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The Roots of Elite European Anti-Zionism

Begins with an ‘N’ and ends with an ‘I’

Liel Leibovitz
June 14, 2019
Photo: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images
Iceland's Hatari poses for a picture during the red carpet ceremony of the 64th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, 2019. Photo: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images
Iceland's Hatari poses for a picture during the red carpet ceremony of the 64th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, 2019. Photo: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

The official music video for “Hatrio Mun Sigra,” the Icelandic submission to this year’s Eurovision song contest, included real leather, fake blood, and strobe lights, one part Studio 54 remake and one part zombie Backstreet Boys apocalypse. Like most reveries dreamed up by overeducated, artistically inclined youth it landed with a thud, too breathless and mirthless to deliver real shock. The heavily publicized Icelanders lost.

Not that the band didn’t try hard: As soon as they were selected as their nation’s emissaries to the popular continental competition, held last month in Israel, Hatari—the name means “haters”—challenged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a wrestling match, promising, should they win, to replace the Jewish state with a republic dedicated to sexual kinks. When that provocation, too, failed to elicit more than a chuckle, Hatari delivered its showstopper: As the points were being tallied, the band’s members flaunted the contest’s no-politics rules and waved red, white, green, and black scarves emblazoned with the word “Palestine.”

As musicians, Hatari’s members are tragically uninteresting, binding the worst of metal and EDM in a BDSM aesthetic that is more amusing than arousing, like the musical act in a bad Eastern European strip club. As political activists, however, Hatari is legitimately fascinating: If you’d like to understand the emotional valence of the contemporary European left, look no further than these bare-chested boppers.

Let us, then, study the brief but consequential history of Hatari. The band was founded by Klemens Nikulásson Hannigan, Einar Hrafn Stefánsson, and Matthías Tryggvi Haraldsson, the first two having met as students at the International School of Brussels. They were there because their fathers are both senior diplomats: Klemens’ father, Nikulas Hannigan, currently heads the trade division in Iceland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Einar’s father, Stefan Haukur Johannesson, helped oversee Iceland’s application to the European Union and is now the country’s ambassador to London. Matthías’ father, Haraldur Flosi Tryggvason, is a former chair of Reykjavik Energy, the capital’s publicly owned utility company and the owner of one of the country’s most influential law firms. Haraldur’s sister, Ran, was born in Dresden; she is an intellectual property lawyer and also Klemens’ mother.

As you’d expect of the blessed sons of the country’s elite, the three Haters didn’t just amble into a garage and start strumming on guitars. Instead, they took a break from their otherwise thriving careers—Matthias, for example, worked as a journalist for Iceland’s most popular newspaper, Morgunbladid—and had Tryggvason senior establish and run a “transnational private holding company” pledged to “bring an end to neoliberal capitalism, as well as managing real estate, loans, imports and exports.” While that may be a joke, the ensuing reminder on the company’s website—that the Hatari name, logo, and all products related to the brand are the corporation’s exclusive intellectual property—is quite serious. Whatever else Hatari might be about—pop, art, politics, provocation—it’s also largely about bequeathing the privileges of the country’s insular and inbred ruling class to the next generation beneath a façade of fashionable meritocracy.

This same elite condescension, of course, is prevalent all over Europe now. It’s why we have prestigious schools and prestigious internships and other pipelines designed to make sure that the dominant ruling class—while professing wokeness and solidarity—ultimately continue to run things and make bank. When practiced in Iceland, a small and self-contained and homogenous nation, the nauseating hypocrisy of these poses is more boldly visible than it is elsewhere, a stark reminder that western elites believe that power should be hereditary, just as it was in the age of kings and queens. The same handful of families dictating Iceland’s socio-political agenda for decades is still doing so today.

And what kind of values are they standing for? Had Iceland’s sons of privilege chosen to put their good fortune to good use, aiding poor fishermen in their own country, or bringing medical care to the sick? Nope. They chose to display their inherent and enormous surplus of moral virtue by excoriating the world’s sole Jewish state. In doing so, they lined up precisely with their own countrymen—past and present.

As Denmark struggled to stave off the Nazis and save its Jews from the Nazi death camps, Iceland remained studiously neutral. In 1944, the island declared its independence from Denmark, appointing Sveinn Bjornsson its first president. Bjornsson’s oldest son, Bjorn, was a member of the SS, in charge of ratcheting up Nazi propaganda in Denmark. By collaborating with Nazis, and furthering Nazi war aims at the expense of the Danes, the Icelandic elite angled to take the island for themselves, and get rich, or richer. In 2011, Iceland became the first nation to recognize Palestine as an independent nation. And when Tel Aviv was chosen as the Eurovision’s host city, nearly 20,000 Icelanders signed a petition calling on their government to boycott the competition.

Which makes sense, if you know anything about how the truly privileged manipulate their surroundings to always, no matter what, come out on top. So here’s Iceland, a European nation troubled by a collaborationist Nazi past, eager to reinvent itself as a champion of all that is enlightened and good. To distance itself from one murderous made-up ideology, which it used to its own benefit, it aligns itself with another group of murderous haters. Against this kind of historical backdrop, the band’s S&M drag and nihilistic poses make perfect sense.

Even more perfectly, these Nordic dreamboats managed to find a Palestinian partner with substantial privilege of his own (no mean feat!): 26-year-old Bashar Murad, a gay Palestinian artist, best known for saying that his dream is to use his music to free Palestine. Murad is a resident of East Jerusalem, which makes him a citizen of Israel. As such, he is free from the rampant persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Palestinian society, a subject he has yet to take on ardently. He was educated in an American school in Jerusalem, attended Bridgewater College in Virginia, and had his work sponsored by the United Nations’ Men and Women for Gender Equality program. He is part of the Palestinian cultural and political elite, who have only nominal ties to their actual communities and even less of an interest in its myriad ills, from rampant corruption to homophobia, or in the historical crimes of their own grandparents.

Such is the moral theater of today’s global elites: The gilded sons of Iceland adopt their Mediterranean brothers and wave the banner of “Palestine” to signal their virtue. From Aryan supremacy to Palestinian nationalism, Iceland’s finest remain infatuated with dangerous ideologies. The only constant that remains is pathological Jew-hatred.


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Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.