James Wolfensohn, former World Bank president, has pulled out of the commencement due to honor him at the American University of Beirut following a petition from students and faculty members over his links to an Israeli think tank and businesses.
An email sent from the office of AUB president John Dorman to staff and students Friday said Wolfensohn, who was set to give the keynote speech at the ceremony awarding him and five other honorary doctorates later this month, had decided not to attend “out of concern that his presence … would distract from the celebratory nature of the event.”
Wolfensohn also served as Middle East Peace Envoy of the Quartet, a position now held by Tony Blair. The report adds:
The petition 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.
It was The Electronic Intifada which first revealed in a May 2010 investigative report that Wolfensohn’s private investment firm owned part of the Israel-based company Better Place. In an article headlined, “Quartet ex-envoy’s investment helps Israel greenwash settlements,” we reported:
Former World Bank president and Middle East Quartet envoy James D. Wolfensohn is an investor in an Israeli company that is developing transport infrastructure for Jewish-only settlements built in the occupied West Bank in violation of international law, an investigation by The Electronic Intifada reveals.
Wolfensohn provided some of the start-up capital for Better Place, a company founded by Israeli entrepreneur Shai Agassi. The company owns and operates Better Place Israel (BPI), a division which is establishing a system of charging stations for electric vehicles throughout Israel and for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank.
Read the full report.