The anti-terror meeting in Hamar

Those who came to the anti-terror meeting at Hamar OL-Amfi on June 5 expecting fire-breathing Zionists were disappointed. The purpose of the meeting was to condemn terrorism while being otherwise politically neutral - and at that we succeeded. This was not a pro-Israel meeting, as the local media had warned. (And I'm still waiting for my first check from that great Israeli conspiracy supposedly financing the whole thing, or perhaps a retraction from NRK?)

The cost of our success at neutrality was having to listen to - in my personal view - occasional nonsense. Hamar mayor Einar Busterud listed water and poverty as important causes of terrorism. Jon Lilletun (KrF) concluded that since rule of law is a weapon against terror, its international counterparts of treaties and multinational organizations are as well, which lead to a condemnation of those nations who act on their own against such treaties and organizations. From condemnation of terrorists to implicit condemnation of the US and Israel, all in one paragraph - impressive. Lilletun also managed to implicate low voter turnout as a threat to our society, with unspecified relevance to terrorism.

Torbjørn Jagland, foreign policy spokesman for Labor, commanded more respect. There's a decency about him that makes it impossible for me to dislike him, even when I disagree with his dreamy proposals for world peace. Jagland was the only top politician at the event not to insert partisan plugs in his speech. And when Jagland tells the story of how he witnessed a Palestinian man forced down on the ground in front of his son, a gun in his neck, at a checkpoint he passes every day on his way to his son's school, it's not in the angry voice of the pro-Palestinian trying to capture the moral high ground, but as if to say "Hey - don't forget these people either". That's normally a superflous reminder here in Norway, but perhaps an important one for that particular audience on Saturday to hear.

The one speaker I fully agreed with, though he's less honest than Jagland, was Carl I. Hagen. The Progress Party remains the only political party in Norway with a sane foreign policy on terrorism, the US and Israel. Like the other speakers, Hagen had been reminded in advance to stay away from particular conflicts where terrorism is involved, ie. not to make this a pro-Israel rally. And, like the other speakers, he thus phrased himself in general terms but with obvious implications: When terrorism has positive results, he said to storming applause, we get more terrorism. And since the only permanent antidote to war and terrorism is through the establishment of democracy, rule of law and distribution of powers, we have an obligation to promote democracy abroad. By promoting democracy, we fight terrorism.

Judging by the amount of applause for Hagen, the political affiliation of the audience was fairly uniform. I suppose the topic and the local coverage worked together to deny us broad appeal. Who else but raving fanatic would hold a meeting to condemn terrorism? There were 1000-1200 people present, and I doubt there were many who didn't walk in through the door firmly pro-Israel. One person carried an Israeli flag. Others confronted the tiny counter-demonstration outside, claiming that there was no Palestinian people, and that they have no right to a land of their own.

So in a way it was appropriate when a Macedonian journalist, who told of the recent conflict between Albanians and Macedonians in her country, warned the audience against excessive emotional involvement in far-away conflicts. Whether you believe one side or the other is more in the right, she said, you should be careful of allowing emotions and anger to take control, of identifying so strongly with one side that you stop thinking. That is something pro-Israelis forget as well as pro-Palestinians.

A representative of the American embassy held a calm, non-specific defense of the philosophy behind the American war on terror: deny terrorists sanctaury, deny them wmd's, and work to promote freedom. Other speakers were Oddvar Nilsen from the Conservative party, psychologist Berthold Grünfeld, and Atle Sommerfeldt from Norwegian Church Aid. The latter impressed by not being particularly anti-Israel. Another NGO, the Norwegian People's Aid, refused to come unless they could talk about the root causes of Palestinian terrorism, ie. blame Israel, which would have broken the surprisingly effective Middle East truce at the meeting. Though you mostly knew what everyone really meant, there were no speeches in favor of or against particular actions of any particular government. If that sounds cowardly, remember that this was how we originally sold the event to the speakers. Without it, fear of being associated with a pro-Israel rally would have scared them off.

The anti-terror meeting was followed by a moderately failed terror aid concert. A few major artists had signed on, but cancelled, likely because of the negative coverage. The once who remained were half-good, the audience lukewarm.

