Anti-Israel group protests speaker at George Mason


While the director of George Mason University Hillel is excited that his university will be honoring the businesswoman who initiated Good Deeds Day, a small but vocal anti-Israel group on campus is protesting that decision.

Shari Arison, owner of Bank Hapoalim, will speak and receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters at the university’s winter graduation Dec. 19. The American-Israeli is the owner of the Arison Group and is consistently ranked by Forbes as one of the world’s most powerful women.

The university recently created the Arison Group-endowed Professor of Doing Good Values following a donation from Arison.

But according to Students Against Israeli Occupation (SAIA), Arison Investments has companies “directly involved in the illegal occupation and colonization of Palestine.”

In a letter to the George Mason community, Craig Willse, assistant professor of cultural studies, and senior Tareq Radi noted that, “Given the central role the Arison Group plays in Israel’s illegal occupation and apartheid state, we are deeply concerned that Mason is honoring Arison at commencement.”

They also wrote, “It appears that Arison is being honored at commencement because of her donation of funds for a named professorship.”

In response to written questions submitted by Washington Jewish Week, Willse said that “Shari Arison’s direct role in occupation and apartheid are incompatible with the values of our campus community.”

He also explained that, “We wrote the letter as concerned community members who are committed to social justice, including the rights of Palestinians to live free of occupation and apartheid.”

But Hillel’s Ross Diamond discounted the protest, calling Arison “a role model for our students. We have a lot to learn from her.”

Her philanthropy has a “tremendous impact” around the world, Diamond said, adding, “George Mason is an institution of freedom and learning.” He said SAIA was founded in 2012 and supports the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Movement. “They work toward the one-state solution and elimination of Israel.”

The university issued the following statement on the matter, which said in part: “Innovative, Diverse, Entrepreneurial, Accessible … these words not only embody George Mason University’s core values and mission, they’ve also been used by global observers to describe the philanthropist and business leader who will speak at Mason’s winter graduation ceremony next week.”

The statement also noted that “Mason stands by its commitment to freedom and learning, which means welcoming all points of view. Having Ms. Arison speak at Mason provides another viewpoint and another voice, which can inspire thoughtful dialogue and greater understanding.”

The professorship created by Arison Group donation “is to explore a values-based philosophy in business, but the agreement gives the professor freedom to determine the curricular content, assignments, projects and classroom format that best facilitate student learning of values-based leadership in business. Mason accepts funds from a wide variety of individuals, groups and organizations. Mason has a long history of friendship with not only the Jewish community but also with the Muslim and Arab and Palestinian communities.”

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