Beirut university defends ex-World Bank chief pick

AFP , Monday 13 Jun 2011

The American University in Beirut rejects a petition to revoke its decision to honour James Wolfensohn for claims of having ties to Israeli interests in the West Bank

The American University of Beirut on Monday defended its decision to honour ex-World Bank chief James Wolfensohn, after he called off a scheduled keynote address following charges of supporting Israel.

"I believe a more accurate picture, based on facts rather than insinuations, is required," President Peter Dorman wrote in a message on the AUB website.

Dorman's message noted that Wolfensohn had initiated semi-annual meetings with Arab finance ministers upon taking office as World Bank president and had long worked for Palestinian sovereignty and a sustainable Palestinian economy.

A statement released by the university on Friday said Wolfensohn had cancelled his participation in AUB's 25 June commencement ceremony, where he was to give the keynote address but is now to be replaced by Dorman.

Wolfensohn's decision came after more than 90 faculty members signed a petition, entitled "Not in our name: AUB faculty, staff and students object to honouring James Wolfensohn."

The petition detailed what it said were Wolfensohn’s links to Israeli companies and accused him of being an investor in an Israeli company backing settlements built in the West Bank.

Wolfensohn, an Australian-born naturalised US citizen, could not be reached for comment.

The international investment banker and financial adviser served as president of the World Bank from 1995 to 2005 and is now chairman of his own firm, Wolfensohn and Company.

In past years, several artists and writers have had to cancel scheduled performances in Lebanon amid controversy over their alleged ties to Israel, which ended a 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000.

Lebanon remains technically at war with Israel and has vowed to be the last Arab country to sign a peace agreement with the Jewish state.

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