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‘Jerusalem Post’ admits it was duped by hoaxer on report of anti-Semitism in Norway

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Bruce Wolman, who reads the Norwegian press, offers this important report: 

It may be difficult for Americans to believe, but a disputed Jerusalem Post article asserting that Norway is rife with anti-Semitism continues to reverberate in the Norwegian media one week after publication. In fact, the headlines have gotten larger with
each passing day. Having kept silent since last Wednesday– when it
posted its third version of the story in an effort to get its facts straight– the Jerusalem Post offered yet another, extended retraction in today's paper:

In two recent news articles, The Jerusalem Post sought to report on whether Norway was a country suffering from the age-old scourge of anti-Semitism.

In doing so, it stumbled, in part by dealing with members of the Jewish community it should not have believed.

First among these is the Norwegian army captain David Weiss, a man who is neither an army captain nor named "David Weiss."
After speaking to the 45-year-old Norwegian Jew for a March 31 article [JP's second version of the story] in which Jews reported relative tolerance but also anti-Semitism in the Scandinavian country, the Post touched off a dramatic search for the supposed army captain by local Norwegian media.

When they could not find the man, some Norwegian reporters called this reporter [Haviv Rettig Gur], who supplied the cellular phone number of "Weiss." He was finally tracked down over this past weekend by a reporter from the major Norwegian daily Dagbladet.

In the ensuing interview, "Weiss" told the reporter he had just wanted to set out how he, and Jews like him, experienced anti-Jewish incidents in Norway. He did not explain why he needed a false identity.

The Dagbladet's revelation came too late for several other media outlets, too. "Weiss" was interviewed by the BBC and the major Norwegian daily Aftenpostgen before Dagbladet managed to squeeze out of him his identity was faked.
Indeed, Aftenposten's highly-respected political editor Harald Stenghelle publicly accused the military of a coverup over Weiss's identity just one day before Dagbladet's revelation.
Weiss even got himself invited to the Pessah Seder of Oslo's Rabbi Yoav Melchior before finally telling the truth.

The "Weiss" incident followed an erroneous Post report that Norway's finance minister had chanted "Death to the Jews" at a demonstration in January.

Such errors prompted criticism by the former MK and minister Rabbi Michael Melchior, who serves as the titular chief rabbi of Norway.

"A respected newspaper that is quoted around the world has to be extremely careful with claims of anti-Semitism. The battle against anti-Semitism is very important, not just to Jews but to civilization. There are problems out there. There are anti-Semitic phenomena and places where criticism of Israel passes the red line into anti-Semitism," said Melchior. "But you can't deal with anti-Semites if you're not very clear yourself about where the lines are drawn and where truth lies. This has to be done with extra care."

And what of the original question of anti-Semitism in Norway? In the wake of our articles, other Norwegian Jews have contacted the Post and related their experiences of living in the country.

In general, they 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.

The controversy began with the Jerusalem Post's slandering of the Norwegian Finance Minister, Kristin Halvorsen, saying she had led chants of "Death to the Jews!" But when the Post revised its story and named its sources, the Norwegian media attempted to seriously address the charges of anti-Semitism in their society. Much to its later regret, Norway's leading newspaper, Aftenposten, was the nation's first media to contact the local sources for the Jerusalem Post article. Aftenposten accepted the word of Erez Uriely – the self-proclaimed head of the Center against Anti-Semitism in Norway – that "David Weiss" actually was an officer in the Norwegian military. (Uriely, an Israeli living in Oslo, was the second source the Post had quoted to describe personal experiences of anti-Semitic abuse in Norway.)

Aftenposten printed its interview with Weiss last Thursday. Weiss repeated his charges of anti-Semitism and complaints about the anti-Israeli attitudes of Norwegian politicians and the media. And he explained that his intelligence work was the reason his personal info remained hidden. Only later did Aftenposten contact the Defense Ministry, which informed the paper on Saturday that there was no officer named David Weiss serving in the Norwegian military. 

