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Gaarder's op-eds weren't titled "To Mona Levin," nor did Gaarder originally press himself on Levin to explain to her how his "God's chosen people" was not intended as anti-semite. She (and others) put him in this situation by going public in her (their) severe criticism of his text.

In all simplicity this suggests the following: when Gaarder asks Levin if she thinks one Lebanese life is worth the same as a Jewish life, he's asking none of the questions Levin lists in her text above. He simply refers to a moral question from his first op-ed in Aftenposten, by then criticised by Levin as the worst thing she's read since "Mein Kampf" (hence the tv and radio debates between Levin and Gaarder). And he does so because he feels the question is legitimate as far more Lebanese civilians die in the war between Israel and Hezbollah than Israeli ones. Implied in his question is therefore: is (was) Israel doing m o r e than defending itself in its war against the Hezbollah?

I assume he has also noted that the ratio between Israeli and Palestinian casualties in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians follows a similar pattern. Not just over a brief period. Nor just over a couple of years. The time span is much wider. Yet the characteristics remain the same: in a conflict between one part armed with fairly primitive weapons and stones and another part armed with all sorts of high-tech weapons, the latter part is the deadlier one by far. In this conflict the former part demands land that's internationally defined as belonging to it. The latter part is occupying it.

It is in this context that Gaarder asks the question mentioned above. By it however Levin understands that what Gaarder r e a l l y is saying is 1) an Arab life is worth more than a Jewish life and 2) Levin is nothing else than a Jew.

The problems of such texts as Levin's are not the fact they're written and published. It's the lack of texts that confront them.



I have read a number of your comments on this subject throughout this blog, and I simply have to ask - why is it so difficult for you to accept that Gaarder's words in his original article were anti-Semitic in nature? Why are you going to such painstaking lengths to try to prove otherwise, going so far as to actively try to discredit anyone who dares to raise the red flag against Gaarder? Why do you think that you know better than everyone else, as you actively work to deny the validity of the feelings of Jewish people who read and were instinctively repulsed by the Gaarder piece?


Liza, thank you for reading my comments. Here are my replies to you:

"Why is it so difficult for you to accept that Gaarder's words in his original article were anti-Semitic in nature?"

How were Gaarder's words from the said op-ed anti-semitic in nature, Liza? It is essential to explain this because postulates/accusations aren't explanations. One must substantiate. You fail to do so in your reply to me.

"Why are you going to such painstaking lengths to try to prove otherwise, going so far as to actively try to discredit anyone who dares to raise the red flag against Gaarder?"

You're right, I don't think Gaarder's op-ed is anti-semitc. But I haven't said his op-ed isn't problematic. Still between problematic and anti-semitic there's a huge divide. Calling a text of one's dislike anti-semitic on issues concering critique of Israeli politics without venturing a substantiation of one's claim empties the term"anti-semitism" semantically. It also reveals an enormous disrespect for the horrific sufferings of Jews in the past, which is how the term anti-semitic got it's meaning. This disrespect is deeply troubling. To have it is grave. To actively use it for political goals much worse. Yet, I don't discredit people's rights to do so, but I will in any setting let them know that a critique of it is in place - and I will insist such a critique should be serious and substantiated

"Why do you think that you know better than everyone else, as you actively work to deny the validity of the feelings of Jewish people who read and were instinctively repulsed by the Gaarder piece?"

I haven't said I know better than everybody else (incidentally neither you nor other readers of this blog who think Gaarder's op-ed is anti-semtic are everybody else - shame on such rhetoric). I've said one should justify one's accusations, plus I've tried to show readings of Gaarder's op-ed that suggest it isn't anti-semitic. I have also hinted at textual difficulties that arise as soon as a text appears - with regards to context and reference. I haven't been challenged on these issues, which is all very well, because indeed to eliminate texts with opinions one would have to eliminate texts as such. In a worst case scenario that would mean only allowing texts that support official opinion.

Further, and as you know, Gaarder's op-ed didn't provoke everybody. Many people hold it to be a valid critique of the state of Israel. In this group there are Jews too (you'd do well to be very careful in generalising about Jews).

We also know that some people are repulsed by homosexuals, others by Muslims, black people, etc - as well as by people who make politcal drawings or write books. Women's rights. Freedom of speech. Territorial borders. A people's sovereignty.

The list is long. Yet being repulsed is never enough for one to support such a sentiment in a political context. Generally speaking, replusion can both be pure bias as well as a justified reaction. To show that a reaction is justified, however, postulates by way of accusations alone are never enough.

Therefore with regards to people who were "repulsed" by Gaarder's op-ed I must ask w h y ? When I get a mere b e c a u s e in return, I say small wonder this world is such a miserable place.

