AUB Students Disrupt Honoring “Zionist” Donna Shalala at Masters Students Graduation

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? 

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27 thoughts on “AUB Students Disrupt Honoring “Zionist” Donna Shalala at Masters Students Graduation

  1. she’s a great person who certainly doesn’t deserve this, but AUB also definitely put itself in a sticky situation by honoring “a friend of israel”

    Reply
  2. You are absolutely correct in pointing out the nature of AUB as an institution, but this in fact should push you to protest more, not less. That the elements on Shalala’s CV that show her complicity with Empire and Imperial American administrations are the majority of that “20-page” document should also reveal in spades what we are talking about, which cannot be reduced simply to the “Palestinian problem”, in and of itself a political statement when coming from someone in Lebanon. Being taught in a missionary institution that is a foothold of American foreign policy on our soil, in a reduced vocabulary of a foreign language that prevents us from thinking culturally or politically in a way that would allow us degree in hand to change anything, and you see fit to shout down this group speaking Truth to Power? Seriously, where lies the shame? At long last, does anyone here have a shred of decency left?

    The answer is not in preventing such dissent, but expanding it. Demanding nothing from AUB as an institution, but removing it. Undoing mediocre private education (the best money can buy!) and replacing it with an egalitarian public education system. Removing walls that separate class-wise a university from its very community, and thinking a bit bigger than “I got mine, where’s that class ladder to climb?” Here are some starting points. And I dare say that those speaking up about Shalala have more of this in mind than those telling them to “shut up” plan on doing anything other than perpetuating the systems of unequal access to education as well as normalization with other Imperial implants such as our neighbor to the South. We have a century of living like this; change comes when change is wanted; and those who “have” are the ones with the most to answer for in terms of our current stasis.

    We might take heart from other countries in the global South who have demanded that USAID quit their territories:

    ALBA expels USAID! May it be contagious!
    http://greenresistance.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/alba-expels-usaid-may-it-be-contagious/

    And we might understand that this kind of useless argument among us only serves those who would keep us down. Yalla, how do we move forward?

    Reply
    • I absolutely agree with Daniel.
      Every single thing, no matter how small, is significant.
      Mentalities like you Elie are what always drag us backwards

      Reply
    • “Undoing mediocre private education (the best money can buy!) and replacing it with an egalitarian public education system.”
      “Being taught in a missionary institution that is a foothold of American foreign policy on our soil, in a reduced vocabulary of a foreign language that prevents us from thinking culturally or politically in a way that would allow us degree in hand to change anything,”
      ok.
      would you get a big fat reality check please. where do you live? lala land?
      lebanon is in the ditch.
      stop trying to allianate it even more and allianate the ignorant sheep minds of its people. we need the intermixing of cultures, we need education, we need freedom of speech, we need people to wake up. we want them to stop being racist and sueprior and closed upon their own groups. we dont need the state to take any more of the few education entities we have left. replace aub with a state public university? i suggest you take the first flight to syria and live by the syrian regime as an example where you could live the “lets allianate our arab ignorant selves from the rest of the world and be proud of our soil”. for crying out loud. kel el ness 3am tet2addam wo el lebneniyyi 3am ywal3o dweleeb la wara.

      Reply
    • oh and even though i dont agree with you at all with the parts about making the private public and el inghile2 3a 7elna. i dont agree with this article at all either. aub should have NOT invited a supporter of israel. period. even if it’s an american university it is still in the lebanese state.

      Reply
    • I couldn’t help shutting my brain off when the “imperialistic” word count rose to more than one.
      The entirety of this neo-Marxist attitude makes me nauseous. But what the hell, leftism ftw. Gotta be their friend. If you’re not, then you might as well go rot in a hole. Or as that other “Abdo” said, you are “owned.”
      lol

      Reply
  3. “Undoing mediocre private education (the best money can buy!) and replacing it with an egalitarian public education system.”
    “Being taught in a missionary institution that is a foothold of American foreign policy on our soil, in a reduced vocabulary of a foreign language that prevents us from thinking culturally or politically in a way that would allow us degree in hand to change anything,”
    ok.
    would you get a big fat reality check please. where do you live? lala land?
    lebanon is in the ditch.
    stop trying to allianate it even more and allianate the ignorant sheep minds of its people. we need the intermixing of cultures, we need education, we need freedom of speech, we need people to wake up. we want them to stop being racist and sueprior and closed upon their own groups. we dont need the state to take any more of the few education entities we have left. replace aub with a state public university? i suggest you take the first flight to syria and live by the syrian regime as an example where you could live the “lets allianate our arab ignorant selves from the rest of the world and be proud of our soil”. for crying out loud. kel el ness 3am tet2addam wo el lebneniyyi 3am ywal3o dweleeb la wara.

