Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on Wednesday condemned a petition against Israel which was signed by one hundred famous Norwegians.

"Those who call for a boycott against Israel are in effect boycotting the peace process by automatically and unequivocally endorsing the Palestinian position and pushing them further away from the negotiating table," Ayalon said in a statement. "We expect the Norwegian government to condemn this boycott."

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The Norwegians, led by the country’s national soccer coach, signed a petition demanding a cultural and academic boycott of Israel, accusing its educational institutions of “playing a key role in the occupation” and equating it with apartheid.

Egil Drillo Olsen, coach for the national Norwegian soccer team, recently wrote in Aftenposten, the country’s second largest paper, that the call to boycott Israel was "in line with what 90 percent of the world’s population believes. There cannot be many other opinions."

The petition is the last item in a string of similar and high-profile initiatives to have taken place in Norway over the past two years. It was signed by coach Olsen and 99 other public figures from the arts and culture arena, who stated that a boycott is "necessary" not only to help Palestinians, but also to "support Israelis opposing the occupation."

Former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik said the boycott call was "unhelpful" and "not representative" of the current government’s policy.

Bondevik, who presided over the Norwegian government for seven years over the period 1997 until 2005 on behalf of the Christian Democratic Party, added that he wished to "reassure" Israelis that the "boycott is not an issue in Norway."

But Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld, a senior researcher of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionist trends in Scandinavia, alleges Norway is a "pioneer" in the Western world promoting boycotts and hatred against Israel.

Gerstenfeld, Chairman of the Steering Committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, notes some "uniquely Norwegian developments unparalleled elsewhere in the West."

Among them, he lists praise that Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere wrote last year for a book accusing the IDF of deliberately killing Gazan women and children, and the promotion of a Norwegian diplomat who had compared Operation Cast Lead in Gaza with the action of the Nazis.

That same year the major Norwegian State pension fund divested from Elbit Systems because of the company's involvement in building the security fence.

Since then, Norwegian shares in several other Israeli companies have been divested. In November 2009, a Norwegian university, NTNU in Trondheim, became the first in the West whose Board openly discussed boycotting Israel. The plan was ultimately unanimously rejected.

"Norway’s case is unique because it is a country dominated by a political, media and cultural elite with deep-rooted anti-Israeli attitudes stemming from their political world view," Gerstenfeld said. "It poses a threat to Israel because it may be the place where precedents are set in the campaign to delegitimize Israel."

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