Several dozen people disrupted the Master’s graduation ceremony at the American University of Beirut (AUB) Friday evening to protest against the awarding of an honorary degree to Donna Shalala due to her support for engagement with Israel, The Daily Star reported.
Shalala, president of the University of Miami in Florida and a former U.S. secretary of health, has received three honorary degrees from Israeli universities and does not support a cultural boycott of the Jewish state.
Some 40 protesters interrupted Shalala as she began her speech, with some shouting “boycott Israel” and others holding large banner that read “Boycott Zionist Shalala.”
Other members of the audience joined in the disruption, prompting Shalala to respond, “Let us welcome this demonstration of academic freedom.”
In her keynote address later, Shalala, born in the U.S. to Lebanese parents, spoke of volunteer work that she carried out with UNRWA at a ‘Palestinian refugee’ camp in southern Lebanon, according to The Daily Star.
“Fifty years ago, my experience with Palestinians in the refugee camp seared me forever as an advocate for the people of Palestine and their statehood,” she said.
A former AUB student handing out flyers that read: “I don’t want my university to honor someone who is on a normalization quest. Beirut has a history of resisting Zionism. There is no legal or moral reason to honor her.”
Last year, former World Bank president James Wolfensohn refrained from attending a ceremony where he was scheduled to receive an honorary doctorate and deliver the keynote address following a similar campaign by students and faculty members over his links with Israel.
Following the campaign, the university administration asserted that in they would be more transparent with the nomination process for honorary degrees in the future.
One of the organizers of the campaign this year and a current student at AUB, Samar Ghanem, said that honoring Shalala was a “big blow” after last year.
“We were promised more transparency this year, and we were told they would release the names of the recipients two weeks before the ceremony,” she said.