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Jerusalem Post’s Norwegian Anti-Semitism Hoax

If I had a dollar for every commenter here who quoted the Jerusalem Post and with a straight face tried to fob it off as a serious, centrist, non-partisan newspaper, I’d probably be able to buy myself dinner at a very nice Seattle restaurant.  And the shock and consternation that greeted my claims that the Post was little more than a right-wing scandal sheet was indignant.  How dare I criticize the Post because it didn’t share my “leftist” views.

One of the high points of this was my attack on the Post and Aussie Dave for their hosting of the left-rein Jewish and Israeli Blog Awards a few years back.  I was critical in writing here of the fact that the Awards either overlooked or deliberately ignored almost every blogger who was left of Bibi Netanyahu on the Israeli political scale.  My oh my the pro-Israel blogosphere, including Aussie Dave and David Abitbol among them, was up in arms.  The very idea that there was no ideological parity in those nominated offended them no end.

And then we shouldn’t forget the Post’s attempt, without even interviewing me, to paint me as someone who rationalized the murder of the Mumbai Chabad Jews by denying an anti-Semitic motivation to the assault.

Thanks to Phil Weiss and Bruce Wolman for amplifying in the Jewish blogosphere the deserved shame befalling the Post for the incredible Norwegian anti-Semitism hoax.  It appears that one of its reporters accepted the bona fides of an informant who claimed to be a Norwegian Jew and an officer in the Norwegian army.  Despite the fact that the reporter exhibited reprehensible journalistic standards, I do have to say that another Israeli living in Norway did vouch for the impostor making it harder to smell the rat.

Returning to the hoaxster, naturally he complained of rampant Norwegian anti-Semitism and the reporter used him as a significant witness to the supposed scourge within Norwegian society.

Luckily, local newspapers did their job and began trying to find “David Weiss” and could not do so.  The army had no record of an officer by that name.  It turns out that David Weiss does not exist.  And the hoaxster is not only not an officer, he isn’t a member of the Norwegian army.  Amazing that the pro-Israel right feels it has to wrap itself in a military uniform in order to bolster its bona fides.

And all the other claims of anti-Semitism, including one that the country’s finance minister shouted “death to Jews” at an anti-Gaza war rally?  Also a fraud.  The Post itself finally had to admit that life for Jews in Norway is about the same as it is in any typical western democracy:

In general, they [real Norwegian Jews the Post finally found and interviewed] say, Norway does not suffer from widespread anti-Semitism. Norwegian Jews are an accepted and respected part of the country. But, they add, there are rare incidents of tension over their Jewishness, usually with children being teased in school or with Muslim immigrants bringing their politics into their day-to-day meetings with Jews.

Simply amazing that it took them multiple stories, retractions and apologies and a few thousand words to end up finally where they were before they published the “expose”–in other words, there is no serious anti-Semitism in Norway.  Also amazing is the final sentence in which the Post attempts to do a “yes, but.”  Yes, we have egg on our face and embarrassed ourselves before the entire world journalistic community; but, there is teasing of Jews in schools and Muslims actually have the temerity to speak their mind about their views when in the presence of Jews.  It’s almost as good as a government minister shouting “death to Jews,” isn’t it–the Post seems to be saying.

The most important lesson from this incident, that further shines a light on the ideological pro-Israel straightjacket in which the Post has placed itself, comes from the editor of the local Norwegian paper which helped uncover the hoax:

Once upon a time The Jerusalem Post was an important newspaper. For all of us who had worked on-and-off in Israel, it was indispensable. The Post solidly and analytically reported all about Israeli society.

But that was long ago. It has since been overtaken by owners and staff who are firmly positioned far out on the Israeli right, and it has been a long time since one could find reliable information there…

This has been dramatic, and there is no doubt that Norway is one of the western countries with the strongest engagement in the Mideast and clearest critiques of Israel. The reasons are complicated, but one of the many important elements is the fate of the Oslo-accords.

But there is a long distance from an active Israeli critique to something comparatively as nasty and as dangerous as anti-Semitism.

…The extreme Israeli Right [represented by the Post]…considers nearly all criticism of Israel as synonymous with hatred of Jews…For if they can succeed in placing the criticisms within the stinking stall of anti-Semitism, then they have also neutered the criticism. Hence, it becomes very important for them to widen the concept of anti-Semitism itself – and to make use of it.

