Mount Royal University Tries To Disassociate Itself With “Peace Prize” Awarded To Notorious Antisemite and Anti-Israel Detractor, Mohammed El-Kurd, Following HRC’s Efforts

On May 18, Mohammed El-Kurd, a frequent disseminator of virulent anti-Israel disinformation and antisemitic propaganda, is slated to receive the “Calgary Peace Prize,” awarded to him by Muhannad Mark Ayyash, a professor at Mount Royal University (MRU).

Ayyash is also an outspoken anti-Israel activist, who has falsely accused Israel of practicing “apartheid” against Palestinians and of being a settler-colonialist state.

El-Kurd, who enjoys a large social media following of nearly a quarter million followers on Facebook and more than 700,000 on Instagram, is also the “Palestine Correspondent” for The Nation magazine, and has been featured on the front cover of GQ Middle East, and in 2021 was named, alongside his sister, as among the 100 most influential people in the world. He is regularly interviewed by news media outlets for his views on Israel and the Palestinians.

But El-Kurd does more than share his views on Israeli government policy. As pointed out by HonestReporting Canada (HRC), he has praised and lionized the actions of Palestinian terrorists and has spread dangerous antisemitic lies, including claims that Israel harvests the organs of dead Palestinians, as well as sharing Nazi-like caricatures of Israeli soldiers.

According to its official flyer (emblazoned with MRU’s official logo) the prize recognizes El-Kurd “for his exemplary contribution toward peace and justice in the struggle for a more humane, dignified, and free life for oppressed people in Palestine and beyond.”

Following HonestReporting Canada’s complaint sent to MRU and our April 26 alert which raised public awareness about El-Kurd, and which mobilized close to 1,000 complaints being sent directly to the University expressing opposition to the institution’s involvement in awarding a peace prize to an individual with an extensive history of spreading hateful messages on social media, Mount Royal University has responded to our complaint in the wake of the widespread backlash and has tried to distance and disassociate itself from the award and attempted to downplay the University’s involvement.

In a letter sent to HonestReporting Canada on May 10, Timothy Rahilly, President and Vice-Chancellor at MRU, wrote that:

In response to HRC’s alert regarding the Calgary Peace Prize, we wish to clarify that the Calgary Peace Prize is not an initiative of Mount Royal University, but rather an independent initiative of a faculty member. In order to make this more clear, Calgary Peace Prize content no longer resides on MRU’s website.

Views expressed through academic initiatives and events hosted and led by faculty members do not represent the views of Mount Royal University. University faculty members are entitled to the academic freedom to engage in research, teaching and discussion without institutional censorship. 

Mount Royal University is committed to serve as an inclusive forum for respectful debate to advance knowledge and understanding, and denounces hate speech and antisemitism in all of its forms. This is reflected in our 40-plus year commitment to supporting and hosting the annual Holocaust Education Symposium on our campus. We will continue to listen, learn and actively engage with the Jewish community as we move forward.

Thank you for reaching out to us for further information on this.

Sincerely,

Timothy Rahilly, Ph.D.
President and Vice-Chancellor
Mount Royal University

While it’s a positive development that Mount Royal University is now trying to disassociate themselves from the award as a result of HonestReporting Canada’s alert and widespread public scrutiny, evidence strongly suggests that the school was involved in the giving of this prize and past awards. For instance, the flyer for the 2023 Calgary Peace Prize prominently displays the logo of Mount Royal University, and the school’s website still links directly to the prize. On the website for the previous Calgary Peace Prize winner in 2022 (which has since been removed), the page made clear that “Mount Royal University will recognize…” leaving no doubt as to which party was offering the honour.

On the website – now since removed – for the prize on Mount Royal University’s website, there is a “Privacy Notification Statement” at the bottom of the page underneath a button to request more information about the prize, informing readers that the personal information provided will be sent to the “Faculty of Arts.” Furthermore, those with questions about personal information being collected on the form are directed to contact the Faculty Operations Officer at the university’s Faculty of Arts.

Some evidence remains online of the school’s involvement in the prize, including a press release from 2019, which stated: “the Peace Studies Initiative at Mount Royal University announced the recipient of the 2019 Calgary Peace Prize.”

Along with every winner from 2016 onward on the Mount Royal University website, the official Wikipedia page for the Calgary Peace Prize was changed on May 4, trying to disassociate the University from the Calgary Peace Prize.

View all the original Calgary Peace Prize pages from the Mount Royal University website before it was removed, along with changes made on their Wikipedia page from May 4th, below.

 

While Mount Royal University’s distancing itself from the Calgary Peace Prize is a positive step, the university’s administration must also come clean about the true extent of its relationship with the award. While the 2023 Calgary Peace Prize winner, Mohammed El-Kurd, represents the polar opposite of what the award claims to represent, this was not always the case. Past winners have included Tadatoshi Akiba, the Mayor of Hiroshima and President of Mayors for Peace, as well as Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, who raised awareness about the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and Rosalie Abella, a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Mohammed El-Kurd’s participation in the Calgary Peace Prize is an insult both to past winners of the award, as well as to the very concept of peace and justice. It is incumbent upon Mount Royal University to do more than just downplay its involvement in the award, but to actively disassociate themselves and to issue a clear public statement that their institution can no longer be involved with an effort that honours someone who has repeatedly propagated hateful antisemitism. Furthermore, academic freedom can never be used as a cover and defense for those who give a platform to antisemites to spread hatred. Failing public repudiation by Mount Royal, the University would be complicit in granting legitimacy to a notorious hatemonger.

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