Norwegian minister apologizes for advocating Israel boycott [pg. 5]

Norwegian Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen apologized on a television program in Norway on Friday for advocating a consumer boycott of Israel, Miryam Shomrat, Israel's ambassador to Oslo, said. Shomrat told The Jerusalem Post that the apology came following two days of criticism and pressure on the Norwegian government over Halvorsen's comments. Halvorsen, leader of the Socialist Left Party, was quoted in the Oslo tabloid Dagbladet as saying that "My and the Socialist Left's goal is for Norwegian consumers to decide to drop products and services from Israel, and make other choices in the shops." The Socialist Left is one of three parties making up the ruling coalition government. Shomrat said that the comments led to an outpouring of support for Israel in Norway not seen for quite a while. She said many people were especially taken aback by the timing of her remarks, published as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was fighting for his life in Jerusalem. Norway's Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store called Shomrat on Friday to apologize on Halvorsen's behalf. He also sent a letter to Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom saying that a consumer boycott of Israel was neither the Norwegian government's policy nor something it was contemplating, and reiterating the historically friendly relations between the two countries. Shomrat issued a statement after the Halvorsen interview appeared saying that the finance minister's words were not commensurate with the good relations that exist between the two countries; that calling for a boycott puts the blame for the Israeli-Arab conflict on one side only; and that Israel expected the Norwegian government to deal with the matter.