BEIRUT: James Wolfensohn, the former World Bank president, has pulled out of the commencement due to honor him at the American University of Beirut following a petition from students and faculty members over his links to an Israeli think tank and businesses..
An email sent from the office of AUB president John Dorman to AUB staff and students Friday said Wolfensohn, who was set to give the keynote speech at the ceremony honoring him and five others later this month, had decided not to attend “out of concern that his presence … would distract from the celebratory nature of the event.”
The email gave no indication whether Wolfensohn would still be receiving an honorary degree.
A petition began circulating Monday in protest at the university’s decision to grant Wolfensohn an honorary degree. By Thursday it had garnered signatures of 95 faculty members. Its organizers said “hundreds” of students had also signed the petition.
The petition called on the university to retract its decision based on links between Wolfensohn’s business, Wolfensohn and Company, and Better Place, a company that it says “intends to build infrastructure to serve Israeli settlers in the World Bank,” and his membership of the Israel Democracy Institute, an Israeli think tank, which, according to its website, “devises ways to strengthen the moral and structural foundations of Israeli democracy.” It also objects to Wolfensohn’s presidency of the World Bank between 1995 and 2005.
The petition said the decision to grant Wolfensohn an honorary degree “symbolically undermines AUB’s legacy in the struggle for social justice and its historical connection to Beirut, to Palestine and beyond.”
AUB was expected to issue a statement later in the day.
The commencement speech will now be given by Dorman, according to the email.