The Jerusalem Post: "sorry" still the hardest word to say

Like many other Norwegians, I was shocked to read a piece by Barry Rubin, a columnist writing for the Jerusalem Post, calling the Utøya AUF camp "pro-terrorist". I sent the following letter to the editor, which ran a few days ago. Three letters below it on the web page with the letters column ran a piece by some crackpot in Vermont arguing that since Martin Luther was an anti-semite, all Norwegians love those who kill jews, and also Islam is evil and wants to kill and dhimmify everyone it encounters. If this racist tripe sees print, I worry for the Israeli public sphere.

The italicised bits were cut from the finished text by the letters editor (without asking me, but that's how it goes, in letters-to-the-editor-land).

Sir, – I am writing to you today to ask that you remove the article by Barry Rubin published yesterday under the heading "The Oslo Syndrome". I am a citizen of Oslo, Norway. Like you, I work for a newspaper.

Several good friends of mine were nearly killed on Utøya. Another passed the bomb site with his two daughters a minute before the blast. That I didn't lose someone was pure luck.

I was shocked and appalled today, reading in your newspaper the statement that the Utøya youth camp was a "a pro-terrorist program". I can't comprehend why you would run a piece so disrespectful to the victims during such a difficult time.

More to the point, I do not understand why any self-respecting newspaper would run such a statement, when even the most cursory of fact-checking reveals this to be simply untrue. The AUF (Labour Party Youth) has never condoned violence against civilians or terror. To write that they have is a pure fabrication, which casts great doubts on your newspaper's professionalism. The Labour Party Youth oppose Israeli policies towards the Palestinians, but I should hardly need to tell you that this does not in any way constitute support for terror.

While professor Rubin takes care to say that the killed youth didn't "have it coming", I have trouble seeing his distorting article as anything but an argument for just this. This piece, which is an insult to grieving relatives, friends and loved ones here in Norway, should be immediately removed from your website. Decency also demands a retraction, and an apology from professor Rubin.

Martin Grüner Larsen,
A few days afterwards, the Jerusalem Post editorial page responded to the complaint of the many who had written to complain (deputy foreign secretary Espen Barth Eide wrote a complaint) with the piece "Apology to Norway".

I have to say, the piece is ... well, it stops a little bit short of being contrite:
The editorial squarely condemned the attack, saying that “as Israelis, a people that is sadly all too familiar with the horrors of indiscriminate, murderous terrorism, our hearts go out with empathy to the Norwegian people.”

However, it also, inappropriately, raised issues that were not directly pertinent, such as the dangers of multiculturalism, European immigration policies and even the Oslo peace process.
I have some trouble seeing exactly how the editorial squarely condemned the attack. Saying right at the top that the murdered, unarmed teenagers were pro-terrorism did sort of water-down the non-violence message of the piece. But the J-Post was not completely insensitive to the anguish of a nation ravaged by a grief that Israel knows only too well, so I guess we can call this a partial victory for decency.

Barry Rubin, however, takes a different tack: he was not wrong about anything, thank you very much. Throughout his entire "explanation" – ironically titled "The 'Oslo Syndrome' Article For Those Who Want to Know--And Tell--The Truth" – he fails to account for the rather astounding, factually incorrect, claim leading the article, that the Norwegian Labour Youth is "pro-terrorist." He seems to feel no shame for his mistake, and does not adress it in any way. Either he doesn't know, and he's not trying to find out, or he knows and is lying. Either interpretation casts a great shadow across his reputation. I have trouble seeing how his reputation is ever going to get out of that darkness.

The Jerusalem Post has tried to do the right thing, but botched it. I have not been impressed by the lack of professionalism and intellectual rigour shown in the sort-of-an-apology. In countries ravaged by permanent crises, such as the interlocked troubles of Israel and Palestine, a free, diligent and professional press is more important than ever. Printing ridiculous lies like that of mr. Rubin, hate speech like that of the letter below mine, or issuing only partial apologies for their own mistakes – these are not the signs of a newspaper that functions as it should. I hope that the Post learns from the mistakes made now, and moves on. Lord knows that every one of us here in Norway is trying.

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