Some students at Suffolk University are protesting the administration’s selection of Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, as the law school’s commencement speaker.
The critics cite Foxman’s opposition to US congressional recognition of the 1915 massacre of Armenians as genocide and to the building of an Islamic community center and mosque near the World Trade Center site.
Students have launched an online petition urging the university to reconsider the choice of Foxman, who is also scheduled to receive an honorary degree at the ceremonies May 17.
Foxman’s stance on official recognition for the Armenian genocide is deeply upsetting to the Armenian community, said Amy Willis, president of the Suffolk Law’s chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.
““We have students of Armenian descent,” she said.
The petition to reconsider Foxman as speaker, which Willis wrote, also cites Foxman’s tacit approval of the practice of racial profiling of Muslims in the United States.
“Suffolk claims to embody diversity and be a place for all people, but this clearly is a speaker who does not embody those values,” Willis said.
Foxman, who was traveling in Israel, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The ADL said in 2007 that it opposed the congressional resolution because the measure was “a counterproductive diversion and will not foster reconciliation between Turks and Armenians.’’
“ADL has never denied the tragic and painful events perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians,” Foxman wrote the following year. “All of ADL’s anti-hate programs classify genocide as the ultimate crime against humanity.”
Regarding the New York City mosque, Foxman has written, “In our judgment, building an Islamic center in the shadow of the World Trade Center would unnecessarily cause some victims more pain.”
The administration of Suffolk president James McCarthy, responding to a request from the Globe, issued a statement praising “the valuable work of the ADL and [Foxman’s] contributions to the organization for nearly 50 years.
“We value the views of all of our community members, and have examined the concerns which have been raised,’’ the statement said. “Mr. Foxman’s body of work is well deserving of recognition. . . . It is our hope that Mr. Foxman’s personal story as a Holocaust survivor and attorney who has dedicated his life to public service will inspire our graduates as they embark on their professional careers.”
Sammy Nabulsi, president of the Student Bar Association, has written a second letter to the college’s administration opposing the choice of Foxman.
While Nabulsi is Muslim-American, he said he is speaking out on behalf of the student body as a whole.
“My concern is there’s a very dangerous conversation happening among the graduating class,” he said. “This is a divisive issue.”
While the protesters are calling for Foxman to be replaced, other students argue that signing the petition is an act of anti-Semitism, he said. “There’s harsh rhetoric taking place,” he said.
Nabulsi stressed that he believes Foxman has done good work in the fight against discrimination.
He suggested that Foxman would be more appropriate as a guest speaker or in a debate on campus than an honorary degree recipient.
“This is not the kind of conversation you want to be having among the graduating class, when we’ve worked so hard together,” Nabulsi said.
James Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.