Israelis Debate on the Web:
Did Norway Get What It Deserved?
By J.J. Goldberg
Julky 27, 2011 "The Forward" -- July 24, 2011 -- The Norway massacre has touched off a nasty war of words on the Israeli Internet over the meaning of the event and its implications for Israel. And I do mean nasty: Judging by the comments sections on the main Hebrew websites, the main questions under debate seem to be whether Norwegians deserve any sympathy from Israelis given the country’s pro-Palestinian policies, whether the killer deserves any sympathy given his self-declared intention of fighting Islamic extremism and, perhaps ironically, whether calling attention to this debate is in itself an anti-Israel or anti-Semitic act.
The debate seems to be taking place almost entirely on Hebrew websites. There’s a bit of bile popping up on the English-language Jerusalem Post site as well (for example, there are a handful of choice comments of a now-they’ll-know-what-it-feels-like variety following this Post news article reporting on Israel’s official offer of sympathy and aid). In Hebrew, though, no holds are barred. I’ve translated some of the back-and-forth from the Ynet and Maariv websites below, to give you taste.
The debate exploded aboveground on Saturday in an opinion essay at Ynet (in Hebrew only) by Ziv Lenchner, a left-leaning Tel Aviv artist and one of Ynet’s large, bipartisan stable of columnists. It’s called “Dancing the Hora on Norwegian Blood.” He argues that the comment sections on news websites are a fair barometer of public sentiment (a questionable premise) and that the overwhelming response is schadenfreude, pleasure at Norway’s pain. As I’ll show below, that judgment seems pretty accurate.
He goes on to blame the Netanyahu government, which he accuses of whipping up a constant mood of “the whole world is against us.” Again, a stretch—a government can exacerbate a mood, but it can’t create it out of whole cloth. Israelis have been scared and angry since long before this government came in two and a half years ago, for a whole variety of reasons. The government isn’t working overtime to dispel the mood, but it can’t be blamed for creating it. Finally, Lenchner argues, on very solid ground, that the vindictive mood reflected on the Web is immoral and un-Jewish, citing the biblical injunction “do not rejoice in the fall of your enemy.”
His article has drawn hundreds of responses—more than any of the articles he complains about. They fall into four basic categories in roughly equal proportions: 1.) Hurray, the Norwegians had it coming; 2.) What happened is horrible but maybe now they’ll understand what we’re up against; 3.) What happened is horrible and the celebrations here are appalling; 4.) This article is a bunch of lies, Ziv Lenchner invented this whole schadenfreude thing because he’s a lying leftist who wants to destroy Israel.
It’s worth noting that at some point late on Saturday several readers found links to Norwegian news sites showing that some kids at the campground where the shooting took place had been brandishing signs a day or two earlier calling for a boycott of Israel. These links were posted (here and here) and the mood quickly got darker—sympathy for the shooting victims dropped fast.
The background to this, as Ynet reported in a news article, is that Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Gahr Store had visited the campsite on Wednesday, two days before the shootings, as he does every year (he was a camper there as a kid) and addressed the group. He was asked from the audience about Palestinian statehood, and he said Norway was looking forward to the Palestinians’ U.N. bid, but he wouldn’t recognize a Palestinian state before that. He was also asked about boycotting Israel. He said it was a bad idea and would make the conflict worse rather than help bring peace. At some point during the day, some of the campers held up the signs that appear in the photos. Israeli readers seem to have concluded that the pictures show the camp program was anti-Israel and therefore fair game.
Here are some of the responses to Lenchner’s article:
When the first news report appeared Friday on Ynet, the Yediot Ahronot website and Israel’s most trafficked news site, comments seemed to run about 3- or 4-to-1 (at a rough eyeball guess) hostile rather than sympathetic. The reported death toll at this point was 11, and the perpetrators were assumed to be Islamic extremists. Here are a few typical comments:
Ynetnews, the English website, carried an English translation of the story. The comments are far more moderate: almost none express outright pleasure, and there’s a rough balance between sympathy and sarcasm.
When the news came out on Saturday that the killer was not a Muslim but a right-wing Norwegian nationalist angered at multiculturalism, liberalism and tolerance of Islam, the tone sharpened. Suddenly there was a rush of comments claiming the killer was right and the victims had it coming. Here is Maariv’s report on the killer’s 1,500 page manifesto, calling for a European-wide uprising to “reclaim” the continent (here, for you English-language readers, is NPR’s report on the same document). Maariv’s readers piled on.