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A new Brandeis? Reflections on a maturing university

Published: January 26, 2007
Section: Opinions


Last April, when the Brandeis Administration choose to censor the Palestinian Childrens Art exhibit Voices of Palestine, many students felt troubled by the Universitys inability to face and debate the difficult issue surrounding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The Justice editorial board declared the removal of the art exhibit a shame and an unfortunate step in the wrong direction. Additionally, an Arab student, during a fallout sensitivity meeting held by the Ethics Center days after the controversy erupted, declared that he no longer felt like Brandeis was his home.

Again, on December 15th, when the Boston Globe broke a story which alleged Brandeis invited President Carter to speak on the condition he debated Alan Dershowitz, thus “stunning” the former President, students began to murmur that the invitation was another example of censorship of the Palestinian side of the debate, thus continuing the precedent set by the “Voices of Palestine” fiasco.

Following the Globe article, I formed an ad hoc committee of concerned students and we immediately launched an online petition to allow students to publicly voice their opinions regarding the state of speech at Brandeis, to encourage the Administration to work towards bringing Carter to campus, and to create the foundations to, if necessary, bring Carter to campus through a student invitation. The petition was slow to pick up steam, gathering only 25 signatures in the first 48 hours. When the petition was submitted to the administration, the response from University President Jehuda Reinharz was disheartening and discouraging: I do not think it would be fitting for me, on behalf of the University, to pursue this matter with [President Carter] further. However, while the committee was protesting to the administration, the Carter Center was reading the petition in the background, and gearing up for an expected invitation to Brandeis University.

Ultimately, Carters eventual visit to Brandeis this past Tuesday, has proved to be one of the most positive events in recent Brandeis memory, both uniting 1,700 members of the Brandeis community inside the Shapiro Gymnasium and spawning a newfound level of debate and openness regarding the issues of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.

Looking back at the event, which was inarguably more controversial and risky than the Voices of Palestine, the expected outrage never happened. There were few protesters outside of Gosman, there was no donor revolt, and the Zionist Organization of America only dedicated one paragraph of an unrelated press release criticizing the event. Most students interviewed in Wednesdays international newspapers were excited and satisfied with his presence at Brandeis, with the exception of those who felt he dodged questions. Brandeis has learned that the community can handle debate: we can make our own opinions based on speakers and we can address controversial topics without fear of alienating our entire donor base;

all administrative fears that badly needed to be abated.

With this newfound proof that the community is interested in the Middle East debate and respectful of challenging views, Brandeis has been now given an incredible opportunity to reassert ourselves as a world-class universityan institution able to explore the complexities of the Middle East without resorting to mere political rhetoric.