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Bbar_kochba132 April 8, 2009, 8:03 AM

    It seems that not only the Jerusalem Post makes mistakes, but Danny Zamir of the Yitzhak Rabin Military Academy is saying remarks made at a conference held there made it seem like war crimes were committed by IDF forces and he denies that was the case and that the New York Times blew the whole thing out of proportion. I posted the link in the thread about Netanyahu’s father. Here is a signficant excerpt:

    “Operation Cast Lead was justified; the IDF worked in a surgical manner. Unfortunately, in these types of operations, civilians will be killed. The IDF operated in a way in which it tried to protect civilians in the most crowded place in the world,” he said. “There were no orders to kill civilians or any summary executions or things like that. There were problems, but problems that the army can deal with.”

    Zamir said that what disturbed him the most was an article in The New York Times under the headline “A religious war in Israel’s army,” which left the impression that a veritable kulturkampf between religious and secular soldiers was under way. Zamir also said he felt the article left the feeling that he was at loggerheads with Ronsky, someone he considers a close friend.

    “I respect the religious Zionists a great deal, even though we have gaps in our world view, regarding the settlements and other things,” he said. “We are friends. To use a metaphor from the army, we are all carrying the stretcher. To make it as if we are enemies is ugly; to put all the problems on the religious soldiers is simply wrong.”

    Note that he says that Operation Cast Lead was justified.
    There were no orders to wantonly kill civilians. We know that these allegations, quoting him, were made in the world media and in Israel. Journalists of all stripes make mistakes all of the time.

    • Richard Silverstein April 8, 2009, 9:24 AM

      This is so tiresome. It wasn’t Danny Zamir who witnessed war crimes, so his opinion is irrelevant. It was his graduates who served & reported what they’d seen. Naturally, Zamir is a good soldier Schweid who has come under immense pressure fr. the IDF to recant. And he dutifully has done so. But I note that he has not recanted the actual testimonies themselves nor has any student come forward to recant what they reported at the meeting.

      Besides, we don’t even need these testimonies to know what happened in Gaza. The specific power of them was that they came fr. among the perpetrators. We also have eyewitness testimonies from the Gazan side & from independent human rights groups confirming the severity of IDF behavior.

      Yr attempts to whitewash the horrors of Gaza are pathetic & even disgusting given how many innocent people died. You remind me of the angels who rejoiced at the defeat of the Egyptians at the Red Sea. Except that when God ordered his angels to stop rejoincing because even the Egyptians were His creatures, you would’ve ignored Him and continued justifying the deaths. Repulsive, but not unexpected.

  • fiddler April 8, 2009, 8:36 AM

    For those who read Norwegian, here’s the latest Dagbladet article:
    What Phil Weiss didn’t mention is that the con artist formerly known as David Weiss had already three convictions for fraud.

    Also good to read that Harald Stanghelle, the egg-faced Aftenposten editor, didn’t let the affair intimidate himself enough to pull punches in his commentary.
    (That’s the one quoted in Mondoweiss.)

  • bar_kochba132 April 9, 2009, 10:08 AM

    Regarding the “celebration of the drowning of the Egyptians in the Red Sea”, it is true that G-d told the ANGELS not to celebrate but according to the Midrashim specific permission was given to the Bnai Israel (Children of Israel) to celebrate and this is done every day in the Shaharit service (Morning Prayer) where the “Song of the Sea” (“Az Yashir Moshe”) is recited . They were given the permission to do this since they, unlike the angels, were in danger from the Egyptians.

    • Richard Silverstein April 9, 2009, 1:00 PM

      In all my years studying Judaica at seminaries and elsewhere I’ve never heard yr horrid Midrash. And while it’s possible it exists, no Jew, teacher or rabbi I’ve ever heard as ever mentioned it. I’d suggest that the circles in which you hang relish such traditions as they allow you to jubilate over Arabs we have vanquished. That’s not my tradition nor the tradition of almost every other Jew I’ve met.

      • mia April 10, 2009, 3:08 PM

        I hate to be contrary but as I am sure you know, the Song of the Sea is so important that it is part of the daily liturgy. The Song celebrates the splitting of the sea, the passage of the Jews across the sea and the closing of the sea upon the Egyptians, all of whom drowned. One of the first lines states “Hashem is a master of war, His name is Hashem.” Following this we are told that “Pharaoh’s chariots and his soldiers sank like stones into the sea; Edom’s chiefs panicked; Moab’s heroes were seized with trembling; Canaan’s residents melted away.” This is unequivocally an image of God as a warrior and a fear monger.

        And yet, the name used for God here is “Hashem” always associated with God’s merciful aspect. The question then is how can God be both merciful and a warrior, mercilessly killing Pharaoh’s troops?

        Rav Ovadia Sforno answers this by noting that those who commit acts of evil, like the Egyptians did by systematically murdering Jewish children for instance, destroy the World, and a truly merciful God forcefully eradicates evil as an act of mercy benefiting the rest of the world.