Later in the evening there was a meeting against anti-semitism, independent of the first and with a somewhat smaller audience. This was a disappointment. (I say that as a member of the audience - I was not involved with the planning.) Our hypotethical critical visitor, expecting fire-breathing Zionists, would not have found them here either. But he would have had all his other prejudices about supporters of Israel confirmed. The whole atmosphere of the meeting was Christian. Not in a preachy or exclusive way, but with the clear implication that this was a meeting by and for Christian friends of Israel.

When a pan flutist struck up the tune of a well known Christian song, the whole audience sang along, perfectly. The main musical attraction was a choir from the church Sannhetens Ord, who announcer Anitha Apeltun Sæle boasted "love Israel more than most people". They stood there with their burning eyes, singing songs in Hebrew with lyrics from the Old Testament. One of the singers was dressed in Biblical looking clothes, playing a Biblical looking horn. What does this have to do with modern antisemitism? To some of these Christians, I suspect, politics and religion is one. In this unhealthy mix of myth and reality, Israel is not just a free, democratic country, it is the nation of God, a continuation of the Biblical kingdom of Israel.

At the very least some of these Christians have their political support for Israel mixed with a kind of religiously motivated Israel chic. And the tragedy is that because of this, opposition to media anti-Israelism and fear of anti-semitism has become strongly associated with conservative Christians. That connection is successfully used as a strawman defense by pro-Palestinians. Israelsvenn (friend of Israel) is a common pejorative with precisely those implications - a conservative Christians who support Israel unquestioningly.

And yet it's not as if conservative Christians have hijacked a mass movement and turned it narrow and religious. Without them there would be nothing. Ester Kristoffer, (who felt comfortable talking about God in her speech, which she normally avoids), recounted how she came back from Israel with the draft for a book. She had interviewed ordinary Israelis, of different political views, about how they experienced their situation. She sent the book to the major publishers. They loved it - but didn't want to print it. Only the Christians embraced her, only the Christians were interested in hearing stories from the other side of the conflict.

And though many Christians were perhaps originally motivated by their faith to question media anti-Israelism, they often think rationally from there on. Some of them do a great job in the media. Outside the Progress Party, conservative Christians are about the only players in the media landscape who regularly challenge foreign policy dogmas, and they usually do it without religious overtones.

That's the right way to do this. This was the wrong way. The association between faith and support of Israel is a tragedy, and it should be fought not encouraged.

Jo Benkow was central in both the meetings, and for him I have nothing but admiration. A Norwegian Jew who escaped to Sweden during the war, and one of the most respected Conservative politicians in Norway, he did a great job leading the anti-terror meeting, and held a speech on the history of anti-semitism at the second meeting. He just has a powerful presence as a person, and has recently added his reputation to those who criticize the Norwegian media coverage of the Middle East conflict. He's certainly a contrast to that other Conservative old-timer, Kåre Willoch, who has become the lead thinker of Norwegian anti-Israelism.

Another Norwegian Jew, one of our two remaining survivors of the Holocaust, spoke of the shameful way in which the Norwegian police helped the Nazi's round up our Jews, and of his own experiences in imprisonment and slavery. Both he and Benkow (and Ester) received standing, heartfelt ovations. A powerful moment.

So what about the original motivation for organizing these meetings, the bus drivers from Jerusalem who would explain to the people of Norway what it's like to live in daily fear of terrorism? They couldn't speak after all. The anti-terror meeting was held on the Sabbath, and Israel refused to send the bus drivers an official invitation that might discriminate in favor of secular Jews. Without that invitation, they would have had to travel at their own expense. This was clumsily handled on our side. The whole meeting was organized on the assumption that this part of the program, at least, was certain, but it turned out that the Israelis had been critical to the choice of day all along.

So that part of the program was moved to Sunday, to a seminar with the bus drivers and members of ZAKA, (the Israeli organization that picks up body parts after terrorist attacks). I was unable to attend, (too early, too long to travel), which I regret.

