Sarah Boesveld, Nov 15, 2012, National Post
Queen’s University is facing a backlash from Jewish alumni over its decision to award former U.S. president Jimmy Carter — a strong critic of Israel — an honourary degree next week.
Shimon Fogel, chief executive of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said his organization has received about 50 “angry and frustrated inquiries” over the past month from graduates of the respected Canadian university, worried their school will be tarnished by Mr. Carter’s view of Israel as an apartheid state and his controversial relationships in the Arab world.
“It’s just a huge lightning rod for distress and disappointment,” Mr. Fogel said. “He simply doesn’t meet the test of somebody that is seeking to offer a constructive contribution towards advancing peace. And it’s in that context that we’d express real disappointment that a leading institution like Queen’s would further legitimize or validate him by conferring on him this kind of award.”
The 88-year-old former president and his wife are expected to attend Queen’s convocation in Kingston next Wednesday to accept the degrees honouring “their philanthropic and advocacy work in areas such as housing and mental health,” according to a statement from Queen’s principal Daniel Woolf on the university’s website. It will be Mr. Carter’s first honourary degree from a Canadian university.
Shimon Fogel, president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, says his organization has received about 50 calls from university alumni who worry their school will be tarnished by Jimmy Carter’s view of Israel as an apartheid state.
“They are wonderful examples of the same qualities that characterize the Queen’s spirit, and I’m sure their presence at convocation will be a memorable experience for everyone,” Mr. Woolf said.
And while the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who served as president from 1977 to 1981, has indeed been a champion of human rights through his not-for-profit Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity, Jewish North Americans have bristled at his positions on Israel.
In his 2006 book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Mr. Carter characterizes Israel as an apartheid state. He has also repeatedly said Israel has no interest in a two-state solution, Mr. Fogel said, and his comments and interventions supporting “Israel’s detractors” attempt to “isolate and delegitimize Israel” as the region’s only democracy.
“When it comes from somebody in the Arab world, it’s not met with any surprise,” Mr. Fogel said. “When it comes from and is articulated by somebody who is the leader of, in effect, the lead country in the democratic world, it has an entirely different impact.”
Lars Hagberg for PostMedia News Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., is honouring Jimmy Carter’s philanthropic and advocacy work in such areas as housing and mental health, according to a statement from Queen’s principal Daniel Woolf on the university’s website.
While he’s sure Queen’s fully intended to honour Mr. Carter for his human rights work alone, Mr. Fogel said the school “failed to do their due diligence that would have flagged [his views on Israel] as problematic.”
Michael Shafron, who graduated from Queen’s with an MBA in 1987, said he had a “freakout moment” when he received an alumni email bearing the news. The Atlanta, Ga., resident wrote a letter to Queen’s chancellor David Dodge
The portion that I find so detestable, are his blatant anti-Israel/anti-Semitic positions
“The area of his life that I find so egregious, the portion that I find so detestable, are his blatant anti-Israel/anti-Semitic positions he has staked out since leaving the presidency,” Mr. Shafron wrote.
He then forwarded the letter to Mr. Woolf, who responded, in part, by saying: “While I regret that the committee’s decision displeases you, it is a broad-based committee whose work we value and whose choices we support.”
Mr. Woolf said the university will continue to give honourary degrees to people of many different political and ideological stripes and base its decision on the significant work that the recipient has done for the good of others.
Requests for comment from Mr. Woolf and the Carter Center yielded no response Thursday night.