Norway university won’t boycott Israel

Norway almost became the first country to implement an academic boycott of Israel. [illustrative]
Photo: Jerusalem Post staff

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) unanimously voted against an academic boycott of Israel at a meeting on Thursday.

Had the proposal passed, NTNU would have been the first Western university to sever ties with Israeli universities.

“As an academic institution, NTNU’s mission is to stimulate the study of the causes of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and how it can be resolved. This means that the university is also dependent on being able to cooperate with Israeli academics and hear their views on the conflict,” the 12 board members said in a statement released bythe university.

The meeting was attended by almost 50 members of the university community, a rare departure from the usual five attendees of board of governors meetings. The journalists, mostly from Norwegian publications, outnumbered the board members.

Each voting member made a statement explaining their position during a discussion prior to the vote. While many statements were critical of Israel, they concluded that an academic boycott would not be appropriate.

The discussion took less than half an hour, since no one argued in favor of the proposal.

“It’s always nice to have unanimous votes on a controversial issue, because you don’t have a division in the board,” said Trond Singsaas, the head of administration at NTNU.

“I was surprised that no one defended it,” said Agnes Bolsø, an associate professor of cultural studies and one of the original 34 authors of the boycott proposal. “I thought there would be one or two teachers defending it. They were very critical of the occupation, but the thing was there was so much weight on academic freedom, the institution didn’t do anything to prevent that.

“I find it a bit sad. We all want academic freedom, but there is limited academic freedom for Palestinian academics and for Israelis who are critical of the occupation,” Bolsø added. “They were only talking about our freedom, to have no restrictions on my freedom, but the other part’s freedom wasn’t mentioned… It was a bit narrow of perspective.”

The boycott proposal was met with denunciation by organizations in Israel, Europe and North America who mobilized against it. International reaction was much more intense thanthe university had anticipated, Singsaas said.

Professor Yossi Ben-Artzi, the rector of the University of Haifa who led the fight by Israeli academics to protest the proposal, welcomed the news from NTNU. “I am glad that justice has won over and welcome the decision that recognizes academic freedom and emphasizes the universal fundamentals of justice and integrity,” he said in a statement.