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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

What will happen after Carter?

Published: January 19, 2007
Section: Opinions

Apparently a considerable number of faculty and students are under the impression that the Palestinian message has been silenced or muted at Brandeis and have longed to bring that message vividly to the attention of the community. I suppose the invitation to and the forthcoming appearance of President Carter will help to satisfy that desire, although I would think serious advocates of the Palestinian cause must know that there are much better advocates of their views than he.

Why Carter? His book, dreadfully titled Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, has been widely mocked and scorned by serious people, not controlled by Jewish organizations, contrary to what Carter alleged again the other day to Al Jazeera. Actually many of his most severe critics are generally sympathetic to his position. Writing in Slate, a liberal website, Michael Kinsley, no Zionist hireling he, called the book moronic. To date fourteen members of the staff or Advisory Board to the Carter Center have resigned to protest the inaccuracies, distortions, and blatant anti-Israeli bias of the book. In resigning, one of them, Professor Kenneth Stein of Emory, complained about gross inventions, intentional falsehoods and irresponsible remarks. Professor Stein, who would have been a much better advocate of the Palestinian position to bring here, was present at meetings Carter had with Arab leaders, which, Stein says, are substantially misrepresented in Carters recounting of them. And the latest news in this regard is that Professor Melvin Konner, also of Emory, whom Carter asked to help him develop an answer to the avalanche of criticism his book has provoked, turned down the invitation, he says, after reading the book and in particular one sentence in it on page 213: I cannot find any way to read this sentence, Konner has said, that does not condone the murder of Jews until such time as Israel unilaterally follows President Carters prescription for peace.

I will say this for Carters book. It does channel Palestinian voices very powerfully, capturing the pain, the passionate outrage, and the many specified grievances of that embattled people. If a symphony of voices, without sufficient historical context or checks against historical realities, without due diligence to the truth, is useful, Carters visit may be as well. But the book and its author need to be scrutinized and challenged, and I see no way that that can happen in the format which has been adopted for his appearance. What will he say to Alan Dershowitzs claims that Carter has been receiving a great deal of money from Saudi sources for his Carter Center, for his peanut business, for his lectures and appearances, or to Dershowitzs claim that Carter constantly extols the virtues and heroic dignity of holocaust-denying, Middle Eastern figures who openly call for the extermination of Israel. Perhaps the anti-Israeli rhetoric he is in bed with should be considered not as literal ideas and intentions, but a kind of victims poetry. Ideas have consequences and poetry has consequences. Let us understand the stakes in this discussion: We are talking about people advocating, day in and day out, the extirpation of Israel.

So what should be done after Carter leaves? He will be here for only an hour, speaking for fifteen minutes and then answering (at what length?) pre-screened questions, apparently with no opportunity for follow up. It will pass like the wind. Like an oral exam. In the immediate future will there be more substantial,presentations of all positions? Will there be faculty debates (how about one between me and Gordy Fellman)? Will there be teach-ins involving not just media celebrities, but knowledgeable people, including Brandeis faculty, giving an example of what committed, civil discourse can be at a university? Will the fervent advocates of Academic Freedom, so vocal in inviting Carter, welcome true debate after he comes and goes? Or will those who long to hear someone famous trash Israel out loud at Brandeis hear it, cheer it, and then retreat into desuetude? And will campus publications demand that Brandeis become one of the few universities in America which promotes debate on all sides of the great issues of our times, in an atmosphere of committed civility?