BEIRUT: AUB president Peter Dorman said a campaign which led former World Bank chief James Wolfensohn to pull out of a keynote speech at a ceremony due to grant him an honorary degree was "fundamentally dishonest."
In an email sent to American University of Beirut staff and students Saturday, Dorman wrote that the campaign, which garnered signatures of at least 95 faculty members and asked that the university revoke its decision to grant Wolfensohn an honorary doctorate over his links to Israeli business and an Israeli think tank, was "highly selective in the information it provides" and had been unfairly critical of Wolfensohn.
“AUB is not well served by petitions that are deliberately slanted to serve narrow interests regardless of facts,” Dorman wrote. “Co-opting the opinions of fellow faculty, students, and alumni by a pretext of authority, such campaigns are fundamentally dishonest and diverge from our university’s commitment to the pursuit of knowledge.”
In the email, Dorman details “Wolfensohn’s long and devoted record of work on behalf of the Arab world,” which he says has been ignored by the campaign and the media, including his opposition to U.S. policies in Palestine after Hamas won elections in 2006, and a 2007 award he received from the Palestinian Authority for his work to rebuild Gaza.
The petition, which began circulating last Monday, 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,” citing his links with Better Place, a company that it says “intends to build infrastructure to serve Israeli settlers in the West Bank,” and his membership on the International Advisory Council of Israeli think tank The Israel Democracy Institute.
Wolfensohn, who served as head of the World Bank between 1995 and 2006 and Quartet envoy to Gaza between 2005 and 2006, pulled out of the ceremony Friday, “out of concern that his presence … would distract from the celebratory nature of the event,” according to an email sent by Dorman’s office.