The Burden Of A Norwegian-American Teen


The writer is proud of his Jewish and Norwegian heritage. Courtesy

Four years ago, I found myself talking to my cousin about global politics. He was a single man in his early 20s and like many Norwegians his age he was Christian, athletic and well educated. Not surprisingly the first topic to come up was Israel’s involvement in Gaza. This was 2011 and Israel had just finished a long counter-terrorism operation that ended with hundreds of  Palestinian casualties and dozens of Israelis dead. I expressed my concern over the Palestinian push for statehood without a guarantee for Israel’s security, and my cousin answered that Israel was oppressive and instituted apartheid. I was shocked to hear my cousin sympathizing with the Palestinians and believing their propaganda. Even after presenting him with the facts, he remained reluctant to accept that Israel was also a victim. 

It is a privilege and a burden to be a dual citizen of America and Norway. My father was born in Norway and I received Norwegian citizenship at birth. My family travels to Sarpsborg, a town in southeastern Norway, twice a year to visit family and close friends. Additionally, I attend Norwegian school online and speak Norwegian at home.  However, I also am growing up in a very Jewish home as my mother is a rabbi and my father is an active, liberal Jew. In addition, I attend Jewish day school, Jewish summer camp and regularly go to synagogue. [Photo: Kransekake is a Norwegian dessert made from almond paste that is baked with other ingredients and stacked in rings.]

It was hard for me to hear anti-Zionist ideas from my cousin, an otherwise reasonable guy. Unfortunately in Norway, the rhetoric often does not stop at anti-Zionism. There is a growing anti-Semitic presence, especially among the young, that has been building for years. This can be attributed to many reasons, but I would argue, that one of the key ones is the influx of Muslim immigrants. [This article was written before the terrorist attack in Copenhagen, Denmark last week that killed a Jewish man guarding a synagogue where a bar mitzvah was taking place.]

Today nearly 15 percent of the Norwegian population can be classified as immigrants, according to Statistics Norway. Many of these immigrants come from Muslim countries such as Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Palestinian territories. Many of these immigrants bring cultural biases towards Jews that are viewed as normal in their home countries. This can sometimes brew anti-Semitism and unwarranted hatred. Some of the most outspoken fanatics have even turned to violence. They have periodically instigated protests and instilled Jewish fear of attacks. There is so little protection against the possibility of a hate crime that I would not even consider walking through Muslim neighborhoods in Oslo wearing a kipa. [This is a growing problem throughout Scandinavia as documented in a Jerusalem Post article published in January.] 

Furthermore, a small number of jihadists have come out of Norway’s immigrant community. In 2006, a radical Muslim with ties to terrorist groups opened fire on the synagogue in Oslo. Luckily, no one was hurt, but the shooter only received an eight-year sentence for serious vandalism. The court outrageously deemed that there was not enough evidence to call the shooting a terrorist act. The attack showed the vulnerability of the small community of approximately 1200 Jews and how prejudice exists within the judicial system.

The vast majority of Norwegians are not naturally racist; in fact it is quite the opposite. They are a very warm and welcoming people. It is a cruel irony that due to Norway’s hospitality and acceptance of refugees, anti-Semitism has increased. With the influx of Muslim immigrants, anti-Semitic ideas have infiltrated Norwegian society and caused hatred toward Jews in the general public. In fact, many Norwegians are beginning to support movements like BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) and ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and Racism). Their criticism of Israel’s actions has left many Jews in Norway feeling insecure about their future.

At home, my friends are very outspoken against anti-Semites. Like me, they are in clubs that advocate for Israel and they rarely find resistance to their pro-Israel opinions as my school is a bubble of pro-Israel, AIPAC supporters. Contrary to most students’ opinions, I lean towards the center in Israeli politics. On top of that, peers constantly remind me of Norway’s wrongdoings, and they go so far as to say that Norway is a terrorist nation. It is extremely difficult to distance myself from the Norwegian government especially when Norway is such a small country.

My friends make accusations, saying that Norwegians sold Jews to the Nazis during the Holocaust. They tell me that Norway has always hated the Jews and they are just as bad as Palestinians in the West Bank. I am told that Norway is trying to destroy Israel and how the country funds Palestinian statehood and by default, terrorists.

As a Norwegian, I am disgusted and outraged to hear such insulting accusations. Norway had no way of saving the Jews after being invaded by the Nazis; there were millions of people who opposed Nazi rule and thousands who fought them. Norway has always viewed itself as being a Western civilization that supports peace and tries to help the oppressed of the world. There is no harm in helping the Palestinian people. It is only when Norwegians accept their messages of hate that aid gets blurred and confused with actions against the existence of the State of Israel.

I get tired of explaining that Norway is full of amazing people who have been misinformed by a small, but growing minority of extremists. It often gets hard to defend both Norway’s and Israel’s decisions. Once I support Norway’s decisions to help the often helpless Palestinian people, I get backlash from my friends who say that I am betraying the Israeli people. Likewise, when Israel is unsympathetic towards Muslims within their borders and I disagree with it, I encounter heavy resistance from my friends, despite considering myself a Zionist.

I have to wonder: Aren’t we creating a double standard if we shun those who are outspoken in their beliefs that conflict with ours? When others see no room for tolerance, don’t they also set tolerance aside? In the case of Norway, it may appear that some immigrants see no way of assimilating other than to degrade other minorities like the Jews. Seeing both sides and being sandwiched between them, I realize that if we promote tolerance we can achieve peace. It is not won through persuasion, indoctrination or violence, but rather harmony. “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding,” said Albert Einstein. Today his message holds truer than ever, as the Palestinian Authority is gearing up for a long fight to win over Europe and eventually join international governing organizations such as the United Nations and International Criminal Court (ICC). We, the Zionists, cannot let our voices be drowned out, but we cannot close the door on compromise either. If we do that we will subject ourselves to the same cruel treatment in the future.

My relationship with Norway is one of extreme ambiguity. On one hand, I am inclined to support Norway, but not at the expense of Israel. Likewise, I am hurt every time I see anti-Norway articles published by Jewish groups in America and I am saddened by reports of anti-Semitism in Norway. Today my family maintains close ties with the Jewish community in Oslo, and it is heartbreaking to watch their community be degraded by anti-Semitism. Without a resident rabbi, the synagogue’s size has shrunk and it no longer has daily prayer services, but it perseveres and continues with the hope to carry on. The congregants’ daily courage and strength ultimately makes me proud to call myself a Norwegian-American Jew.