Norway University rebuffs motion for Israel boycott 12Nov09 November 13, 2009

by Cnaan Liphshiz  -  Haaretz -  12 November 2009

An academic boycott of Israel in Norway was averted on Thursday, when the executive board of the University of Trondheim unanimously decided to reject the controversial move.

“The vote resulted in total victory,” said Professor Bjorn Alsberg, a member of the board of the Trondheim-based Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Alsberg, a chemistry professor, led a campaigned at the Norwegian city against the boycott.

He said that the vote to boycott Israel – which drew condemnations from Jewish organizations in Israel and elsewhere – was rejected after none of the 11 board members objected when NTNU Dean Torbjorn Digernes suggested scrapping the motion from the board meeting’s agenda.

“Some of the people in attendance spoke in favor of scrapping the vote,”Alsberg told Haaretz. “The main arguments raised were that Norwegian universities should not [make] their own foreign policies, and that a boycott would be harmful to NTNU.”

According to Alsberg, who collected signatures from over 100 NTNU scholars against the boycott, the move was prevented due to “a combination of factors.” He said these included media attention; opposition to the boycott by the Norwegian Ministry for Higher Education; and petitions, including his own.

But Erez Uriely, director of the Oslo-based Center against Anti-Semitism, said the boycott was prevented largely thanks to Alsberg’s petition.

“Norwegian politicians often take anti-Israeli positions and then renege when this creates an outcry,” he said. “The petition against a boycott of Israel at NTNU is an unusual event which tipped the scale.”

Prof. Yossi Ben-Artzi, rector of the University of Haifa, who ahead of the vote asked his Trondheim counterpart to prevent a boycott, said following the vote: “I hope this decision will preempt any future attempt to impose an academic boycott of Israel.”

Relations between Israel and Norway were strained earlier this year when a Norwegian investment fund divested from the Israeli arms firm Elbit over its involvement in the West Bank separation fence.

The director general of the Foreign Ministry, Yossi Gal, subsequently summoned the Norwegian ambassador to Israel, Jakken Bjørn Lian, to protest the move.

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