    Reply
    • AUB used to have a much more diverse student body, and had a lot more financial aid going to students from particular classes of society that aren’t there today. What happened? AUB and places like it are the alien and alienating locations in this city and country. You want diversity at AUB? Fight for this. The one percent of this country that is meant when we refer to “the Lebanese” is not valid and never was.

      If you think there is freedom of speech at AUB, then it is perhaps you who wants to take a one-way taxi to Damascus.

      I never said anything about ignorant Arabs, this is your point of view based on your education. Or is it indoctrination? My comment on language was simply meant to point out that the education system here doesn’t give anyone the ability (on purpose) to properly use any language. Whether you like it or not, this is a colonialist tactic.

      If you think it is valid, then keep speaking your pidgin English and your Romanized Arabic. Good luck with that in the world you so want to join up with. As an educator, it depresses the hell out of me. I see no difference between this and the kid in my neighborhood today who told me he doesn’t know how to read. 3an jadd haram.

      Everything you said echoes what I was implying; I’m not sure why you are insisting on disagreeing with me.

      Reply
      • I apologize if i came on too strong. I misunderstood what you were trying to say. However, the reason i got so defensive is that the attitude of the majority of lebanese people is generally: “fight the american conspiracy” and “alianate ourselves to protect our soil” and attitudes that are not exactly what pushes a modern country forward. we should be trying to open up to the world and enhance cultural mixing not racism, condesending attitudes, and violence based “beleifs” (treatment of workers, treatment of other lebanese “sects”, hatred and condesending emotions among sects, etc….). you did not say those things but this general lebanese attitude really gave me paranoia. also, i dont understand how handing over such an excellent educational institution to the state could be benificial to anybody. yes i say excellent because i only knew aub’s worth when i traveled outside lebanon. i salute your positive attitude and apologize again if i came on too strong.

        Reply
    • Lebanon is in the ditch and will always and forever more be in the ditch because of creatures like you. You speak of intermixing of culture as if our history has clearly shown us that we have always been an independent country and that this intermixing is between equals. Sorry to burst your bubble but the scales aren’t even and until they are, words like “intermixing” are completely irrelevant to this discussion. You do realize that our entire history has consisted of welcoming one empire after the other, right? The more I see people with your opinions the more I realize that the Lebanese population has the worst case of Stockholm syndrome ever imaginable. Nothing resonates louder at this moment than Gebran’s words: “Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpeting, and farewells him with hooting, only to welcome another with trumpeting again.”

      You are the perfect example of the portrait of the colonized always bowing to the almighty colonizer. You want education? Let’s get you some, then. Check out a book called “Portrait of the colonizer, portrait of the colonized” by Alfred Memmi and if you ever actually do, I hope you actually grasp how much your statements and mentality as a whole confirm his hypothesis.

      You speak of the ignorant sheep in this country and yet you act like one yourself. You think that a public education system will turn you into a belligerent ignorant? I think the one you’ve got already did that. The only reason: “el ness 3am tet2addam wo el lebneniyyi 3am ywal3o dweleeb la wara.” is because you have no knowledge or recognition for your own culture, the only valid education you see is one that has been approved by the western stamp. Modern countries have exported their knowledge and education to our part of the world and super imposed it on us —with no regards to the fact that it doesn’t fit the natural evolution of our culture— as the only accepted dominant discourse as part of imperialistic agendas. Clearly, from what I’m reading here, it worked. Not only do students not question what they’re taught but they also aggressively defend it. At this rate, this country will ALWAYS be a shithole. Mabrouk!