        Bar Kochba’s Midrash reflects this interpretation of the Song of the Sea and while many engage in verbal and logical gymnastics in an attempt to whitewash the Song, there’s really no getting around the fact that it is a celebration of a massacre against the Egyptian army.

        Now, as I have mentioned, this is part of the daily liturgy. If one doesn’t actually perform daily prayers and if one sees the Torah as an outmoded, anachronistic book containing little of relevance to modern day Jews who are free to pick and choose what Judaism means to them, then I suppose one can ignore this disturbing passage. Just as one can ignore prohibitions against eating pork and shellfish or commemorating the sabbath or any of the Torah’s other rules.

        But what cannot be denied is that the above interpretations exist and are not exceptional interpretations followed only by fringe elements.

        Happy Passover Richard!

        • Richard Silverstein April 10, 2009, 5:30 PM

          I’ve been a Jew all my life, studied Jewish texts all my life including earning undergrad & grad degrees in Jewish studies, & no one ever told or taught me that Shirat HaYam was an essential element of our Jewish tradition, on a par say with laws of Kashrut, Shabbat or “any of the Torah’s other rules.” In fact, unlike halacha, Shirat Hayam isn’t a law at all, but merely a literary text/poem. Is it part of our tradition? Yes.

          Every religion has yin and yang and elements that are martial and elements that embrace peace. God Himself the Book of Isaiah tells us created evil. There is a war like element in Jewish tradition. But it is not the aspect of the tradition that I cherish. And our tradition, unlike others, does not compel me to embrace this unpalatable aspect.

          So if Shirat HaYam is your thing, be my guest. It’s not mine.

          a truly merciful God forcefully eradicates evil as an act of mercy benefiting the rest of the world.

          Yeah sure, “you gotta be cruel to be kind” and all that…and eradicating Hamas would be an act of mercy benefiting the rest of the world. You see where this argument takes you. I’m convinced that God’s merciful aspect doesn’t celebrate the murder even of our enemies. If your Jewish God does, then you’re welcome to Him.

          • mia April 11, 2009, 12:41 AM

            Shirat Hayam doesn’t represent a commandment! It’s merely expository. Judaism teaches us that God is indeed multifaceted, both harsh and merciful. I wasn’t suggesting that we favor one over the other, merely that Bar Kochba’s unheard of horrid midrash may indeed be difficult to swallow, but it’s not so unheard of. God’s dualistic nature suggests that sometimes we need to be kind and sometimes we need to be cruel, especially when it comes to eradicating evil – as the Rabbis are fond of saying “whoever will have mercy upon the cruel in the end will be cruel to the merciful.”

            Obviously, the real-world applicability of such ideas is fraught with difficulty. I never suggested that we must eradicate Hamas as a divine imperative or a moral necessity. “My” Jewish God is one that prefers lovers over fighters – King David the warrior was not allowed to complete the Temple because he had blood on his hands. The task was left to King Solomon the lover. It’s a daily struggle to try and understand what the right thing to do is, and the Song of the Sea, with its juxtaposition of the merciful and the merciless is a perfect example of that struggle.

            No need to always be so defensive Richard!

          • Richard Silverstein April 11, 2009, 2:18 AM

            You’re mixing two different things. One is Shirat HaYam and another is the midrash, which strangely arrogates to Jews a right to celebrate the death of God’s creatures which is prohibited to God’s angels. Frankly, I’d rather imitate God’s angels and not those of bloodthirsty, vengeance seeking human beings.

            God’s dualistic nature suggests that sometimes we need to be kind and sometimes we need to be cruel

            No, it doesn’t suggest that. It suggest that sometimes God has been cruel and sometimes Jews have been cruel. But it doesn’t say that WE “need to be cruel.” That’s something you or your rabbi have read into the passage. I don’t feel the need to be cruel. The fact that you do is telling, I think.

            whoever will have mercy upon the cruel in the end will be cruel to the merciful

            And the Talmud also says that someone who seeks to rule the world through pure justice untempered by mercy will destroy the world. You see, two can play at this.

            No need to always be so defensive Richard!

            I find it interesting that because I disagree with yr interpretation of Judaism that this means I am defensive. Not at all. I’m explaining my own views of Judaism and they happen to disagree w. yours. That’s not defensive.

  • mia April 11, 2009, 6:24 AM

    The law on rodeff, one who comes to kill you, is quite clear. One MUST stop, and even kill if necessary, such a person before such a person has the opportunity to kill you. Not to do so is a sin. Thus, in Judaism, we sometimes do need to be cruel – as taking a life or harming another, even if justified, is always cruel. Ours, while exalting peace and mercy, is definitely not a pacifist religion. Still, I’d hardly call the newly freed Israelites, relieved and joyous at being spared a slaughter and a return to slavery at the hands of Pharaoh’s soldiers “bloodthirsty, vengeance seeking human beings.”

