AUB: Do Not Defend a Whitewasher of Israeli Crimes
It is with deep regret that the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) learned of the American University of Beirut’s (AUB) decision to honor Sir James Wolfensohn at this year’s commencement. It was with even greater disappointment that we read AUB President Peter Dorman’s letter to faculty, students, staff and alumni dated 11 June 2011 . In that letter, Dorman levels accusations at his own university community as he explains the university position regarding the cancellation of Wolfensohn’s appearance at commencement and, therefore, Wolfensohn’s inability to receive the honorary degree.
As a campaign, we normally defer to our local partners to handle internal debates as we always feel they are in the best position to do so. However, in this case, PACBI believes that the strong ties and wide common denominator between Palestinians and Lebanese in the struggle against Israel’s occupation and decades-old violations of international law and our respective people’s rights invite such an intervention from us. Our AUB colleagues and supporters, as well as Palestinian AUB Alumni have also asked us to get involved, as this case clearly has the potential to undermine our persistent and increasingly growing work for Palestinian rights. Thus, when the AUB president, representing the institution, came out in his June 11 letter attacking his own community and the Lebanese community at large, we felt it important to weigh on this issue in support of our Lebanese and Palestinian colleagues and partners in Lebanon fighting for justice on all our behalf. Moreover, the obvious misrepresentation of Wolfensohn’s role in Palestine and his explicit connections with Israeli institutions required a response on our part.
The long statement by Dorman failed to address the grievances raised in the AUB community or to refute claims made in the faculty and alumni petitions directed against honoring Wolfensohn. Instead, in an unfortunate misreading of the severity of the situation, Dorman tries to cover for Wolfensohn’s investments and partnerships in an Israeli company , as well as for his advisory relations on the board of the Israel Democracy Institute , an Israeli institution complicit in Israel’s violations of international law against the Palestinian and Lebanese people. Dorman does this by accusing the petitioners of selecting parts of Wolfensohn’s biography and then trying to correct it with a “more accurate picture.” Dorman’s patronizing defense ignores the fact that it does not matter if Wolfensohn has other records; it does not matter also that he is a loving father or humble person; what matters is his relation with Israeli institutions, economic and otherwise, that are in active violation of international law and human rights. The rest of his resume, in this light, becomes far less relevant.
What is more unfortunate is that the AUB administration misses the irony that its own statement makes Wolfensohn come out to be even less deserving of an honorable mention. Dorman presents Wolfensohn as being a friend of the “Arabs” but all he could furnish was a record of dealings with tyrannical Arab regimes, which are the same regimes that overwhelming majorities in the Arab world are courageously struggling to topple. What message is Dorman trying to send by citing this record and relying on a Prize for Excellence and Creativity bestowed by the Palestinian Authority? Since when has the PA -- chained by the Oslo Accords and lacking any sovereignty or power -- been regarded in Lebanon or anywhere else as the benchmark for wisdom and ethical consistency or as the reference for deciding who or what can be honored for serving humanity? It seems that Dorman and the AUB administration have not yet adequately adapted to the Arab Spring era.
Dorman’s letter also mentions Wolfensohn’s role in the Gaza disengagement as a sign of noble accomplishment; but here, again, the letter is simply highlighting the man’s willingness to serve as a tool in the implementation of an Israeli unilateral decision that was billed as Israeli goodwill. Moreover, the letter calls on Lebanese to uncritically accept the legitimacy and decisions of the Quartet as evidence of Wolfensohn’s good record. Dorman continues by focusing on several comments Wolfensohn made over the years in relation to the Palestinian cause to draw attention to why he was to be honored. These comments are meant to implicitly overshadow Wolfensohn’s collusion with Israeli institutions complicit in grave violations of international law. But have we seriously arrived at such a low point that we are ready to honor people for making the most basic and obvious statements in support of human rights and against clear internationally recognized violations of the Palestinian people? Such honor sets the standard of ethical positions so low that it may actually encourage the status quo.
The letter also elaborates on Wolfensohn’s comments and positions specifically objecting to policies during the Bush presidency. However, Wolfensohn’s disagreement should be seen within a larger context where many European figures also took issue with these policies, where it was practically a mainstream position to speak out against Bush, and where Wolfensohn harmonized the World Bank policies in Iraq with Bush’s hegemonic agenda. Regardless, one is left struggling to understand how this can possibly exempt Wolfensohn from accountability for his sinister role in whitewashing Israel’s oppression and crimes.
In light of the impressive growth of the Palestinian-led, global campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, and in view of people and institutions around the world standing in solidarity with Palestinians against Israel’s ongoing occupation, colonialism and apartheid, it becomes disgraceful when an institution in Lebanon chooses to undermine our civil struggle for freedom, justice and equality. We thus call on President Peter Dorman and the AUB administration to retract its apologetic statements in defense of Wolfensohn. People in the Arab world need no such “friends”!
 Wolfensohn continues to be Chairman and CEO of Wolfensohn and Company, which is a partner of Better Place as documented here: 10.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt">http://www.betterplace.com/the-company-partners