      Now as a response to the wonderful “author” of this blogpost and his even more wonderful supporters: Our country has suffered Israeli tyranny since 1948 and as recently as 2006 and you’d think we’d all be unified here but what do we do instead? We welcome those who support our attackers, we praise them with honorary doctorates. Have you got no self-respect????? Have you already forgotten the 1000+ deaths and 1,000,000 displaced of 2006? Have you already forgotten the two Qana massacres in 1996 and 2006? How do you expect anyone to respect Arabs if they can’t even be fucked to show respect for themselves? I was sad to see that only a handful of students showed up with a banner to protest where as in my opinion the entire campus should’ve been mobilized against this disgrace.

      Reply
      • 1- The way you approach people who do not think like you is exactly what I was talking about. Dictator minds (who cowardly hide behind some nickname) and think that highering their voice would make them heard or make their “point” more valid.
        this dictator mentality which does not read anyone or anything but your own views should not pollute people’s screens, ears, and eyes with this low level of manners, and speech.
        2- “Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpeting, and farewells him with hooting, only to welcome another with trumpeting again.” ??? That, has nothing to do with our conversation. Encouraging DIVERSITY AND ACCEPTANCE has nothing to do with these phrases you just blurt out.
        “Modern countries have exported their knowledge and education to our part of the world and super imposed it on us —with no regards to the fact that it doesn’t fit the natural evolution of our culture— as the only accepted dominant discourse as part of imperialistic agendas.”
        For crying out loud! Dont just blurt our big and general phrases like that without even understanding what the discussion is. “THEIR knowledge”? “THIER education”? you dont want THEIR knowledge or education? Well i do. i prefer to go with knowledge and education. And if you were talking about exporting their sociollogical values then that is a very different topic.
        3- Im too sleepy to have arguments with a person who lacks manners.

        Reply
  4. I think you are wrong man!
    You can simply transfer? Such a childish comment!
    The education is good but honoring zionists is crap. Mech la2ano AUB then we should thank god and shut up whatever they do no. Yes, quality education, but No f*cked up system full of shitty politics. ma tokhlot ltnen.
    Enta raye7 tetl3am aw t7arer folesten? What about you suggest we work for both sawa? Think a bit more man and don’t mix up things! Haida shi w haidak shi tene. Get proper education just don’t honor people who support someone who wants to f*ck up this country!

    Reply
  5. As a fresh graduate of AUB, I can say now from my own perspective that AUB has caused and continues to cause a large (if not the largest) social chasm in Beirut. Apart from being a bubble that acts completely against any concepts of socio-economical diversity, it implants the idea of “prestige” as a positive marker upon its students. You, as an AUB graduate, should feel better about yourself than any other person in the Middle East. This is the statement that AUB’s president kept on repeating, so your parents, the media, and even you yourself will carry this notion with you to the grave. You see, I believe you have mixed up the concepts of alienation and diversity as they are more antonyms than synonyms.

    You take assume notion that because of AUB, you are now better than the local beggar on the street, better than other working class citizens who were not prestigious enough to attend AUB, better than anyone else really. You are proud to be a graduate of AUB. Your pride is now a defining factor of your future. Your children should be as proud, should feel as privileged. After all, you have the means to have them gain such a status.

    Isolating ourselves you say? All of a sudden, being against oppression, against the support of the killing of innocents, against global segregation, and against manipulation of global media and thought is now an act of isolation? If anything is to be said against such stances, they are the only acts which entail any form of justified pride. To defend what you believe in; to never succumb to a system which neglects the needs and rights of individuals and nations alike; to have an opinion that is not one of blind support; these are what define you as an individual. These are what you should strive for everyday. If you do not, then your opinion on the matter is based on ignorance or blatant self-righteousness.

    Your defense of the private against the public is one born of socio-economic segregation. I only hope that one day there will be a body of leaders that is capable of participating in collective efforts against this mentality, a deconstruction of flawed reasoning amongst the ‘elite’. I’m skeptical that such a collective of knowledgeable yet powerful people will ever exist, but if no one tries to get their opinion through, then there will be nothing left for us but silence, ignorance, and a diploma.

    Reply
    • So students are not allowed to be proud that they were good enough to be accepted and graduate from the best university in their country just because of that would make them think they are better than everyone else.

      Gotta love your holier-than-thou attitude.

      Reply
  6. I couldn’t but laugh at some of these comments that claim to be more knowing but end up being as politically drenched as everything else.

    Reply
  7. Pingback: AUB President Responds to the Donna Shalala Honorary Degree Controversy « A Separate State of Mind | A Lebanese Blog

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