Boycott Israel? Norwegian University Must Decide

Later this month, Norway's second largest university, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), will consider a proposed boycott of Israel.

The university's board of directors is expected to vote on an appeal by several employees calling for a boycott of "the educational, research and cultural institutions of Israel and their representatives, regardless of religion or nationality."

Why the call for the boycott? The appeal's first sentence says it all: "Since 1948, the state of Israel has occupied Palestinian land and denied the Palestinians basic human rights." The boycott should continue until there "is an end to the occupation."

It goes on to accuse Israeli academics, among other alleged misdeeds, of developing "Zionist ideology and renouncing Palestinian history and identity."

There you have it. Israel is deemed illegal. It has no right to exist. Until it disappears from the face of the earth, it must be treated as a pariah nation, so radioactive as to be untouchable.

Well, as least the petitioners are being honest.

More often, we're treated to deliberately vague slogans such as "end the occupation," without any specificity. Do these calls refer to 1948, the year of Israel's establishment, or 1967, the year Israel fought a war of self-defense and, in winning, acquired territory it then expected to trade for a peace agreement? It can be hard, if not impossible, to tell.

Of all the nations in the world, according to these Norwegian luminaries, only Israel has no legitimacy and must be ostracized.

Obviously, the ancient Hebrew presence, the continuous link between the Jewish people and the land, the Balfour Declaration, the League of Nations mandate, and the votes of the UN Special Committee on Palestine and the UN General Assembly have no bearing, though they provide a legal and historical foundation for statehood far exceeding that of many countries.

In reality, if the petitioners were truly concerned about sovereign legitimacy, they might begin by asking how many countries in the world today were established by violent conquest. And how many were created by politicians in distant capitals dispassionately drawing and redrawing boundaries in far-off lands?

The list would be a rather long one and, incidentally, would include any number of Arab countries. (For instance, the indigenous people of North Africa were not Arab, yet today the countries of the Maghreb are all referred to as Arab, following invasion and occupation.)

The petitioners' appeal also assails Israel for creating a climate of fear and harassment at the "eleven Palestinian universities in Gaza and the West Bank."

Not surprisingly, no mention is made of the fact that there were no universities whatsoever in Gaza or the West Bank before 1967. They all emerged after Israeli rule.

And there's no reference to what took place in the West Bank and Gaza before 1967. It's as if it were a historical black hole, even if it shouldn't be for those who claim concern for "Palestinian history and identity."

The West Bank was in Jordanian, not Israeli, hands. Indeed, Jordan formally annexed the territory. Gaza was under Egyptian military rule.

No one spoke of a Palestinian state, though the Arab world had the power to create one at the time. And no one in Amman or Cairo had any interest in fostering a sense of "Palestinian history and identity," except as a weapon to be used against Israel, whose destruction they sought.

But surely none of this concerns the Norwegian signatories to the boycott appeal. It's all just a diversion from the one issue at hand. Theirs is a singular preoccupation with Israel. Nothing else matters.

If the petitioners were genuinely concerned about human rights, of course, they would appeal to NTNU - an institution with a proud international character and hundreds of cooperative agreements with universities around the world - to boycott serial violators of basic liberties, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

For some reason, most likely to be found in the deep recesses of the human mind, the rights of Iranians, North Koreans, Burmese, Cubans, Darfuris, Zimbabweans, and others just don't have the same cachet for those single-mindedly focused on Israel.

To the petitioners, that Israel is consistently rated by Freedom House as far more democratic than its neighbors has no bearing. That the American Association of University Professors, in response to the Norwegian boycott move, noted that "Israel has the best record of supporting academic freedom of any country in the area," falls on deaf ears. That Israel alone in its region doesn't have capital punishment means not a whit. That Israel faces enemies who would destroy it clearly has no claim on their conscience. And that Israel's Arab population has continued to grow, even as the Jewish population in neighboring Arab countries was compelled to flee, evokes at best a yawn.

I hope the university's board of directors will do the right thing on November 12.

Whether or not each member of the board loves Israel, or approves of every Israeli action, isn't the issue.

The board should reject the appeal because of its naked politicization and bias, which should have no place in an academic institution like NTNU.

But I also hope the petitioners will have the courage of consistency. If they want a boycott of Israel, then they should lead by example.

If any of them or their families suffers from multiple sclerosis, let them refuse to take Copaxone.

If they have Parkinson's disease, stop the Azilect.

If they need an endoscopy, make sure the doctor doesn't use the PillCam, the ingestible video capsule to evaluate gastrointestinal ailments.

If they use a computer, check first that it doesn't have Israeli technology developed for Intel.

And they shouldn't dare go near their cell phones, which are filled with Israeli innovations.

In fact, Israel ranks in the top twenty nations in the world for patent filings, so the petitioners will need to be extremely vigilant.

And since four Israeli universities are ranked among the top two hundred in the world (Norway has one on the list, and it's not NTNU), with especially high ratings in science, medicine, and technology, the petitioners will have to be very busy watching out for any Israeli "intrusion" into their lives.

But, hey, all this constant attention will have at least one redeeming feature for the petitioners. It'll keep them from grappling with the real complexities on the ground in the Middle East. How much easier it must be for them to cling to their airtight narrative of hatred of Israel.