TORONTO (JTA) — Queen’s University in Canada is facing a backlash from some Jewish alumni over its decision to confer an honorary degree to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, a strong critic of Israel.
Shimon Fogel, head of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, told the National Post newspaper that his organization has received about 50 "angry and frustrated inquiries" from Queen’s graduates concerned that the university in Kingston, Ontario, will confer the degree on Carter, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who has described Israel as an apartheid state.
"It’s just a huge lightning rod for distress and disappointment," Fogel told the Post. "[Carter] 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."
Carter, 88, and his wife, Rosalynn, are expected to attend the Queen’s convocation in Kingston on Wednesday to accept honorary degrees paying tribute to "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 website.
It will be Carter’s first honorary degree from a Canadian university.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs pointed to Carter’s 2006 book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," in which the former president characterized Israel as an apartheid state and questioned its commitment to a two-state solution. Three years later Carter apologized to the American Jewish community for "stigmatizing Israel" and asked for forgiveness.
While he’s sure Queen’s intended to honor Carter for his human rights work alone, Fogel said the university "failed to do their due diligence that would have flagged [his views on Israel] as problematic."