by Adam Silver and Lisa Libin
(Calgary) – Many of you are aware that on May 18 the Calgary Peace Prize was officially awarded to Mohammed El-Kurd, a prominent Palestinian activist who has expressed extreme anti-Zionist and antisemitic views including inciting violence against and condoning the death of Israelis and Jews. This prize was awarded to El-Kurd by a small committee of academics from various institutions, which is chaired by a professor at Mount Royal University (MRU). We have been monitoring this professor for quite some time, and have shared our concerns about him, including some of his activities on and off campus, with MRU leadership. He is an Al-Jazeera contributor, holds very strong anti-Israel views, and perpetuates narratives of Israel apartheid and settler-colonialism. Clearly, selecting El-Kurd as the prize recipient was a major personal victory for the professor, who is a huge fan of his based on his social media activity and his comments during the virtual prize panel event.
Calgary Jewish Federation was made aware of this issue a few months ago before the winner was publicly announced. We consulted with our partners at CIJA about El-Kurd’s history, and immediately began engaging with MRU’s executive team, including the university’s president, about our concerns. To note, the Calgary Peace Prize has been coordinated by MRU since 2016 and is directly funded through the Faculty of Arts. In our meetings and correspondence with MRU’s leadership, they repeatedly stated they are not associated with the award despite MRU’s longstanding history in coordinating, funding, and celebrating the prize.
Given our longstanding relationship with the institution, we remained respectful and collaborative, meeting directly with President, Dr. Tim Rahilly, and Associate Vice-President of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Dr. Moussa Magassa. We had hoped to have meaningful conversations which would ultimately lead to the university formally and publicly distancing itself from the prize, as well as denouncing the winner as totally inappropriate and unaligned with MRU’s values and morals. As is our practice, we were not looking to draw added attention to the winner, and our hope was that MRU would instead act independently given their understanding of the impact this award would have on our community, and the satirical appearance of awarding a peace prize to someone who celebrates terror and violence, as well as applies blood libel canards.
Despite a transparent and seemingly supportive meeting, which has been followed by ongoing consistent communication, MRU has still not publicly and officially distanced itself from the prize, nor have they denounced El-Kurd as a totally inappropriate recipient. They did, after our correspondence and meeting, remove the prize from all MRU website links and connections. While a display of recognition, such a move falls far short of demonstrating a commitment to the safety and support of our students, faculty, and community members.
We take our commitment to battle antisemitism, anti-Zionism, and Jew hate very seriously, and it is our responsibility to inform our community of the steps we took to find a resolution with MRU, along with their incredibly disappointing non-response. We are sad and concerned that a Calgary institution – one that is entrusted to be a safe place for our Jewish students and faculty – has put its own pride ahead of standing up to blatant hate.
Despite a long history with MRU, as well as a few major potential projects in the works, Calgary Jewish Federation is currently re-evaluating our future relationship with the university. Our commitment to Jewish Calgary is that we will continue to fight against antisemitism at all levels and within any institution to ensure Calgary is a safe place for us all.
Lisa Libin is President and Adam Silver is the CEO of the Calgary Jewish Federation.
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