The Knesset paid tribute to Jo Benkow, former Speaker of the Norwegian parliament, author and Holocaust survivor.
The tribute took place on Monday in a moving ceremony attended by Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende, Knesset Speaker MK Yuli Edelstein and Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman
During the event, which was initiated by Liberman, two books by Benkow were presented that were translated into Hebrew and Russian by the Genesis Philanthropy Group in conjunction with World Yisarel Beytenu.
The books, both bestsellers in Norway, are an autobiography called “From Synagogue to Parliament” and "Olav – Man and Monarch", which is a product of several conversations Benkow held with his friend, Norway’s King Olav V.
The Director General of World Yisarel Beytenu Alex Selsky presented Benkow’s life story, including his family background. Both of Benkow’s parents were refugees from Russia, and while the men in the family fled Norway to the UK to join the Royal Norwegian Air Force, all of the female family members, including his mother, sister and aunt were murdered in Auschwitz.
Selsky spoke of Benkow’s work on behalf of human rights issues, including becoming one of the most active fighters for the aliyah to Israel of Soviet Jewry.
“Benkow openly supported Israel and fought against anti-Semitism and strongly criticized Norwegian leaders who expressed biased views toward Israel,” Selsky said.
Liberman said that Benkow is a great example for Jews all around the world. “He was at the same time a true Norwegian patriot, a proud Jew and a passionate Zionist,” said Liberman.
Edelstein then spoke about Benkow’s unique life story, saying, “Benkow’s Jewish roots informed his activities and he stood up for Israel even when it was unpopular to do so.”
The Deputy CEO of the Genesis Philanthropy Group, Sana Britavsky, explained why the translations of Benkow’s books were so important for Israelis and Jews.
“Many Jews in the Diaspora are struggling with the question of their identity, but Benkow’s life and story shows that nothing can prevent a Jewish citizen from being loyal to their home nation,” Britavsky explained.
Foreign Minister Brende, who began in politics as an advisor and a speech writer to Benkow, expressed how emotional and important the event was for him personally and how he and Liberman would often recount stories about Benkow when they would meet.
“Benkow had profound feelings for Israel and this gave a sense of pride among Jews in Norway,” Brende said. “He said that when Israel was founded he could be both fully Norwegian and fully Jewish because he understood it was difficult to be a minority without security.”