Norway's "Boycott" of Pro-Israel Speakers
I recently completed a "speaking tour" of Norwegian Universities on the topic of "international law as applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." The sponsors of the tour—a Norwegian pro-Israel group—offered to have me lecture without any charge to the three major universities in Bergen, Oslo and Trondheim. Norwegian universities, especially those outside of Oslo, tend to feel somewhat isolated from the more mainstream academic world, and they generally jump at any opportunity to invite lecturers from leading universities. Thus, when Professor Stephen Walt, co-author of The Israel Lobby—a much maligned critique of American support for Israel—came to Norway, he was immediately invited to present a lecture. Likewise, with Ilan Pappe—a strident demonizer of Israel—from Oxford. Many professors from less well-known universities have also been invited to present their anti-Israel perspectives.
My hosts expected, therefore, that their offer to have me present a somewhat different academic perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be eagerly accepted, since I have written half a dozen books on the subject presenting a centrist view in support of the two-state solution and against civilian settlements on the West Bank. Indeed, one of my books is entitled The Case For Peace, and former President Bill Clinton praised my blueprint for peace as "among the best in recent years." But each of the three universities categorically refused to invite me to give a lecture on that subject. The dean of the law faculty at Bergen University said he would be "honored" to have me present a lecture "on the O.J. Simpson case," as long as I was willing to promise not to mention Israel. The head of the Trondheim school was more direct:
"Israel and international law is a controversial and inflamed theme, which cannot be regarded as isolated and purely professional. Too much politics is invited in this."
But is it less "controversial" and "inflamed" when rabidly anti-Israel professors are invited to express their "politics?"
Apparently, a pro-Israel perspective is more controversial, inflamed and political than an anti-Israel perspective—at least at Trondheim. The University of Oslo simply said no without offering an excuse, leading one journalist to wonder whether the Norwegian universities believed that I am "not entirely house-trained."
Only once before have I been prevented from lecturing at universities in a country. The other country was Apartheid South Africa where the government insisted on "approving" the text of my proposed talks on human rights. I declined.
But despite the refusal of the faculties of Norway's three major universities to invite me to deliver lectures on Israel and international law, I delivered three lectures to packed auditoriums at each university. It turns out that the students wanted to hear me, despite their professors' efforts to keep my views from them. Student groups invited me. I came. And I received sustained applause both before and after my talks. Faculty members boycotted my talks and declined even to meet with me. I was recently told that free copies of the Norwegian translation of my book, The Case For Israel, were offered to several university libraries in Norway and that they declined to accept them.
It was then that I realized why all this was happening. At all of the Norwegian universities, there have been efforts to enact an academic and cultural boycott of Jewish Israeli academics. This boycott is directed against Israel's "occupation" of Palestinian land, but the occupation that the hundreds of signers referred to is not of the West Bank but rather of every single inch of Israel. Here is the first line of the petition: "Since 1948 the state of Israel has occupied Palestinian land…" Not surprisingly, the administrations of the universities have refused to go along with this form of academic collective punishment of all Jewish Israeli academics. So the formal demand for an academic and cultural boycott has failed. But in practice, it exists. Jewish pro-Israel speakers are subjected to a de facto boycott. Moreover, all Jews are presumed to be pro-Israel unless they have a long track record of anti-Israel rhetoric.
Read the words of the first signer of the academic boycott petition—an assistant professor of Trondheim named Trond Andresen as he writes about the "Jews"—not the Israelis!
"There is something immensely self-satisfied and self-centered at the tribal mentality that is so prevalent among Jews. [Not] only the religious but also a large proportion of the large secular group consider their own ethnic group as worth more than all other ethnic groups. [Jews] as a whole, are characterized by this mentality…it is no less legitimate to say such a thing about Jews in 2008-2009 than it was to make the same point about the Germans around 1938. [There is] a red carpet for the Jewish community…and a new round of squeezing and distorting the influence of the quite dry Holocaust lemon…."
This line of talk—directed at Jews not Israel or Israelis—is apparently acceptable among many in the elite of Norway. Consider former Prime Minister Kare Willock's reaction to President Obama's selection of Rahm Emanuel as his first Chief of Staff:
"It does not look too promising, he has chosen a chief of staff who is Jewish, and it is a matter of fact that many Americans look to the Bible rather than to the realities of today...."
Willock, of course, did not know anything about Emanuel's views. He based his criticism on the sole fact that Emanuel is a Jew.
All Jews are apparently the same in this country that has done everything in its power to make life in Norway nearly impossible for Jews. Norway was apparently the first modern nation to prohibit the production of Kosher meat, while at the same time permitting Halal meat and encouraging the slaughter of seals, whales and other animals that are protected by international treaties. No wonder less than 1000 Jews live in Norway. No wonder the leader of the tiny and frightened Jewish community didn't get around to meet me during my visit to his country. (The Chabad rabbi did reach out to me and I had a wonderful visit with a group of Norwegian Jews at the Chabad house.) It reminded me of my visits to the Soviet Union in the bad old days.
The current foreign minister of Norway recently wrote an article in the New York Review of Books, justifying his contacts with Hamas, a terrorist group that demands the destruction of Israel. He said that the essential philosophy of Norway has always been to encourage "dialogue." But I'm afraid that that dialogue in Norway these days is entirely one-sided. Hamas and its supporters are invited into the dialogue, but supporters of Israel are excluded by an implicit, yet very real, boycott against pro-Israel views.
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