On September 23, 2016, a video, purportedly from a spokesperson from the National Theatre of Norway, was posted on YouTube. A transcript of the video was simultaneously published in the Norwegian weekly newspaper Morgenbladet with the title “The National Theatre of Norway apologizes.” The video and text “apologized” for the 2013 to 2015 collaboration, organized by the Union des Théâtres de l’Europe (UTE), between Habima, Israel’s National Theater, and The National Theatre of Norway.
The video endorses BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) against Israel on behalf of Norway’s National Theater and makes the absurd claim that “Habima breaks international law when they perform in illegal Jewish settlements.” It also immorally and menacingly refers to Israel as a “colonialist” entity “based on occupation, ethnic cleansing, racism and apartheid.”
Following the publication of this message, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on the publicly-funded “National Theatre of Norway, in whose name the statements were made, to clearly and immediately repudiate them as well as to take the necessary measures to have the video removed from every site.”
The National Theater of Norway issued a response stating that “the unsigned article is part of the art project Monsters of Reality, which is part of the International Ibsen Festival 2016. The article is not written by The National Theatre of Norway – and does not represent The National Theatre of Norway’s attitude – but is an expression of artistic freedom.” The Ibsen Festival still displays the “Apology” as part of its program.
However, in this situation, slogans like “artistic expression” and “freedom” do not apply. The video creates the impression that the National Theatre of Norway and its Director Hanne Tømta endorse boycotts of Israeli artists. Issuing a response without demanding the removal of the video from the internet does not eliminate the apparently false impression.
The theater is not the only responsible part here. As noted, the Norwegian government funds the theater. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is listed as a partner of the International Ibsen Festival 2016.
In response the Norwegian Embassy in Tel Aviv tweeted that “it firmly opposes boycott.”
Following this, the creators of the video issued a Facebook statement taking responsibility for the video and criticizing the Norwegian Embassy for wavering “when facing the diplomatic bullying of Israel.”
In fact, this is another example of the Norwegian government’s direct and indirect funding of campaigns and political activities that are inconsistent with its stated policies to promote dialogue and peace. Of the NOK 200 million (over $24 million) that Norway is currently giving to politicized NGOs active in the region, NOK 5 million ($600,000) is allocated to the Human Rights & International Humanitarian Law Secretariat (“Secretariat”). This mechanism funds highly politicized NGOs that promote BDS campaigns, advance a “1948 agenda,” and even antisemitic propaganda.
In light of this incident, the Norwegian government should immediately review and end funding practices that directly contribute to activities like BDS and antisemitism, activities that contradict government policies and frustrate efforts for a peaceful solution to the conflict.