Brandeis University is being questioned for its selection of former U.S. ambassador Thomas Pickering as commencement speaker due to his controversial remarks on Israel.
Pickering served for more than four decades as a U.S. diplomat, with his last position as undersecretary of state for political affairs. He also served as America’s ambassador to the United Nations, the Russian Federation, India, Israel, and Jordan.
In an op-ed he co-wrote last year for Politico, Pickering called Israel’s presence in the disputed territories an “illegal land grab” and urged the Obama administration to take a tougher stand against Israel on that issue. More recently, Pickering joined more than 50 foreign policy experts who applauded the Obama administration for the recently reached framework nuclear deal with Iran and called on Congress to hold off on reviewing the deal. The Israeli government and many American pro-Israel advocates are opposed to the Iran deal and supportive of Congressional oversight of the agreement.
Brandeis’s choice of Pickering follows the Jewish-sponsored university’s controversial decision last year to rescind an honorary degree it had planned to give Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a women’s rights activist and critic of Islamic extremism, due to her statements about Islam.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus, the U.S. correspondent for The Jewish Press, wrote that Pickering has a “reputation of being extremely anti-Israel even amongst his peers” and that the university’s commencement speaker selection fails to uphold the values of the its namesake, former Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis.
“If Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis, the ardent Zionist and advocate for the disenfranchised…could see what his namesake university was doing, he would demand his name be removed,” wrote Marcus.
Despite some of Pickering’s controversial positions on Israel, he was an outspoken opponent of the U.N.’s “Zionism is Racism” resolution and played a role in getting that resolution repealed while he served as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under President George H.W. Bush.