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President Carter to speak on campus

Published: January 19, 2007
Section: Front Page


After weeks of organizing and a signed petition by over one hundred members of a joint student-faculty committee, former President Jimmy Carter has agreed to speak and answer questions regarding his controversial book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. The speech will occur Jan. 23 in the Gosman Gymnasium, and will be open only for members of the Brandeis community.

I'm really excited and honored to be able to bring President Carter to Brandeis, said Kevin Montgomery 07, one of the leaders of the Faculty and Student Committee for the Visit of President Carter. Im thrilled that he decided to respond to the petition and invitation in the way he did.

Carters visit, the first Presidential visit to the Brandeis campus since President Trumans commencement speech in 1957, has sparked university-wide controversy. The debate stems from comments in his recent book, in which, Carter states that the turmoil in the Middle East is due to Israeli occupation and refusals to accept negotiations.

In his book, Carter has said that protesting Palestinians have been severely dominated and oppressed [by Israel], and it is imperative that the general Arab community and all significant Palestinian groups make it clear that they will end the suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals of the Roadmap for Peace are accepted by Israel. He has since told members of the press he felt the violence in Israel was [e]ven worse than a place like Rwanda.

Carter has written a book that has raised a lot of questions that a lot of people have been asking. This is not just some professor writing a book hes been in the trenches, said Professor Gordon Fellman (SOC). This is the only [former] president in my lifetime that has devoted his life to public service hes a major peace figure in the world.

The former presidents recent decision comes after previously declining two earlier invitations from members of the university. The first invitation, extended by Faculty Senate Chair Harry Mairson, was declined by Carter after Carter advisor and Brandeis trustee Stuart Eizenstat told Carter he was uncertain if the professor had an agenda behind his invitation.

The second invitation, in which Eizenstat suggested to university president Jehuda Reinharz to invite Carter to debate defense attorney and The Case for Israel author Alan Dershowitz, was also declined, with Carter telling the Boston Globe that 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.

This second refusal has sparked much debate amongst the campus. I dont think you ask a President of the United States to come and debate anyone. Its just not dignified, said Committee member Professor Gordon Fellman (SOC), who added that he felt todays practice of debate has pretty much just deteriorated its not a form of inquiry, its a form of adversarial entertainment.

President Reinharz, on the other hand, told the Boston Globe that given the attention this issue has received in the press and over the Internet, and the fact that President Carter has twice declined to consider a visit to Brandeis, I do not think it would be fitting for me, on behalf of the university, to pursue this matter with him further. Reinharz also told the Globe that Carter had said he would only speak if the university would send a plane to pick him up at his home in Georgia.

Representatives from the Presidents Office told the Hoot that Reinharz would not be attending Carters speech because of a long-term that will have him out of the state on university business, said Director of Media Relations Dennis Nealon 95. The date for the Carter appearance was selected by Carter representatives based on his schedule. President Reinharz asked them if the date could be changed so he might be here to welcome Carter, but the date could not be changed. Trustee Stephen P. Kay instead will welcome Carter, and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Professor David Hackett Fischer (HIST) will introduce him. Mari Fitzduff of the Ethics Center, director of the master's program in coexistence, will moderate.

The decision to allow Carter to speak has led to very different reactions throughout the university. Rubin Baskir 10, said that he was impressed that Brandeis was able to entice such a high profile speaker to come to our school.

Sara Allinson 07, on the other hand, said I strongly disagree with his views starting with just the title of his book… I would like to hear him speak solely because he is a former president although I strongly believe that anti-Zionism is anti-semitism.

Furthermore, Zahav co-presidents Ariella Newberger 09 and Gabi Lupatkin 09, in an e-mail to their group, stated Zahav has decided to show our dissent with his views through a silent, visual protest. No banners or fliers of any kind will be allowed into the speech, so we will dress in blue and white to show our support for the State of Israel. This is a subtle yet effective way of doing soIsrael seeks peace, not the apartheid policies that Carter asserts, and we as students in the University will defend Israel in a peaceful manner.

Professor Jerry Cohen (AMST) said that he believed there are a considerable number of faculty and students who are under the impression that the Palestinian message has been silenced by this “Jewish University” and have longed to bring that message vividly to the attention of the community.

Calling Carters book narcissistic in the extreme, deeply uninformed and misinformed, and mean spirited, Cohen added that if it is serious discourse we are after, and that is what a university should be after, then in my view Carter is not the best representative of that cause. Indeed he may be one of the worst.

Cohen also stated that he felt what the university did after Carters debate was of primary importance. Will there be further presentations offering refutations? And also implications of his point of view by more competent spokespeople for the Palestinian case against Israel? Will another Committee of Faculty and Students invite, yes, Alan Dershowitz, or others? Will there be campus debates between faculty members? Will there be teach-ins involving not just media celebrities, but knowledgeable people, including Brandeis faculty, across the spectrum of opinion on these matters?

Another aspect of the speech that has been debated has been the selection of student questions: according to Montgomery, 15 questions from the set submitted to www.askcarter.com by Jan. 18 will be selected by the Student-Faculty Committee for the Visit of President Carter. Fellman added that we intend to draw a representative sample of those questions we are fully committed to having the full range of responses to Carters book, I guarantee you.

However, Professor Sylvia Fishman (NEJS) doubted the neutrality of this process: This secret committee decides who canor cannotactually question the speaker, she said. I believe it is important to be pro-active regarding this outrageously non-democratic attempt to suppress intellectual freedom by people who claim to be its defenders. They are constantly yelling out loud about how much they are silenced, but when they have power they eliminate any voices that don't exactly match their own. Montgomery responded to the allegation of bias as nonsense.

Fellman stated that despite the controversy surrounding his visit, the decision to invite Carter was the correct one: Were a university, we should be sponsoring inquiryand we doand we should be open to all spectrum of opinion, he said. Listen to Carter, listen to Dershowitz, listen to anybody. Just question them on their own terms, and dont try to turn it into a gladiatorial contest.