Because an AUB graduation wouldn’t be the same without a mini-scandal on the side, this year refused to be any different. Donna Shalala, former US secretary of health, was making a speech accepting the honorary degree which AUB awarded her when some students started to boo her and chant against “zionist Shalala.”
You can read the details here. There’s also a short video that shows some of what happened:
Shalala has a 20 pages CV. Some of what she has accomplished, apart from becoming the first ever Lebanese-American to hold such a high ranking position in an American government, is the following:
- She is the president of the University of Miami.
- She was named one of the United States’ best leaders by many publications, one of which is News & World Report.
- Former president George Bush handpicked Shalala to co-chair with Senator Bob Dole the Commission on Care for Returning Wounded Warriors.
- President Bush presented Shalala in 2008 with the highest honor an American citizen can get: the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
- In 2010, she received the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights.
But all of this is not enough for us, as Lebanese, to be proud of Shalala apparently. There are other “things” on her CV which some deem shameful enough to cause a ruckus. Why are some calling Shalala a “zionist”?
- She has three honorary degrees, among the few dozens that she has, from Israeli Universities.
- She doesn’t ask to boycott Israel. In fact, she opposes the Boycott Israel movements.
- She signed agreements between the University of Miami and the University of Ben Gurion in Israel.
Never mind that she has declared that “[her] experience with Palestinians in the refugee camp seared me forever as an advocate for the people of Palestine and their statehood.”
Al-Akhbar, in typical super-biased fashion, wrote a “glorious” article titled: Beirut Honors a Friend of Israel, Again.
An AUB student was heard saying “I don’t want my university to honor someone who is on a normalization quest.”
I have to ask him/her something. You do know you are attending the AMERICAN University of Beirut, right? You do know that most of the funding AUB gets is from the AMERICAN government? You only need to take a stroll around the biology department to see USAID stickers plastered everywhere in case you have doubt.
Do you also know that your university presidents, all of whom are Americans, probably support normalization? For all matters and purposes, your place is not AUB if you are so deeply offended by this.
I’ve heard some AUB students say: “this makes me ashamed to be an AUB student.” You know what, I’ve got a very simple solution for you. If you believe the entirety of your academic career rests on who your university awards with a degree that person probably has thirty other ones just like it, you can simply transfer.
As students booed her, Shalala replied: “Let us welcome this demonstration of academic freedom.” Perhaps a dose of the idea of freedom of thought is what some students (and newspapers) need, regardless of whether you agree with those thoughts or not. We’re slowly getting to a point in Lebanon where we’ll refuse to welcome an American just because they may or may not support Israel.
Sure, we all support the struggle of Palestinians but what does shouting at a graduation ceremony accomplish? Nothing.
To sum this up, not everyone who supports Israel is a Zionist and before someone decides to consider me one, no I do not support Israel. As a former AUB student, I’m proud to have received the best education my parents could afford me in Lebanon. And as current AUB students, some of whom were shouting at Shalala, you should know that you are attending AUB because it is the best university in Lebanon and because this is the best education you can get in order to build a future for yourself. Stop getting carried away in useless shouting rows. You want to help Palestine? How about you become a successful individual first and then advocate it at other places than a graduation ceremony where many, many students don’t even agree with what you did?
Enta raye7 tet3allam aw raye7 t7arrer felestin?