By honoring novelist and Nazi-sympathizer Knut Hamsun, Norway has damaged the international Holocaust education drive that it has recently been appointed to head, campaigners against anti-Semitism told Haaretz. Yet, the leader of Norway's Jewish community disagrees.

In March, Norway assumed chairmanship of the 26-nation Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education in the midst of celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Knut Hamsun, the country's once celebrated author who was shunned for supporting Norway's Nazi occupation regime during World War II.

The government has honored the novelist with celebrations, a commemorative coin and is allocating millions of dollars toward building a cultural center in the Nobel Prize laureate's hometown, which is to open in August.

Hamsun, who died impoverished at the age of 92 in 1952 (the government stripped him of his property) once gave his Nobel Prize medal in literature as a gift to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. He also met Adolf Hitler in Bavaria. The author of masterpieces like "Hunger," Hamsun is cherished by readers in Norway and around the world.

"No government should honor Nazis, their collaborators or their sympathizers," said Carole Nuriel, an analyst for the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL drafted a statement on Norway in consultation with the country's Jewish community, noting that in the framework of commemoration, the Norwegian government was "highlighting Hamsun's moral failure, not downplaying it."

A spokesperson for the Norwegian embassy in Tel Aviv declined to comment, but Bjorn Svenungsen of the foreign ministry in Oslo told Haaretz that honoring Hamsun is "a commemoration of one of Norway's most important authors." He said all parties involved have criticized Hamsun's Nazi past. The celebration is "a tribute to Hamsun's role in European literature, not an acceptance of his political views," Svenungsen added. "The event is also used to remember the massive criticism of Hamsun after the 1945 liberation."

Per Antonsen, a former veteran consultant on foreign policy to the Norwegian government, told Haaretz that Hamsun's commemoration was "a clear result of the government's deep-rooted ignorance and lack of political and moral consciousness."

The head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Israel office, Ephraim Zuroff, said Hamsun's commemoration "casts a shadow on the task force's work, turning it into something less effective" and "more symbolic than practical."

Anne Sender, chairwoman of Norway's Jewish community, said she would rather the government didn't honor Hamsun, but she nonetheless lauded it for "using the events to highlight the man's Nazi past alongside his genius." She said she did not see the commemoration as conflicting with Norway's task force chairmanship. "The commemoration can be used in a healthy manner, to teach people who are less knowledgeable about Hamsun's Nazi sympathies."

Michael Melchior, Norway's Danish-born former chief rabbi, said the legitimacy of commemorating Hamsun depended on the prominence given to his Nazi past. "If Hamsun's ignominy is displayed in all its acrimoniousness, it wouldn't conflict with Norway's chairmanship of the task force," he said. "If they turn him into a hero, it would merit condemnation regardless of the task force."

Erez Uriely, director of the Oslo-based Center Against Anti-Semitism, concurs. "We should remember the genius Knut Hamsun, both as one of the most important authors of his time and as a Nazi supporter," he said.

But Manfred Gerstenfeld, a scholar on anti-Semitism and chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said the problem goes deeper than just the Hamsun issue. "The outrageous state-sponsored honoring of Hamsun is only the tip of the iceberg of why Norway should never have been chosen to chair the task force," he said
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