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Ann Rudinow Sætnan: An open letter in response to numerous media inquiries (12.11.09, 08:53)

Det har som kjent vært mange mediehenvendelser i det siste, både om boikottinitiativet og om foredragsserien. Tre henvendelser har vært rettet til meg. I går var det Adressa, men jeg var på vei inn i et møte og hadde ikke tid til å svare. Tusen takk til Per Egil Mjaavatn som de senere fikk tak i og som tok seg tid til å svare dem! Jeg vedlegger mitt svar til en amerikansk journalist som spurte følgende:

From: Scott Jaschik []

Sent: Saturday, November 07, 2009 11:35 PM

To: Ann Rudinow Sætnan

Subject: seeking information on boycott vote

Professor Saetnan:

I am writing about the boycott vote coming up at your university (on ties to Israeli academe). Many American groups are condemning the vote, and your name turns up in some articles in reference to those supporting the move -- is there a Web site with information about what supporters of the boycott at your university are saying? What are your views on this?

Thank you.


Mitt svar:
Dear Mr. Jaschik,

I'm sorry it's taken me so long to reply. This week is hair-raisingly busy, I'm afraid. Still, I assume you need a response before Thursday, when the NTNU council will have this issue on its agenda. After that, the journalistic value will deflate rather rapidly. So I'll try to respond in the few minutes I have this morning:

Yes, there is a lot of information on the Web, including quite a bit of discussion in the local newspaper (Adresseavisen) this morning. But pretty much all of this Web-based discussion is in Norwegian. I don't have time to translate, but I can give you my own personal views, speaking for no one but myself:

Months ago, when I signed a petition calling for a boycott of Israeli institutions, I saw this as a modest symbolic gesture, the least I could do in the face of the outrages the Israeli government was perpetrating at the time. Furthermore, given the way that the current Israeli government conflates Judaism with Zionism with Israeli policies (a conflation also invoked in the negative by conflating any critique of Israeli policies with anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism), they were perpetrating those outrages in my name as well. I could not remain silent and passive because to do so would be to make myself, as a Jew, complicit in those outrages. So I signed the petition and I also agreed to help two other colleagues to arrange a "teach-in" seminar series on the Israel-Palestine conflict. The two initiatives are organizationally quite separate, and at the time I saw both as rather feeble gestures.

In light of official Israeli and unofficial pro-Zionist response to these gestures, I now wonder whether these gestures were as feeble as I then imagined. I have heard, but have not done any historical research to check the claim, that it is pretty much unprecedented for an ambassador and a foreign minister to attempt to intervene in a lecture series arranged by a university in another country. I myself have certainly come out with potentially controversial standpoints on other issues without anything like this level of "noise" in response. And one of the "noisy" claims lately has been that we three - Professors Morten Levin, Rune Skarstein and myself - have arranged the lecture series precisely to give a boost to the boycott proposal. This conflation, like the conflation of Judaism with Zionism with Israeli policies, is patently ridiculous: All three of the invited lecturers who have spoken so far have explicitly opposed the boycott proposal. But the conflation and the "noise" do make me wonder whether those who took the initiative for a boycott aren't onto something. Perhaps a boycott would be more influential than even they imagined. Certainly we are seeing that the Israeli government is aware of the proposal and sensitive to it. So maybe it would be more effective than even we who have signed the petition initially hoped. Nevertheless, I fear that the proposal will not pass in Thursday's council meeting.

The lecture series, however, continues to be well-attended. The lectures have been fascinating, illuminating diverse aspects of the conflict, and the discussions after each lecture have been broad-based and civil. In that spirit, I would like to end by saying just a few words about why I see Israel's current policies and acts of war as an outrage:

As a Jew, as someone who lost almost all my grandparents' siblings and their families in the Holocaust, I took a very different lesson from that history than the one I see enacted by Israel today. I think the Reverend Martin Niemöller and the Norwegian poet Arnulf Øverland got it right. Niemöller's poem is well known (in various versions): "First they came for the [fill in category here] and I did not speak out because I was not a [repeat category here]." Øverland's poem is equally well known to Norwegians. I don't know of a translation so I'll attempt to translate the key couplet on my own: "Thou shalt not tolerate so complacently the injustice that strikes others and not yourself." Apologies for my poor translation; the original Norwegian has a very moving rhythm and rhyme - "Du skal ikke tåle så inderlig vel, den urett som ikke rammer deg selv." At the moment, I am filling in Niemöller's implied blanks with categories such as Palestinians, abortionists, homosexuals, and so on. There are many categories of people being discriminated against, some even to the ultimate point of mass killings. At the moment, Jews are not among them. At the moment I belong only to privileged categories. But if I "tolerate so complacently" the outrages being perpetrated against others, then sooner or later I will find myself assigned to some category singled out for similar treatment. That is the lesson I take from the Holocaust, and that is why I cannot stand by silently as Israel bombs Gaza to pieces, or for that matter starves Gaza slowly. Nor can I accept that my standpoint is anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist or even anti-Israeli. I am critical of current Israeli policies, yes. In my view, those policies will prove suicidal. In my view, it would be better for Israel, for the Zionist vision, and for Jews (remembering here that I do NOT equate these three!) if Israel were to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza, pull out the settlements or leave them to their own devices, and work on developing good neighborly relations with a viable Palestinian state.

If you have any further questions, do not hesitate to contact me, even though it may take me some time to respond.

Ann Rudinow Saetnan

Brynjulf Owren: Tidskrifter og papirforbruk (19.1 2010)
Ivar A. Bjørgen: Retten til arbeid. Tanker omkring Brevik-saken (15.1 2010)
Rigmor Austgulen: Morsmelk – over og ut? (13.1 2010)
Soilikki Vettenranta: JULEGAVE MED BISMAK (30.12 2009)
Odd W. Andersen: Smelting i Antarktis (21.12 2009)
Berit Kjeldstad og Mads Nygård: ”Mens vi venter på NTNU” (15.12 2009)
Greta Aune Jotun: Jøder og arabere, hvem okkuperer hva? (10.12 2009)
Bjørn K Alsberg: Å koke suppe på en spiker (10.12 2009)
  Allan Krill: For mappa mi (14.12 2009)
Per Carlsen: Læresteder i klemme (7.12 2009)
  Bjørnar T Kvernevik: Svar: Læresteder i klemme (9.12 2009)
Odd W. Andersen: Saltkraftverk (30.11 2009)