Suddenly the issue was no longer anti-Semitism in Norway, but whether the Norwegian military was engaged in a cover up. When Aftenposten asked the Ministry if Weiss worked for any of the intelligence agencies,  the initial response "was the Ministry doesn't comment or answer questions concerning personnel in these branches of the Military."
As the story roiled among the Norwegian newspapers, the Defense Ministry regretted its initial ambiguity and released the following statement on Sunday: 

Captain David Weiss
does not work for the Military. We don't know who this person is. There
is nobody with that name or rank in the Intelligence Services …. We have released this information because this person has invoked the
authority of the Military in this case.
 

Aftenposten's foreign editor, Harold Stanghelle, then wrote two pieces. In one he doubted the truthfulness of the military's statements, arguing that Weiss most likely was connected to military intelligence.

In the second, though, Stanghelle returned to the main issue and severely criticized the Jerusalem Post:

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.

While assailing the Post's reportage, Stanghelle praised all the Norwegian Jews who had helped to expose the falsehoods in the articles:

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.

It is this that Imre Hercz [a Jewish Norwegian Holocaust survivor]
realizes when he asserts to NTB that  "it was incorrect to say that
Norway is anti-Semitic. Most people are not  anti-Semitic."  

The
extreme Israeli Right sees it differently. It considers nearly all
criticism of Israel as synonymous with hatred of Jews. Both on
ideological and tactical grounds. 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.

Is this any different from what we see in America from the very same circles? Stanghelle noted that Anne Sender, head of the Oslo Jewish Congregation, had been accused by Israeli rightists of
demonizing "Jews, Rabbis and Judaism" because she dared to criticize the Israeli settlers. Even the Norwegian rabbi, Michael Melchior, faced abuse in Israel for
allegedly demonizing "honest and idealistic Jews".

As for Weiss's exposure, on
Sunday, Dagbladet finally sat down with the so-called David Weiss in an Oslo bar. The paper uncovered his real name, but refused to reveal it for the man's own safety. The 45
year-old Norwegian currently lives alone in an apartment in Oslo
with his dog.  Not yet chastened, he immediately presented the Dagbladet
reporter with a fake identity card showing David Weiss to be in the
elite Seals unit of the US Navy.

The impostor made
it clear to Dagbladet that he had nothing to do with the Norwegian
military or intelligence, and that he was sorry to have brought the military
into the conflict which had been unleashed with his statements to the Post. He also confirmed he had never been an officer in any
military.

[DAVID WEISS: The
man with his back in the photo is the 45 year-old claiming to be David
Weiss. He admits to Dagbladet's reporter that the officer and
intelligence agent Weiss does not exist. Photo: Arve Bartnes]

Weiss explained the genesis of the falsehood: After reading the first Jerusalem Post story on anti-Semitism, he had contacted the Post and had a
conversation with reporter Haviv Rettig Gur. Gur filed a revised article and related Weiss's
claims of anti-Semitism. But Weiss had not considered the
conversation with Gur to be an interview. Only when
Aftenposten found him a few days later, "he understood things had
gone out-of-control."

The Jewish Norwegian apologized to Aftenposten's editor Harald Stanghelle: "I broke out
in a sweat when he went out and said that the military lied about me.
It really was not my intention to make him out to be an idiot."

Stanghelle
at first expressed skepticism upon learning of Dagbladet's unmasking
of Weiss. But by Monday, he had to
apologize to the Norwegian military for doubting them. "For Aftenposten
the David Weiss case is over." 
It's Easter week and most Norwegians
are on vacation. That didn't stop the Norwegian Officers' Association
from expressing their extreme displeasure with Stanghelle's
accusations that the military lied about Weiss and often covered up about its unorthodox intelligence activities. The Paratroopers Organization also announced its annoyance with the libel. If the intention was to take the spotlight
off of Israel's behavior in Gaza, the plan succeeded.

A
great deal of damage has  been done to Israeli-Norwegian relations over
this incident. The Jerusalem Post's reputation lies in shreds in the Nordic countries. As we have seen here, broadly painting critics as
anti-Semitic can cause tremendous blowback on Israel itself, but have we seen the last of such articles coming out of Israel or its friends abroad? Are the methods of the ADL and Abraham Foxman so different from the Center Against Anti-Semitism in Norway?
Bruce Wolman
About Bruce Wolman

Bruce Wolman is a citizen journalist who has lived in Norway and the Washington area.

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