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Cablegate: Norwegian University to Vote On Boycott of Israeli

VZCZCXRO4576
PP RUEHIK
DE RUEHNY #0705/01 3141357
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 101357Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY OSLO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7961
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 OSLO 000705

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PREL SCUL IS NO
SUBJECT: NORWEGIAN UNIVERSITY TO VOTE ON BOYCOTT OF ISRAELI
ACADEMICS

REF: DANIELS-SELINGER (OSLO/EUR) E-MAILS NOV 6-10 2009

OSLO 00000705 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) The board of Norway's University of Science and
Technology in Trondheim (NTNU) will vote November 12 to
decide whether to establish an academic boycott of Israel.
Norwegian Minister for Research and Higher Education Tora
Aasland (Socialist Left Party, SV), in an interview with
leading newspaper Aftenposten November 9, stated that she is
against the boycott proposal and that her statement reflects
official government policy. The boycott, she said, would go
against both academic freedom and the legal right of
academics and researchers to choose their subjects and
research methods. As the responsible minister, Aasland will
be called to answer questions on the issue during a
parliamentary question hour on Wednesday, November 11,
according to media comments by opposition Christian
Democratic Party (KrF) MP Hans Olav Syversen, who opposes the
boycott. Syversen points out that Norwegian universities are
state-owned, and asks in his media comments, "Are the
universities' boards free to make decisions about attitudes
on Norwegian foreign policy?"

2. (SBU) PolEcon Counselor called MFA Coordinator for North
America Morten Aasland (no known relation to Minister
Aasland) November 9 to seek MFA's views on the boycott vote.
Aasland appreciated the Embassy's interest and the chance to
comment. He said the academic boycott being proposed by
"certain students and researchers at NTNU" is entirely
contrary to Norwegian government policy of freedom of
academics to choose their own connections, which is grounded
in Norwegian law. Minister Aasland's comments earlier in the
day were "precise and correct," he said. He added that
Foreign Minister Stoere shared Minister Tora Aasland's views
and had strong opinions against the boycott proposal, but
felt somewhat constrained in addressing the issue publicly as
it falls directly under Minister Aasland's responsibilities
and hits on the delicate subject of the independence of
academic institutions in Norway. The MFA feels certain the
boycott will not muster the votes to be adopted, Morten
Aasland added.

3. (SBU) Separately, the DCM had contacted Israeli DCM Aviad
Ivri November 6 to ascertain the Israeli Mission's responses
and actions to date on the threatened boycott. Ivri
responded November 10. He said the boycott proposal had been
preceded by a series of six anti-Israel lectures at NTNU,
which began in September 2009. The series, entitled
"Israel-Palestine conflict: what is research-based
knowledge?" had been supported by NTNU's Rector Torbjoern
Digernes. The Israeli Embassy in Oslo wrote a letter to
Digernes, raising objections about the series, to which the
rector chose to respond in blog postings. These postings
generated a worldwide debate "which the rector lost,"
according to Ivri. He added, "This all happened before we
discovered the coming vote (at NTNU on the proposed
boycott)." Ivri said another blogosphere debate over the
boycott has since taken place, which, he said, "the
university again lost."

4. (SBU) The Israelis raised the issue with the Norwegian
Foreign Ministry (we understand this included an approach to
the head of the Middle East section, Jorn Gjelstad), and
briefed two Norwegian newspaper editors, which Ivri said
"resulted in wonderful articles over the weekend" opposing
the boycott. Embassy Oslo notes that NTNU rector Digernes has
now come out clearly and publicly condemning the proposed
boycott being considered by the NTNU Board, both in an
interview November 3 with local Norwegian newspaper Adressa
and in comments carried Sunday November 9 as part of a full
page article condemning the boycott, written by
Culture/Debate editor of Aftenposten Knut Olav Aamas.

5. (SBU) According to Ivri, 28 professors and assistant
professors, led by NTNU Professor Bjoern Alsberg, have signed
a petition (a translated version of which can be found on the
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East website, www.spme.net)
opposing the boycott, while 34 NTNU professors signed a
petition requesting the boycott. According to media here, as
of November 9, Alsberg's petition against the boycott has
garnered wide-spread support and possibly several thousand
signatures, including from 13 Nobel laureates. An editorial
in large circulation Norwegian newspaper VG November 9
blasted the academic boycott proposal as "An Academic
Scandal." One excerpt from that editorial follows: "Thoughts
are free. When thoughts and opinions meet, that moves the
world forward. If there's one place in the world where
opinions and ideas do meet, it's Israel. Academics are often
among those who go against the grain of official Israeli
policies. Many Israeli academics call for dialogue rather

OSLO 00000705 002.2 OF 002


than confrontation to resolve conflicts in teh Middle East.
This makes it all the more absurd to boycott Israel's
thinkers."

6. (SBU) Embassy Oslo continues to follow these developments
closely and stands ready to engage further if Washington
signals any additional USG concerns we could usefully relay
to the GON.
WHITE

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