    You are right about the administration of Justice. It’s the perfect example of how God’s aspects are instructive to us.

    And the Talmud also says that someone who seeks to rule the world through pure justice untempered by mercy will destroy the world. You see, two can play at this.

    I wasn’t aware that I was playing a game. But in any case, your quote reflects the commentary on God’s creation and administration of the world – that it is done through a combination of justice and mercy, “midat ha-din”, pure and severe justice, and “midat ha-rachamim”, lovingkindness. As you so aptly noted, these are also guidelines to be used by earthly judges and leaders.

    I don’t think I’m disagreeing with you per se. Just adding a little depth to the commentary. I’m sure you’d prefer to emulate the angels, but remember that angels are completely spiritual beings, possessing no yetser harah or evil inclination. Man is more physical with a body hewn from the earth combined with a Godly soul. The physical tries to drag man down while the spiritual tries to elevate man. It is in our nature to struggle against these opposing forces, but both dwell within us.

    Please don’t read into this any simplistic support for otherwise mundane policy matters. I was merely suggesting that your dismissal of Bar Kochba’s Midrash was not reflective of the very common and well documented interpretations and analysis that exist. I was actually surprised that in all your Judaic studies you had never come across anything like that at all.

    • Richard Silverstein April 11, 2009, 12:49 PM

      I’m actually surprised that you would raise a common right-wing pro-Israel meme as you have. Rodef has nothing to do with the I-P conflict (if this is what you are implying). This is a national conflict, not a conflict bet. 2 individuals. Saying that the Palestinians are on their way to murder us in our beds and that therefore we must rise up to kill them first, as our tradition allows, is wrong. The situations are in no way similar. Besides, the Palestinians are the ones who have far more right to see themselves as being pursued by Israel since far more of their civilians have been murdered by the IDF than Israeli civilians have been murdered by Palestinians.

      Using the Rodef argument is just plain justification for pre-emptive murder. This is the argument rightists use to justify targeted assassination (allegedly those targeted have either killed or presumably will kill Israelis).

      And if you are NOT using Rodef in the context of the I-P conflict, then the concept is so unusual in its application to everyday life as to be almost irrelevant. How many Jews face this situation? Perhaps an abused woman who kills a husband. But that’s one of the few instances in which Rodef can be relevant. Anyway, Rodef is a slippery slope because it justifies pre-emptive murder as I wrote above. Murder in self-defense is one thing. But murder before one is under direct threat can be problematic as it can be expanded in so many ways to justify actions that perhaps shouldn’t be justified.

      • mia April 11, 2009, 1:06 PM

        You keep bringing in the I-P conflict into this sidebar discussion, not me. That’s why I felt you were being a tad oversensitive or defensive. We’ve both made our points though I don’t feel you adequately addressed my issues – perhaps because you felt I was projecting all of this into a realm that I never brought up.

        • Richard Silverstein April 11, 2009, 9:37 PM

          I felt you were being a tad oversensitive or defensive

          Since I wrote that the bloodthirstiness of Shirat HaYam didn’t appeal to me, it seemed to me that this passage either refers directly to me or implies that it does:

          If one doesn’t actually perform daily prayers and if one sees the Torah as an outmoded, anachronistic book containing little of relevance to modern day Jews who are free to pick and choose what Judaism means to them, then I suppose one can ignore this disturbing passage. Just as one can ignore prohibitions against eating pork and shellfish or commemorating the sabbath or any of the Torah’s other rules.

          I didn’t take too kindly to that.

  • Jørgen HK April 14, 2009, 5:48 AM

    The quoted story (about the decline of the Jerusalem Post) is actually by the editor of the paper that was hoaxed by the same guy as the Jerusalem Post (Aftenposten), not the paper that found the fraud out (Dagbladet).

    Jerusalem Post has showed an utter lack of both journalistic standards and morals. Their original sources were a) an extermist right-winger b) one fictional charatcer and c) a Holocaust survivor who was shocked and disgusted by how the journalist had twisted his words and reached such a wrong conclusion. They claimed not to be able to find any other Norwegian jews, although there are many well know, resourceful, quotable norwegian jews across the political spectrum (one of them a former Israeli cabinet minister).

    When they blew it, was lied to, lied, stumbled, fell… what do the Jerusalem Post do? They cling to their conlcusion, although everything leading up to it has fallen. They don’t apologize to a named politician who has fought racism all her life, after publishing lies about her shouting “Death to the jews”.

    No apology, but a buried watered-down fourth version of the original story. This is indeed a gutter newspaper.

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