “Information Counselling and Legal Assistance” (ICLA) project. According to documents examined by NGO Monitor, the aim of the project is to manipulate Israeli democracy to achieve “changes in Israeli policy and practice” and to provide “evidence and analysis to form the basis for international pressure on Israel.”

In practice, NRC has used its millions to finance a flood of lawsuits before Israeli courts and administrative bodies to challenge Israeli sovereignty in Area C, even though such sovereignty is assigned by Oslo. With its government financing, the NRC has funded at least 700 cases in Israeli courts involving some of the most controversial and contentious issues relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict, including lawsuits intended to deny pre-1948 Jewish property claims in East Jerusalem, the Cliff Hotel case, the route of the security barrier in the Cremisan Valley (near Bethlehem), and the validity of military orders.

Moreover, statements made by those associated with the NRC program suggest another more nefarious goal of the project. In a public presentation, an NRC-affiliated lawyer commented that the strategy behind the project is to undertake “every possible legal measure to disrupt the Israeli judicial system… to increase the workload of the courts and the Supreme Court to such an extent that there will be a blockage.”  In other words, the objective is to sabotage the Israeli justice system.

The visit of President Peres to Oslo and the statements by Ambassador Sevje suggest that Norwegian-Israeli relations are about to enter a new phase of increased friendship and cooperation. Ending counterproductive funding to groups that seek to damage these relations would be a good beginning.

About the Author
Anne Herzberg is the Legal Advisor of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute. She is the author of NGO ‘Lawfare’: Exploitation of Courts in the Arab-Israeli Conflict.