ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday warned that “true civil discourse” is under threat around the world while speaking to graduates at NYU Abu Dhabi, an event that the school blocked journalists from filming.
While obliquely criticizing President Donald Trump, Kerry did not mention the 2015 Iran nuclear deal he secured with other world powers, an accord of which Trump now has pulled America out.
It likely was courtesy to his hosts in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, which long opposed the deal as not going far enough to limit Iran’s power in the greater Mideast. Kerry shared the stage with Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash, who long had led the UAE’s criticism of the deal.
“True civil discourse is also under threat all around the planet, eroding rights alongside trust,” Kerry said. “Certainly in my country, our politics has become almost all accusatory and all bombastic.”
While never naming Trump, Kerry began his remarks by saying: “Given what’s going on today, I’m glad to be invited anywhere folks.” He quickly added that the U.S. “needs to build partnerships and cannot turn its back on the world.”
Andrew Hamilton, president of New York University, also made a point to criticize “disturbing trends of anti-intellectualism and anti-factualism” in the world.
NYU Abu Dhabi invited reporters to cover Kerry’s speech, then just before the ceremony said journalists from The Associated Press and others could not film his full remarks. They said the school would offer video that it would editorially control after the event.
A university spokeswoman, Kate Chandler, said it was the school’s decision. Staffers for Kerry said they had no part in the organization of the event. The school allowed an AP photographer and writer to attend Kerry’s full speech.
This is not the first time NYU Abu Dhabi has faced criticism when trying to balance the ideas of an American liberal arts education in the UAE, which has strict rules governing speech despite being a staunch American ally in the Mideast.
Human rights groups have criticized the school for using migrant workers to build the campus who they say had been subject to a range of violations including being forced to pay recruitment fees to get their jobs that were never reimbursed, living in overcrowded conditions and being forced to work overtime.
Following the report, NYU commissioned an investigation, which found a number of workers hadn’t been protected by the fair labor practices the school had said would be in place. The school promised reimbursement. A report released this month said that even though the school investigated its labor compliance, some workers involved in the campus’ construction still were owed money and worked in harsh conditions.
The journalism department at New York University in 2017 told the school it was cutting its ties to NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus over two professors being denied work visas by the UAE, as well as the school’s handling of the situation.