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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Dershowitz invited by student group to rebut Carter’s speech

Published: January 19, 2007
Section: Front Page

It was announced Jan. 17 that members of the Brandeis community have invited Professor Alan Dershowitz, renowned defense attorney and author of The Case for Israel, to speak on campus following a talk from former President Jimmy Carter regarding his controversial book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. The speech, according to organizers, will be open only to members of the Brandeis Community and will be held in the Gosman Gymnasium 30 minutes after Carters speech.

The purpose of the Committee and the foremost goal of having Professor Dershowitz appear and speak on campus as a rebuttal to former President Carter is to facilitate academic debate on an extremely controversial topic, said Ben Berg 08, one of the organizers of the event. As an academic institution devoted to the pursuit of truth, the Brandeis community should be exposed to both sides of this debate We feel that Professor Dershowitz can offer an important response to the views that we believe will be expressed during President Carter's speech and present an alternative perspective to President Carter's point of view.

Committee member Professor Jonathan Sarna (NEJS) added that Dershowitz is deeply knowledgeable about Middle East issues. He has a highly responsive but very different view than President Carter Having someone with his credentials would enhance the public conversation about these issues.

This development follows weeks of local and national media attention, as well as campus-wide controversy, following the dissolution of a potential Carter-Dershowitz debate at Brandeis. While Dershowitz told members of the press of his desire to debate Carter for statements made in his controversial book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, when university President Jehuda Reinharz extended this invitation to Carter, the former U.S. president refused, telling the Boston Globe, I don't want to have a conversation even indirectly with Dershowitz There is no need to for me to debate somebody who, in my opinion, knows nothing about the situation in Palestine.

David Kuperstein 08 explained that when he received the campus-wide e-mail Jan. 10 announcing Carters visit, he contacted several politically active friends of mine, creating the Student and Faculty Committee for the Visit of Alan Dershowitz. Kuperstein also said that he began an e-mail dialogue with Dershowitz himself, who indicat[ed] that he would provide any help that he could to our efforts to organize some form of student response to President Carter's visit.

Kuperstein said that original plans for Dershowitzs involvement included Dershowitz meeting with students to help craft questions for Carters upcoming speech;

however, when it was announced that the questions would be pre-selected, the initiative stalled. It was only after Jonathan Krisch 07, a former Hoot features editor, invited Dershowitz to speak, that it began rumors of a public initiative to bring Professor Dershowitz, allowing the committees momentum to continue.

Following meetings regarding logistics with Dean of Student Life Alwina Bennett and Senior Vice President of Communications Lorna Miles on Jan. 16, an official letter of invitation was sent by the committee to Dershowitz the following day, Jan. 17.

According to Committee member Asher Tanenbaum 08, Dershowitzs speech will be open to all members of the Brandeis Community who wish to come and will include open question-and-answer where anybody will be allowed to ask a question unscreened. It will be around one hour long, and in a similar format to a State of the Union rebuttal.

Campus responses have been varied regarding Dershowitzs unexpected visit. I welcome it, said Kevin Montgomery 08, one of the chief organizers of President Carters visit. Dershowitzs visit adds yet another perspective to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Other students were not as enthusiastic about the announcement. I think Dershowitz is a poor choice for a speaker for Brandeis to bring to the school, said Omri Geva 09. They want to bring someone to the school whos academic, and I think hes a poor choice. I think the way he tries to make his points is just by dismissing the other side.

Several other students, who wished not to be named, told The Hoot that they felt they did not know enough about the history of the Middle East, as well as the background of Dershowitz or Carter, to give an informed opinion.

Sara Aharon 08, another member of the Committee, said, In bringing Dershowitz, the students and faculty of our committee are enthusiastically bringing a well-known scholar of Middle Eastern Studies and Israeli Affairs as a rebuttal to former President Carter's claims. It is essential to recognize the importance of one's scholarly knowledge, or lack thereof, when making arguments regarding the complicated state of affairs in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Professor Dershowitz will have a very positive effect on the campus environment because it shows that students that are determined to do something from the grass-roots can accomplish something if they are determined and the debate it fosters will be very positive, said Tanenbaum. Hopefully it will engage the Brandeis community to get more involved in activism and work towards the goal of better understanding the issues.