In a move which Foreign Ministry sources defined as "unusual," Israel's embassy in Norway has officially protested the launch of a high profile academic seminar there delivered exclusively by lecturers known for their highly critical views of Israel.
Israel's Foreign Minister last week described Norway's attitude toward Israel as "hostile."
"We were saddened to learn that a biased and one-sided seminar on Israel is taking place at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim," Deputy Chief of Mission of the Israeli Embassy in Oslo, Aviad Ivri, wrote last month to the institution's dean.
The seminar, whose first session took place last month, includes lectures by Ilan Pappe, who accuses Israel of perpetrating an "ethnic cleansing of Palestine" and by Stephen Walt, the coauthor of a controversial study on the effect of the Israel-lobby on U.S. policy. It has been described by prominent scholars as anti-Semitic.
Other speakers invited by NTNU Dean Torbjorn Digernes include Moshe Zuckermann, who in a January interview for Deutschlandradio - a widely-heard German program - said that operation Cast Lead cost hundreds of thousands of Gazan lives.
The members of the seminar's organizing committee - Morten Levin, Ann Rudinow Saetnan and Rune Skarstein - have all signed a call for an academic boycott of Israel. They also brought a few Norwegian speakers, famous for their critical view of Israel.
"There's no one on the panel with a neutral view of Israel, let alone anyone to advocate its position," a source from the Foreign Ministry said. "Usually we do not get involved with academic forums of this sort because it's a freedom-of-expression issue, but this all-star team of Israel-haters crosses a line," the diplomat added.
"The overwhelming majority [of Israeli academics] oppose Pappe and Zuckerman and are rarely if ever found in seminars in Norway," Ivri wrote.
Morten Levin from NTNU - a state-funded institution - replied to Haaretz's query on the allegations by saying the objective of the lectures is to "communicate to a broad audience a deeper research-based understanding" of the situation.
"This requires a critical and careful scrutiny based on standard scientific methods," he added. "Neither the Israeli state nor the Palestinian authority or Hamas will be defended. None of the lecturers will question the right of the Israeli state to exist."
Responding to speculations by pro-Israeli scholars that the seminars will be a prelude to a call on NTNU to boycott Israel, Levin said: "The organizing committee of the lecture series has no formal connection whatsoever to the organization working for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions."
The university's dean - who has called the seminar "praiseworthy" - did not reply to Haaretz's request to interview him.
Tammi Benjamin, an American university lecturer from California, has called on NTNU Dean Digernes "to profoundly apologize to his students for misleading them and for supporting known hate mongers against the Jewish state." Ronnie Fraser, a veteran U.K. activist against academic boycotts of Israel, has called on Digernes to resign.
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