Iceland’s support for Palestinian statehood at the UN is part of a long history of anti-Semitism in the island nation, according to an Israeli-born political activist who heads a political think tank.
“Relations between the two countries under the present left-wing government of Iceland are plainly bad,” writes Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) Chairman, Manfred Gerstenfeld in a July 18 editorial published in Ynet News.
Gerstenfeld notes that when Icelandic Foreign Minister Ossur Skarphedinsson announced his country’s support for a Palestinian state during the early part of July, he did so after a trip to Gaza that “studiously avoided any diplomatic contact with Israel.” During his trip, the FM also called on Israel to end its blockade of Gaza. Adding to the insult, MP Birgitta Jonsdottir “was the first parliamentarian of any country to visit participants of the failed second Gaza flotilla” shortly before Skarphedinsson’s trip.
This is not the first diplomatic slight Skarphedinsson has given Israel, Gerstenfeld notes. “At the previous UN General Assembly, Iceland’s foreign minister spoke out against Israel,” he writes. “When FM Lieberman wrote to him on this issue, Skarphedinsson did not answer. He did not even confirm receipt of Lieberman’s letter.”
Another example of diplomatic disrespect came when “Skarphedinsson also ordered Icelandic diplomats to remain in the hall while Iranian President Ahmadinejad spoke at the Durban review conference in Geneva in 2009. Diplomats from almost all other European countries left,” claims Gerstenfeld.
The Jewish activist claims Iceland’s current political attitude towards Israel falls in line with what he says is an “unimpressive history” the country has towards Jews.
“Few Jews live in the country,” Gerstenfeld writes, adding that “in the past, there have only been Jewish communities established at times when there were either British or American troops stationed in Iceland with a substantial number of Jewish soldiers among them.”
Gerstenfeld goes on to say that “Iceland’s anti-Semitic history” includes clergyman Hallgrimur Pétursson, whose hyms he wrote in 1625 mention Jews more than 50 times, “yet only for their ‘perfidy, falseness, wickedness and other malice’”; rejection of Jewish refugees during the 1930s; granting refugee status to Estonian war criminal Evald Mikson, who changed his name to Eðvalds Hinrikssonar, in the 1980s; and granting citizenship to “the rabid anti-Semite of Jewish ancestry,” chess champion Bobby Fischer in 2005.
The op-ed has opened a soul-searching discussion about the issue of anti-Semitism in Iceland. “What makes me angry is the arrogance and condescension he [Gerstenfeld]‘s displaying towards the Icelandic nation,” Katharina Hauptmann wrote in a rebuttal written on the Iceland Review website this Sunday. “In his little pamphlet he discredits and belittles my adopted home in a patronizing and mean way.”
Hauptmann goes on to give the right perspective on Gerstenfeld’s tainted view – first by mocking his “smug comment” about Iceland “gaining major publicity” with the economic crash of 2008 and volcano erruption of 2010, then knocking down his argument that because “few Jews live in Iceland” and that “there is only one ‘expert on the country’s attitude toward Jews’ in Iceland” that the country as a whole is anti-Semitic.
“Iceland is a nation of 320 000 people – just to remind you – how many experts on Jews and Anti-Semitism must one have?,” Hauptmann asks in her piece.
While noting that “many Icelanders are quite xenophobic and there is quite a lot of room for improvement” based on her own personal experiences as a foreigner living there, Hauptmann notes that “ot almost seems as if he [Gerstenfeld] wants people to be anti-Semitic. What a pity.”
“To conclude, Mr. Gerstenfeld’s so called “opinion piece” is nothing but a patronizing, paranoid and polemic piece of propaganda that is unfair and offensive to the people of Iceland.
“The fact that the Icelandic government may have issues with Israel’s treatment of Palestine has nothing at all to do with anti-Semitism.”