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Norwegian academic backs debate on boycott of Israel universities

Written by admin  •  Saturday, 23.01.2010, 17:01

The rector of a leading Norwegian university on Wednesday told Haaretz his institution would support and sponsor a “positive” debate on boycotting Israel. A leading anti-boycott activist said he was in favor of this, but only if the debate was “balanced.”

“It is an important feature of academic freedom that open, free and critical debates on any topic can be held on campus,” Professor Sigmund Grønmo, who heads Bergen University, told Haaretz. He said this shortly after Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided to upgrade Ariel College’s status to a university.

Gronmo confirmed to Haaretz reports that earlier this week he had said at a Bergen student association event that “there is ongoing discussions on the subject” on campus. A boycott, he added then, was “not currently applicable.”

In response to a query by Haaretz, Gronmo said he would not initiate such a debate and does not know about such initiatives. He is quoted by his campus’ paper as saying at the association meeting that such an initiative “must ultimately come from the faculty.”

Gronmo told Haaretz he personally does not support the imposing of an academic boycott on Israel, and that the debate at Bergen University about the subject would not result in such a move.

If the debate at Bergen takes place, it will be the second time in less than a year that a Norwegian university sponsors a debate on boycotting Israel. In November, the board of the University of Trondheim in Norway (NTNU) held an official vote on boycotting Israel. The board’s members voted against the boycott after drawing considerable media attention and condemnations by Norwegian politicians.

It was the first time any European university had held an official vote on the subject. The vote took place weeks after the university sponsored lectures on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict featuring famous harsh critics of Israel but none of her advocates. Management denied rumors that the seminar was connected to attempts to organize a vote on boycotting Israel, although both events were organized by the same people.

Norway’s research and higher education minister, Tora Aasland, warned NTNU board members ahead of the vote that boycotting Israel would violate the institution’s legal principles.

Ronnie Fraser, a leading anti-boycott campaigner from the U.K., said he favored a debate, as long as it was “fair”. “I am not one of those who think these things must not be discussed because it may be construed as anti-Semitism,” he said. “The pro-Israeli side needs to be heard as well, and any later attempt to boycott Israel needs to be vigorously confronted.”

Professor Bjorn Alsberg from NTNU, who led a campaign to stop the efforts to boycott Israel there, said he did not think Bergen University would vote to boycott Israel after NTNU decided to steer clear of it.

He told Haaretz that efforts to promote a boycott of Israel in Norway was being supported by boycott activists from the U.K. Michael Cushman, a pro-Palestinian activist from London, did not deny this, saying: “We help where and when we can.”

In 2006, Grønmo accused the U.S. of “political censorship associated with totalitarian regimes” after a prestigious American research journal cited the U.S. Patriot Act for rejecting a study on Iran?s rich oil reserves. The study was written by a team of Iranian scientists and Bergen University geologists.

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