Mary Robinson, an architect of the U.N. Durban human rights conference in 2001 that was boycotted by Secretary of State Powell because the Bush administration deemed it too hostile to Israel, has been hired as a professor by Columbia University.
Columbia's hiring of Ms. Robinson, 59, who started this month as a professor of practice in the Department of International and Public Affairs, is drawing criticism from Jewish and pro-Israel groups,which see her appointment as another example of anti-Israel bias on the Columbia faculty.
Other prominent critics of Israel on the faculty include Rashid Khalidi and Joseph Massad, who has declared Israel illegitimate as a Jewish state. Israel's minister of education, Limor Livnat, sent an official letter of protest to Columbia's president in August of 2003 protesting Mr. Khalidi's endorsement of attacks on Israeli soldiers as legitimate "resistance."
Columbia has "become a hotbed of anti-Israel haters," said the president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein. "It's especially astonishing that a school with such a large Jewish
population.would insult Jewish people by hiring these haters of the Jewish state of Israel."
The groups also blame Ms. Robinson for allowing the Durban conference to become a global platform for anti-Israel venting. Ms. Robinson, as the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, rejected many American demands to remove anti-Israel language from final conference documents.
"Under Mary Robinson's leadership the Human Rights Commission was one-sided and extremist. In her tenure at the HRC, she lacked fairness in her approach to the Israeli/Palestinian issue," said the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, James Tisch. "I am hopeful - for the sake of her students and the reputation of Columbia - that as she enters the world of academia she will demonstrate more balance in her views."
To her admirers, Ms. Robinson, who served as Ireland's first female president from 1990 to 1997, is seen as one of the most important figures in the global human rights movement, drawing attention to civil conflicts in Sierra Leone, Chechnya, and the former Yugoslavia.
"Mary Robinson is one of the most dynamic world leaders of our times - a true humanitarian who has spent her career advancing human rights and the principles of inclusiveness in her native Ireland as well as throughout the world," said Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, in an article in the Columbia University Record, the school's official newspaper.
Ms. Robinson served as the U.N.'s human rights commissioner from 1997 to 2002. In 2002, Sergio Vieria de Mello replaced Ms. Robinson as U.N, human rights commissioner, a transition that was applauded by Richard Holbrooke, an American ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration."I think Sergio is much better than Mary Robinson. I think she overly politicized the job," he told the Washington Post.
Rep. Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California, in a 2002 article in the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, blasted Ms. Robinson for not doing more to prevent anti-Israeli rhetoric from taking over the Durban conference.
"Mary Robinson's lack of leadership was a major contributing factor to the debacle in Durban. Her yearning to have a 'dialogue among civilizations' blinded her to the reality that the noble goals of her
conference had been usurped by some of the world's least tolerant and most repressive states, wielding human rights claims as a weapon in a political dispute," wrote Mr. Lantos, who attended the conference.