NTNU, a prestigious Norwegian university, is this autumn offering a series of seminars on the Middle East. Seeing as how it’s NTNU one would normally expect only the best. Yet the series of seminars as a whole appears rather unbalanced. Clearly we will hear the Palestinian narrative, but who is there to provide the audience with Israel’s perspective? The fact that Ilan Pappe is jewish is certainly no guarantee.
Seminar 1: Violations of international law, humanitarian rights and the Geneve convention in the wars of the Middle East? By senior researcher Cecilie Hellestveit, Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo.
Readers of this blog are familiar with Cecilie Hellestveit from back in February 2009, when Islamic cleric Yusuf-al-Qaradawi of the European Fatwa Council was translated in Aftenposten as having said the following:
Throughout history Allah has sent people against the jews in order to chastise them for their corruption. The last chastisement was implemented by Hitler. By all what he did to them, even if they have exaggerated this matter, he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them. By the will of Allah, next time this will happen by the hands of the faithful.
Cecilie Hellestveit disagreed with Aftenposten’s translation. In an article in Morgenbladet the following week, she claimed that Qaradawi’s statements had been interpreted “out of context” and that read properly, Qaradawi’s statement “...is clearly rehtorically closer to JFK’s Ich bin ein berliner than with Hitler’s Der ewige Jude“. While translations often will be contested, and rightly so, the difference between Aftenposten’s and Hellestveit’s interpreations is vast and certainly ought to be examined more thoroughly. In a letter to the following edition of Morgenbladet, this is what psychologist Ragnar Kværness does, asking: “What makes a peace researcher – attached to Center for Human Rights – attempt to make hateful extremists such as Qaradawi into what she calls “wise old men in wheelchairs“? While this one incident certainly does not make Cecilie Hellestveit unfit to speak at an NTNU seminar, it does make it obvious that her presence needs to be balanced by the presence of speakers who are less accommodating of Israel’s enemies.
Seminar 4: Ethnic cleansing of Palestine – a premise for the construction of Israel? By Professor Ilan Pappé, University of Exeter.
Ilan Pappe is increasingly popular in Norway, as we noted in this post. Yet his perspectives on the war of 1948 are hugely contested, not least by Israeli historian Benny Morris who is internationally recognized as being one of the leading authorities on the refugee crisis of 1948. The difference between the two is basically that while Mr. Pappe regards the Naqba as the direct consequence of a willed and planned ethnic cleansing which the Arab states attacked in order to stop, Mr. Morris sees the Naqba as the unintended consequence of an arab war of aggression. These two different interpretations of the same event set the state of Israel in two vastly different roles. In selecting Ilan Pappe as a speaker NTNU is providing one of the interpretations with legitimacy, while completely disregarding the other. How is this justifiable?
Seminar 5: Norway’s role in the Israeli – Palestinian conflict Wednesday 2nd. Professor Hilde Henriksen Waage, University of Oslo
Professor Waage is the person who in Aftenposten on March 30th claimed that “For a long time something similar to a smear campaign has been conducted against Norway as the most anti-Semitic country in Europe“. This claim was made after the Jerusalem Post had published an erroneous article on anti-Semitism in Norway which claimed, among other, that Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen had participated in a march on January 8th where she had cried “Death to the jews“. While this erroneous article indeed placed Norway in a bad light, one article alone does not a smear campaign make. Yet Professor Waage had no other evidence to exhibit, nor was she called upon to do so. If Professor Waage can make one single article into an entire “smear campaign”, can she be trusted to give a balance view of the complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflicts? (More on Professor Waage)
Seminar 6: One state, two states or federation – solutions to the conflict in the Middle East? Director Nils Butenschøn, Norwegian Center for Human Rights, University of Oslo.
When Nils Butenschøn ran for leadership of Palfront in 1976, he did so with the intention and strategy of winning “entire parties and organizations for Palestine” (here). In the words of Tarje Vågstøl’s dissertation on the history of the Palestine Movement in Norway: “The strategy was to start “at the left” with NKP (Communist Party of Norway) and SV (Socialist Left), and then move towards the union movment and Arbeiderpartiet (Labor)“. Vågstøl also narrates how Mr. Butenschøn laundered money for the PLO, telling of “...an intricate system which involved suitcases filled with thousand-kroner notes, all so the money could not be traced to the PLO“. Mr. Butenschøn furthermore arranged a meeting between the PLO and the Black Panthers.
Regarding the exact topic of Mr. Butenschøn’s NTNU seminar: “One state, two states, or federation“, his stance is exactly what it was when he introduced it to Norges Unge Venstre – a replication of that of Arbeiderpartiets Ungdoms Fylking’s (Labor Youth Wing) “… a progressive Palestinian state where all ethnic groups can live side by side under full equality“. While Mr. Butenschøn has every right in the world to his views on how Israel should solve her problems, it must be evident from his personal history that he is a dedicated defender of the Palestinian cause more than an objective academic.
NTNU presents the seminars with the following words: “It is difficult to fashion a consistent, well funded and coherent understanding of the field (The ME conflicts). Media will never be the venue for deep thought and research-based deliberation. Thorough contemplation is something the universities must assume responsibility for. This is a contribution from NTNU”.
If NTNU seriously can present the above mentioned as speakers for a balanced seminar-series, we would very much like to see how a Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel seminar-series would look like. NTNU’s rector Torbjørn Digernes is well advised to have a closer look at what passes for “research-based” at his university.