Former President of the Board and M.K. Gandhi Nonviolence Institute’s co-founder Arun Gandhi submitted his resignation on Jan. 25. Arun Gandhi is the grandson of spiritual leader Mohandas Gandhi. Arun Gandhi’s resignation was submitted after an incident where he commented on a Washington Post blog. Gandhi was a panelist for a Web site called “On Faith.” In a recent remark, he said that the Jews have overplayed the Holocaust.
“We have created a Culture of Violence (Israel and the Jews are the biggest players) and that culture of violence is eventually going to destroy humanity,” Gandhi said. Readers responded with over 430 comments. In response, Gandhi issued a public apology for his poorly worded blog.
“I do not believe and should not have implied that the policies of the Israeli governments are reflective of the views of all Jewish people,” Gandhi said. “I do believe that when a people hold on to historic grievances too firmly it can lead to bitterness.”
UR President Joel Seligman did not find this apology sufficient.
“I was surprised and deeply disappointed by Arun Gandhi’s recent opinion piece,” Seligman said in a statement on Jan.11. “I believe that his subsequent apology inadequately explains his stated views, which seem fundamentally inconsistent with the core values of the University of Rochester.” Seligman stated that he disagrees with Gandhi’s singling out of Israel and the Jewish people.
Gandhi had been in India when he made the post. He offered his resignation while still abroad. Upon his return, he immediately met in person with the Institute’s Board and simply resigned. In a resignation statement on Jan. 24, Gandhi wrote that his blog used hurtful language and was contrary to the principles of nonviolence.
“My intention was to generate a healthy discussion on the proliferation of violence. Clearly I did not achieve my goal. Instead, unintentionally, my words have resulted in pain,” Gandhi said.
Gandhi also commented on his deep regret for these consequences, as well as his hope to be a part of a healing process.
On Jan. 25, Seligman put out a statement regarding Gandhi’s resignation. Seligman said that a fundamental value of UR is a commitment to diversity, inclusiveness and free speech.
“Universities exist and best serve us if they foster open teaching and viewpoints that are diametrically opposed to each other,” Seligman said.
“A university’s role in society is not to impose intellectual orthodoxy, but to provide the opportunity to develop and articulate opinions of beliefs that may be unpopular or little believed.”
However, Seligman did not believe that Gandhi’s statements echoed these sentiments.
“Arun Gandhi’s Jan. 7 statement in the Washington Post’s ‘On Faith’ blog did not reflect the core values of the University of Rochester or the values of the M.K. Gandhi Institute itself. Under the circumstances, I believe that Arun Gandhi’s resignation was appropriate,” Seligman said.
The Institute is separate from Arun Gandhi and not formally part of UR, but it has been provided space and staff support since its move to Rochester from the Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee in June 2007. Gandhi was not a member of UR’s faculty or staff and did not receive a salary from UR or the Institute.
The Institute will continue its mission at UR. It intends to educate about nonviolent conflict resolution and to inspire and support efforts that promote harmony among people.
According to a press release from the Board of the Institute, “The Institute plans to work with the University of Rochester and other community groups to use the recent events as an opportunity to deepen mutual understand through dialogue employing the principles of nonviolence and peace. The Institute invites partnership in this process.”
Later this year, Gandhi will participate in a forum that will offer him an opportunity to address this controversy. A leader of the Jewish community and other speakers will be present.
“A university can and should promote dialogue in which we can learn from each other even when the most painful or difficult issues will be discussed,” Seligman said.
Schneier is a member of the class of 2011.