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August 14, 2009

Let’s Not Let Norway Off Too Easy

Your August 7 editorial “Norway and the Holocaust” cites Norway’s condemnation of Knut Hamsun, its pro-Nazi Nobel laureate in literature, in responding to critics of Norway’s chairmanship of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Rebirth.

But the history of Norway’s relationship to Jews goes beyond Hamsun. It was only during the 19th century (at about the time of Hamsun’s birth) that Jews were legally allowed to live in Norway.

Under the pro-Nazi government of Vidkun Quisling, half of Norway’s Jewish citizens were sent to Auschwitz. Those who survived returned to find their homes and property stolen by their fellow Norwegians. It took decades before the government formed a committee to investigate the matter, and the committee voted against the claims of the Jewish survivors. Fortunately, one decent official ignored the vote and allowed the Norwegian Jews to receive some compensation for their losses.

Perhaps Norway is entitled to chair the task force because it has been no worse than other European nations. But it certainly has been no better.

Jeffry V. Mallow
Evanston, Ill.

The writer is a member of the board of the Forward Association.

Israel’s Moving Toward A Fair Asylum System

Your news article on the challenges faced by the population of African asylum seekers in Israel omitted mention of one of the most positive developments in the State of Israel’s efforts to address this issue (“Illegals in Limbo, Now Cast Out of Israel’s Center,” July 24).

In May 2008, Israel’s Interior Ministry invited HIAS, the international migration agency of the American Jewish community, to provide instructors with expertise in asylum law to train its nascent corps of asylum adjudicators. Their request was based on HIAS’s longstanding presence in Israel and our technical expertise on refugee and asylum law. Earlier in the decade, HIAS collaborated with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to establish the state’s first course in refugee law. This course, in turn, spawned the establishment at Tel Aviv University of the first asylum law clinic, founded by an alumna of HIAS’s refugee law course.

For the last year, HIAS has worked closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of the Department of Homeland Security to establish an intensive training course for these refugee adjudicators. On June 18, 30 Interior Ministry employees graduated and will now form the basis of a new Israeli asylum unit within the ministry. HIAS remains engaged in mentoring the new graduates.

As befits a land of refugees, Israel was one of the first signatories to the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees, the international legal instrument that protects those fleeing from persecution and conflict in their homelands. While your article pointed out many of the ongoing problems that Israel — and these asylum seekers — are facing, our experience working with the Interior Ministry in training its new Asylum Corps clearly demonstrates that progress has been made toward a fair and humane asylum system.

Gideon Aronoff
President and CEO
New York, N.Y.

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