George Mason University and a student group, GMU Students Against Israeli Apartheid, have come to an agreement on a protest walkout planned by the group during the winter commencement at the university, to be held Thursday. The walkout is to protest a speaker and honorary degree recipient, the Israeli business executive and philanthropist Shari Arison. Students say that her ties to prominent Israeli businesses make her a supporter of "the illegal occupation and colonization of Palestine," and they have criticized the university for inviting her to speak. Arison recently endowed a chair at the university. Under the agreement with the student group, those who want to leave will be informed before Arison speaks, and will be given a space outside the arena to sit while she is talking. They will then return. A spokeswoman for George Mason said she knew of only one graduating student who is in the organization, but she said that others may be there in the audience.
Ángel Cabrera, the university's president, blogged about the controversy Tuesday. He said he would be "proud" to introduce her, and that her businesses philosophy and philanthropy promote "positive change" in the world. Added Cabrera: "Shari is an Israeli, and I am aware that her presence at graduation has upset some students and faculty who have had a very painful relationship to Israel in terms of the conflict and their people’s history. With full respect for all concerned, our graduation ceremony will help to reaffirm our commitment to the mission of our university, and my own highest goals, namely that the world is made better by deep, courageous, and compassionate engagement with all peoples, with their civilizations, with their respective religions, with their hopes and dreams, and with their sorrows and suffering, even when doing so can put us in between peoples in conflict. This is the Mason way – to enable and empower students from all civilizations, and to pioneer new initiatives and projects that will make this precious planet a far better place for all than the one we inherited."