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Nonsensical boycott uproar November 13, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Academic matters, Human rights, Norwegian politics , 1 comment so far

My university, The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), has been the centre of an international controversy blown ridiculously out of proportion for the last few weeks. It peaked today with a university board meeting actually attended by reporters from Al-Jazeera(!). I assure you not a common occurence in a Norwegian university.

It all started with a petition by thirty-four academic staff members from NTNU and the regional college HiST recommending an academic and cultural boycot of Israel and Israeli universities. Interestingly enough, at least two of the petitioners have jewish backgrounds themselves. Although I am sympathetic to the cause, I think the idea of academic and cultural isolation is more likely to be counterproductive to the larger goal of improving conditions for Palestinians. My opinion is however beside the matter. For reference, the total number of academic staff at NTNU is about 2700, of which 34 doesn’t seem like an alarming number. This also mobilized a counter-petition by other members of the staff.

Next, three professors at NTNU organized a seminar series about the Israel-Palestine conflict with the endorsement of the university Rector Trond Digernes. They invited international speakers like Stephen Walt, Moshe Zuckermann¬†and Illian Pape in addittion to various Norwegian speakers. They instantly came under attack by “friends of Israel” that critizised them for a biased selection of speakers, accusing them of being inspired by hatred of Israel and jews.

This was eventually picked up by Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. That’s when the ball really started rolling. The usual freak anonymous hate-calls and blog flaming is to be expected. But After the Ha’aretz article, NTNU actually received an official letter from the Israeli ambassador accusing NTNU of “Israel-bashing”. For diplomats to interfere with university seminars, especially with such language, seems rather unusual to me.

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