Curiously, the local police would not let us announce that meeting in public, unless we paid them compensation for the extra security measures a public meeting would require. Is that legal? It's certainly a shame to have to keep the most interesting part of the program secret, announced only at the meeting the day before. I don't know how it went, (if anyone were there, send me a report.)

Was it all worth it? By itself, no. I doubt anyone's eyes were opened to the horror of terrorism more than they were before. The budget just barely went in plus, the last I heard of it, so I doubt there'll be much money for treatment of and research on PTSD. The media was not put on the defensive about terror apologetism, no debate was started - except over the bombed bus used at the meeting in Bergen, and that debate was shortlived. But as a first attempt by a new player on the field, a spontaneous network of Norwegians who at least in principle want to avoid the partisan mistakes of others, as that it was worth it. People got together and did something. It was hard, and mistakes were made - certainly there was a lack of professionalism here, (and I include myself in that), made up for by luck and the hard work of individuals. The purpose could have been made more coherent, communication to the media more consistent.

But any future attempts will be easier, done better. The success of these meetings will be measured by the ability of the people who took part in them to exploit the new networks that were formed, to learn from our experiences. That's the challenge.


Bjørn: Thanks for your thorough and quite balanced report of this event. When I first encountered information on this event I told you (privately) that it looked something like "Tenet's slam-dunk on WMD in Iraq." (IE failure was likely) Steps were taken from the organisers and the meeting was split up etc.. From your account it seems like you landed on your feet. I'm glad to see that, and compliment you on your efforts to an unprecedented arrangement here in Norway.

I thought Hamar was a peculiar location. I would have attended this event had it been in Oslo, and had the entrance fee to listen to politicians been friendlier.

Finally, I agree with you that the Christian pro-Israel nexus is not always to the advantage of those battling anti-semitism.

I'd be happy to receive information if you are planning any kind of follow-up on the conference. This interests me both because of the content (terrorism) and the form, which borders to what is called public diplomacy.

(I think that was an all-friendly post from me... I'm proud of myself :) Didn't know I had it in me)

Sounds like it went fairly well, and I hope more such meetings take place. Perhaps people will start to relize that terrorism, especially state-sponsored, is a threat to the whole world - not just Israel/Palestine.


First and foremost, thnx for the detailed report. As a North American with a very negative view of Europe (actually, we now call that continent, "Eurabia", but don't take it personally), I am gratified and encouraged that the meeting got off the ground at all. That you had over 1,000 people attending is nothing short of a miracle.

I disagree with you about the alliance with Christian Zionists, or Christian supporters of Israel. I speak as a card-carrying atheist, with no partiality to any religion, all of which I consider superstitions. But if Churchill and Roosevelt were able to forge an alliance with Stalin to win WW II, then the alliance with Christian Zionists to preserve our sister-democracy, Israel, is to be encouraged. Pls recall that only two countries are actually fighting world terrorism: US and Israel, and both need any friend and supporter they can find.

Though this is off topic, I would also urge you to read the following JPost article concerning your neighbour, Sweden (the neighbour that continued sending steel to Germany during WW II):

Again, thnx for your report.

Firstly Bjørn and team, well done on your motivation, effort, and public involvement and for the time you all spent trying to make this event worthwhile.

But as the Macedonian journalist said, the audience should have been warned against excessive emotional involvement in far-away conflicts.

For me the lack of any Norwegian context made this meeting almost irrelevant, and as for any concrete outcomes well we can all hope.

None of it mentions anything about what would really affect most of this crowd, which is the possibility of a terror attack in Norway?

Ian McCoy

Ian: "None of it mentions anything about what would really affect most of this crowd, which is the possibility of a terror attack in Norway?"

We wanted to have something about that, but it didn't work out. I suspect fear of being associated with pro-Israeli Christians drove away some of the people we talked to who might have had something interesting to say on that subject.


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Heretics' almanac:, June 17, 2004 11:02 PM

But when it comes to the critics of Israel, I really wonder. They seem to truly hate Israel, for no apparent reason. It's no use telling me their anger is righteous, on behalf of the plight of the Palestinians. Hating Israel doesn't make life better...

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