Which I think it is.


Roar - in reading your comments, I'm not sure what you're trying to accomplish, and I've learned to be skeptical about the motivations of some of the people I run into on this topic.

I think one of the things you're struggling with is whether Gaarder *intended* to be antisemitic, and you're asking for proof of his state of mind when he wrote the piece.

Most people are not inclined to admit their bigotry, even to themselves. I bet you that if you conducted a survey of Norwegians, 99.9% would say they didn't have a single racist impulse, ever. I think it would be impossible to prove that Gaarder sat down with the conscious intent to damage Jews as a people or Judaism as a religion; and I actually don't think it's true.

The difficulty with all bigotry is that its foundation is treated as a premise. If you go back 30 years, the vast majority of Norwegians would say with great certainty that homosexuality was a perversion, a pathology; and take it from there. Go back 50 years and ask Norwegians about Sami people, you'd be horrified at the things that were socially acceptable.

But the issue is less what Gaarder intended than a) what the effect was or even could have been, and b) whether it was offensive to Jews.

I have shared his piece with dozens of Jews of all kinds, and the reaction is uniform: this is offensive stuff. The Norwegian public should take this seriously for that reason alone. Of course, it's reasonable to ask why it's offensive, but it's not reasonable to ask that we prove that Gaarder intended it to be offensive.

Do you understand the distinction?


I'm not struggling with Gaarder's text, Leif. I resent your bombastic hitherto non-founded criticism of it. I've asked you to make your reading of his op-ed coherent and valid by way of substantiations and textual references - that sort of thing. Nowhere I have I ventured an exploration of Gaarder's mindset (but I h a v e referred to contexts - entirely different matter), so on which ground you think it relevant to make your (fairly banal) point on the "distinction" you sketch out in the question (addressed to me) that you round off your comment to me with - is beyond me.

But I'll give you one thing - yes people that are biased don't always see it. Leif, it's p r e c i s e l y for this reason it's important to accompany postulates with substantiations (say why you think this and that and relate it directly to the issue you criticise, in this case Gaarder's text). It's the only way to establish a meaningful dialogue (not based on speculations, but clear-cut arguments, clear-cut reasons for concluding this and that way) between people of different views. It enables a real confrontation of opinion and reasoning - not just between two or more people, but also with o n e s e l f (by hearing the other/s confront ones reasoning). You might not have got that strong undercurrent suggestion in my challenges to you for you to build up a serious critique of Gaarder or the Norwegian public (I'll leave you alone in your parade against Willoch - but I note that your general tone with regards to him and Gaarder present in your texts on this blog is replaced by a different, more moderate one in the rejected Aftenposten text on the Gaarder row - and it's as appararent to others as it is to yourself why you did that). Still it's the only verbal strategy that will actually enable a confrontation of bias in society.

Footnote: saying that someone rants comes effectively close to ranting oneself. And indeed it becomes it in full when you do so without an attempted serious analysis of - in this case - the text you criticise. When someone drops by and says "yeah I agree" it's little else than participation in that act.


Roar, If you find that Leif's explanations (which I think are spot-on, actually) are not adequate enough for your needs, I'd like to suggest that you check out the comments that this subject received on my blog. There are some very well thought-out out responses, as well as points that substantiate why Gaarder's original piece would be seen as being anti-Semitic.


I'm very impressed by the way that you've covered this topic - very thorough and well-written. I used your translation (with full, linked credit), and suggested that readers check out your blog for more information on the whole Gaarder issue. I hope you don't mind...


Leif Knutsen, New York

Roar - I really can't help you any further. If you insist on reading Gaarder's missive in the most charitable way possible and mine in the least charitable way you can, then the issue lies in your own prejudice. I'll leave you with this proverb: Try to understand before you try to be understood.


Leif, I never asked for your help. I asked for you to do one thing: come up with reasons for your postulates on Gaarder by actual reference to his op-ed in Aftenposten. It appears you can't and/or won't do that. And that's that.

Liza, you think Leif's coverage of Gaarder's op-ed in Aftenposten is "spot on," "well written," and "very thorough." Well, here's a quote from Leif's "So you want an explanation about Gaarder" (which he wrote after a challenge I made him):

"It's a widespread belief that Israel is the cause of all the troubles in the Middle East, in spite of all evidence to the contrary."

Is this spot on? I think it is, but I'm not sure we share the same reasons for thinking so, Liza.

I hope both of you eventually will see the necessity of substantiating one's claims on matters of great consequence, as well as the risks failing (refusing) to do so poses. Good-bye.

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