Why Norway can show us the way

To put it mildly – Norway is not known for its sympathy to Israel, or indeed Jews. Arguably, anti-Zionist waters run deep in its sleepy fjords. The celebrated lawyer and advocate Alan Dershowitz received an Arctic welcome and was prevented from lecturing at Norwegian universities. A recent cartoon in the mass circulation Dagbladet marks a slide into mindboggling anti-Semitism.

Thus it came as a pleasant surprise to read of the experiences of David M Weinberg, Director of Public Affairs at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. Weinberg spent a week with activists of Med Israel for Fred (MIFF), a dynamic Norwegian pro–Israel group. He writes:

Norwegian MIFF activists have learned that it is simply not enough to explain Israel’s security dilemmas or to revisit Israel’s diplomatic generosity toward the Palestinians. What’s needed is a much more basic restatement of Israel’s cause and purpose: Israel as a grand historic reunion of people and land, as a shelter for the Jewish People, and as a just and moral actor in the medieval and violent Arab Middle East.

One issue in particular delivers a ‘bombshell’ – or a ‘knockout punch’: Jewish refugees from Arab countries:

Particularly important in this regard is education of the non-Jewish public about the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. Nobody knows about the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were expelled from Arab lands and absorbed by Israel, and when they learn of this it dramatically changes the discourse. As opposed to a conversation about Palestinian rights vs Israeli security, the conversation becomes a debate about a balance of rights: about Israeli/Jewish rights and Palestinian/Arab rights.

MIFF has some 7,000 members, mostly in western Norway’s Bible Belt. One of its leaders, Odd Myrland, told Weinberg:

This evens out the playing field, and forces people to think about justice for Israel. We’ve extensively tested this messaging over a long period of time and it is a bombshell.

Jewish refugees from Arab lands is our successful knockout punch. We mustn’t ignore this important issue.

Some might object to the expression ‘knockout punch ‘: It trivialises an issue that goes to the heart of justice, human rights, and the Arab/Islamist conflict with Israel and the Jews. But if advocacy is a slanging match between rival narratives, the Jewish refugee issue is a surefire debate winner.

Inserting Jewish refugees into the discourse pays other dividends. Jews were indigenous to the region 1,000 years before the Islamic conquest, with an uninterrupted presence not just in Palestine, but all over the ‘Arab’ world. The issue turns on its head the common misconception that Israel is an outpost of western colonialism and imperialism. The 7th century Arab invasion turned native Jews and Christians into minorities in their own lands, converting them to Islam, appropriating their shrines and erasing their history.

Indeed, the true colonisers here are the Arab Muslims – and the colonised, Jews and other indigenous non-Arabs and non-Muslims.

A study of the history of Jewish communities swiftly demonstrates that antisemitism predated Israel by centuries and validates the Jewish state as a modern sanctuary.

This anti-Semitism takes the form of an ancient religious contempt for ‘dhimmi’ Jews, on the one hand, and a modern, Nazi-inspired, genocidal Jew-hatred on the other. The former accounts for a deep religious and cultural resistance to the idea of a Jewish state. The latter emptied the Arab Muslim world of Jews, as well as other sects and minorities, and still drives the conflict with Israel. The violence and abuse suffered by these Jews constitute an unresolved human rights issue. The common objection to the Jewish refugee issue – that the Palestinians had nothing to do with it – is an easily-demonstrable fallacy.

In the face of the assault on Israel’s legitimacy, we need to emphasize that half the Jews of Israel never left the region – they were uprooted from the Arab and Muslim world to a tiny sliver of land on the Mediterranean. Israel, where over 50 percent of the population are originally from Arab and Muslim lands, represents the self-determination of an authentic Middle Eastern people.

Rejectionism of Israel is rooted in a religious and cultural view of ‘dhimmi’ Jews and Christians as inferiors, forced to surrender their rights to the Muslim overlord. For a non-Muslim people to rule itself, still less Arab Muslims, is anathema. By supporting the Palestinian ‘right of return’ campaign against Israel – deceptively cloaked in the language of human rights – western liberals, in Norway and elsewhere, have become unwitting agents for the re-establishment of Arab and Muslim supremacy over a ‘dhimmi’ people.

There is a reckoning to be made between Israel and Arab states cleansed of their Jews. At every turn, Israel should be demanding justice for its own wronged refugees. Jews ‘stealing Arab land’ is an offensive inversion of reality. Palestinian losses and any territorial adjustments Israel may make in the future pale in comparison to the deeded land and assets forfeited by Jews forced from Arab countries.

Refugees are the single most important issue on the Middle East agenda. Borders can be agreed to and Jerusalem can be shared, but the Palestinians are adamant in their insistence on their ‘right of return’. Only if they can be made aware that a larger number of Jewish refugees cannot return, even if they wanted to, can we hope to break the deadlock.

The Norwegians pride themselves on their liberal progressivism. We must convince westerners like our Scandinavian friends to see the self-determination of a small, indigenous Middle Eastern people – the Jews – as a progressive cause.

Our Norwegian MIFF friends ‘get it’. Tusen takk skal dere ha!

About the Author
Lyn Julius is a journalist and co-founder of Harif, an association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa in the UK. She is the author of 'Uprooted: How 3,000 years of Jewish Civilisation in the Arab world vanished overnight.' (Vallentine Mitchell)