“Stand up, Ye Men, Who do not want to welcome Jews to our Country”
The 200th anniversary of the Norwegian Constitution is not only an occasion for proud celebration of Europe’s oldest constitution. The anniversary should also be an occasion for reflection on the ideological and political caste winds of highly questionable character that influenced parts of the Norwegian constitution.
Both the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution in 1787, as well as the first French Constitution of 1791, represent important sources of inspiration for the representatives gathered at Eidsvoll in 1814. But none of these documents contained such intolerant, discriminatory formulations.
In his book “1814 – Year of Miracles” Karsten Alnæs points out that neither had Adler nor Falsen included such provisions of the Jews in their the draft constitution. However, Nicolai Wergeland, in his draft, included a sharp formulation saying that no person of Jewish creed must come within the borders of the country, much less live there.
The debate on banning Jews increased sharply in the 1830s . The Jews’ clause was also gradually more lenient practiced, especially in cases where safe conduct to the Jews could serve the country’s economic interests.
Nicolai Wergeland’s son, Henrik, was a key debater and an advocate for getting the discriminatory wording about Jews deleted from the Constitution. But it should take almost 40 years after the decision at Eidsvoll before the exclusion of Jews was repealed in 1851, six years after Henrik Wergeland’s death. Monastic orders were allowed in 1897, while the Jesuits first got access to Norway in 1956!
The historian of ideas and publisher Håkon Harket has long worked with the question how one of the world’s most liberal constitutions could contain a provision which ban an entire people. From where did the Eidsvoll men’s thoughts originate?
The anti-Semitic Jews’ clause was not a work accident. It was authored by our most enlightened men, Harket says . He describes the ideas behind the Jews’ clause as derived from the Enlightenment basement’s darkness. Both Voltaire, Kant and Fichte, among others, had demonstrable influence on the ideas.
A lesson learned?
Unfortunately this clear expression of anti-Semitism is not only of historical interest. These conceptions are handed over to new generations, in a cunning way, both in Norway and in other countries. The new anti-Semitism occurs in both new as well as in the more familiar shapes, sometimes also under a quasi-scientific cover. Jahn Otto Johansen describes in his little pamphlet, ” The new – old anti-Semitism” how anti-Semitism is infiltrating science and politics today and refer to specific examples, eg from Russia ,Britain, the Netherlands and Hungary, but also to Norway. He warns eg against the impact that Norwegian school children are exposed to through neo-Nazi websites and racist speeches through social media on the Internet.
The historical research that analyzes the background of the decision of the Jews’ cause at Eidsvoll, is interesting reading and provides new insights for many of us. This new knowledge should also be a powerful wake up call for everyone to stand up and fight against any discrimination against individuals or groups of people in today’s Norwegian society.