Major Norwegian university votes today on Israel boycott

Major Norwegian universi

Jonas Gahr St?re 248.88 AP (photo credit: AP [file])
Jonas Gahr St?re 248.88 AP
(photo credit: AP [file])
Norway's premier science university could become the first Western university to implement an academic boycott of Israel if a motion to that effect is approved on Thursday by the board of governors of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. However, the proposal is seen as unlikely to pass, after international and local outcry against it from around the world, including from the World Jewish Congress, the Russell Group's 20 British Universities, the American Association of University Professors and government officials in Norway. University Rector Torbjørn Digernes will vote against the boycott and feels confident that the board will agree, Pronb Singsaas, the head of administration at NTNU, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. "The rector proposed to say no to the boycott from the start," Singsaas said. "The international opinion has not directly affected his views." Norway's minister of education and research, Tora Aasland, echoed the rector's sentiments in a statement: The "boycott is incompatible with the hallmark of academic culture: a free, research-based dialogue." The boycott proposal has been signed by 116 academics at NTNU. "We consider Israeli universities to take part in the occupation, they give philosophical and historical legitimacy to the organization," said Agnes Bolsø, an associate professor of cultural studies and one of the proposal's 34 original co-signors. In an open letter to the university condemning the boycott call, the university's Prof. Bjorn Alsberg asked the board to consider the legal ramifications before voting on the proposal, as well as the problematic nature of a university taking political stands. At press time, the open letter had garnered more than 3,300 signatures, including those of 10 Nobel laureates. "It's going to be a major disaster [if the boycott passes], because the minister of education has stated clearly that the universities shouldn't do this, so the board would be crazy to decide in favor," Alsberg said on Tuesday. Most university Israel boycott campaigns have called for divestment, meaning schools would no longer invest in Israeli companies or use Israeli products. Chaya Singer, the chairwoman of the World Union of Jewish Students who wrote an open letter to the NTNU student representatives voting on the proposal, called divestment "unrealistic." Even if divestment proposals passed, people "would be hard-pressed to get rid of cellphones, flash disks and all the basic things that are in every student's stationary kit that are products of Israeli innovation. There'd be no e-mails or instant message or voicemail," Singer told the Post. But an academic boycott's effects would be more visible - Israeli professors would no longer be invited to give speeches, attend conferences or collaborate with their counterparts at the university. Norwegian churches and universities were at the forefront of the academic boycott of apartheid South Africa. But Singer, a native of South Africa who lives in Jerusalem, and many others find fault with the current proposal's comparison of the countries. "The whole idea of equating Israel with South Africa is... an ill-fitting adjective for conflict of an entirely different nature," she said. Official relations between Norway and Israel have been strained in the past few months, with barbs traded between Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his Norwegian counterpart, Jonas Gahr Støre, in late September. Lieberman condemned Støre for his "quiet support" of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and for honoring this year's Nobel Literature Prize laureate and Nazi-sympathizer Knut Hamsun. Norway currently chairs the 26-nation Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education.