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Carter and Dershowitz Speak to Audiences

Published: January 26, 2007
Section: Front Page


After weeks of national controversy and hostile media exchanges, former President Jimmy Carter and his longtime critic, Harvard law Professor Alan Dershowitz, gave back-to-back speeches to the Brandeis community regarding Carters recent book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Carter, who had refused early December to debate Dershowitz, is the first president to visit Brandeis since Harry Truman gave the commencement speech in 1957.

Despite the controversy surrounding his visit, Carter was greeted by a standing ovation. Except for an invitation from the U.S. Congress to deliver my inaugural address, this is the most exciting invitation Ive ever received, said Carter, before adding, and its gotten almost as much publicity.

The Carter event exceeded my expectations and I think it went extremely well, said Kevin Montgomery 07, who helped lead the initiative to bring Carter to campus. The Brandeis community was shown in the best possible light and on one of the largest national media stages the university has ever been given, we have showed the world how we are not afraid to discuss and debate the pressing issues of the world today.

President Carter was introduced by Pulitzer Prize-winning Professor David Hackett Fischer (HIST), who described Carters book as sometimes challenging, sometimes infuriating, but always enlightening. The former president then began a speech lasting approximately 20 minutes, during which he defended his use of the word apartheid in the title of his book.

I realize that [the use of the word apartheid] has caused great concern in the Jewish community, said Carter, before adding that prominent Israelis, including a former attorney generalscholars and legislatorseditors of major newspapers, including Haaretz;

human rights organizations, including BTselem;

and a group of litigants who have recently in the last week appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court in Jerusalem have all used and explained the word apartheid in much harsher terms than I, pointing out that this cruel oppression is contrary to the tenets of the Jewish religious faith and contrary to the basic principles of the nation of Israel.

During his speech, Carter also proposed that a group of Brandeis professors and students to visit the occupied territories for a few days, to meet with leaders and private citizens, and to determine whether I have exaggerated or incorrectly described the plight of the Palestinians. He added that while there, you could also assess a subject that I have not mentioned: whether treatment of Arabs inside Israel is fair and equitable.

In response to a previous statement Carter made in his book saying that voices from Jerusalem dominate the media, the former president said that I have never claimed nor believed that American Jews control the news media;

thats ridiculous to claim. He did add, however, that I have reiterated that our nations overwhelming support for Israel comes from among Christians like me who have been taught since I was three years old to honor and protect Gods chosen people from among whom came our own Christian savior, Jesus Christ.

Carter ended his speech by stating Israel will never find peace until it is willing to withdraw from its neighbors land and to permit the Palestinians to exercise their basic human and political rights, and calling for Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories with some modifications of their borders.

After this speech, Carter answered nine questions from the student body, which had been pre-selected by the student-faculty committee that had invited Carter. While many doubted that the pre-selected questions would be critical of Carters controversial book, moderator Mari Fitzduff told Carter that students would not give him easy questions.

One of the most highly anticipated questions came from Adam Schwartzbaum 07, regarding a statement on page 213 of Carters book, which said 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.

By making the cessation of hostilities conditional, Schwartzbaum asked, are you justifying terrorism as a political tool? Carter responded by apologizing for the statement, calling its wording unthoughtful and stupid, and adding he had called his publishers to change the text in all future copies of the text. I apologize for the wording of that sentence it was a mistake on my part and will be corrected, said Carter.

Another forceful question came from Asher Tanenbaum 08, who asked Carter about rumors of his receiving Saudi money, and his stance on Saudi Arabian human rights violations. Carter focused primarily on the first part of the question, telling the audience that Saudi Arabian funds contributed to 2.7% of the Carter Centers total revenue, with 74% of those funds going towards environmental programs in Africa and elections in Palestine and rest going to the Carter Centers endowment and building costs. While he did not criticize Saudi Arabian policy, he did allow that he found violations against women, children, and minorities to be abominable.

Student reactions to the Presidents speech were mixed. I thought it was good for him to clarify his opinion, said Josh Weinstein 08. You usually hear the opposing opinion, so it was good to hear him here.

Neal Preston 07 had mixed thoughts: while he felt Carter had a lot of integrity, he said he thought that the former president came in with a prepared speech. At certain points I felt he dodged some of the questions I feel like he touched upon some indirectly, but he did not give a direct answer.

Israeli Defense Force veteran Ido Givon 07, who asked Carter about Israels security needs, said I feel that he took one side of the conflict. As someone who grew up in Israel, I wasnt able to walk from one side of the street to the other without being afraid of being blown up or caught in an explosion. I dont think its fair that he completely disregarded the Israeli narrative.

Half an hour after the President spoke, his most vocal critic, Alan Dershowitz, took the stage. While the crowd has visibly diminished since the end of the previous speech, it was estimated that over 800 students remained to watch the rebuttal.

Had he written a book that was similar to what he said from the stage, said Dershowitz of Carters earlier speech, I dont think there would have been much controversy. Telling the audience that while he and Carter were not that far apart in our views in terms of an eventual two-state solution in the Middle East, he said that President Carter makes it sound so simple. Its not so simple, and experience shows how complicated it is.

Dershowitz also added that Carters speech to the Brandeis community was vastly different to a previous interview he gave with Al-Jazeera, saying there are two different Jimmy Carters. Recalling the failed Camp David accords of 2000, Dershowitz asked whether Carter, who was advising PLO leader Yassir Arafat at the time, advise[d] Arafat to not accept Palestinean statehood? If the answer is yes, then President Carter needs to look himself in the mirror and ask himself what is his responsibility to the Israel-Palestinean conflict.

Dershowitz also scoffed at Carters suggestion to allow Russia, the United Nations, and the European Union to help with negotiation efforts in the Middle East, saying that more than half of their total condemnations have been directed against one country in the world: never against Saudi Arabia, never against Libya, never against Syria, always against Israel. Would any country put their trust in an organization that has been so one-sided?

After speaking for approximately 20 minutes, Dershowitz then responded to unscreened hostile questions and rejoinders from the student body. The responses, perhaps not surprising considering Dershowitzs background as a criminal defense attorney, were seen by some as forceful and by others as blunt and confrontational.

One of the tensest exchanges between Dershowitz and the audience came when Meredith Ives 09 said I found it disturbing when you said there should be a new election in which Hamas was defeated. It sounds like you want the outcome of the democratic election to de decided ahead of time.

Dershowitz forcefully fired back, telling Ives, absolutely. I also would have liked to see an election in 1934 where Hitler was defeated. You wouldnt have?

A Palestinian graduate student from the Heller School also received a bristly response from the Harvard professor. When the student argued over the humiliating experience she said she received navigating the Israeli checkpoint system, Dershowitz interrupted her, saying youre talking to the wrong people, and that she should talk to the Palestinian government and force them to disarm extremist groups. If you have to choose between Israeli lives and your own humiliation, the trade-off isnt worth it, sorry.

Dershowitz also criticized Carters omission of Iran in his book, and, when criticized by Nat Lathrop 09 about his comparing Hezbollah-led Iran to Nazi Germany, forcefully defended his comparison, saying we have a man in Iran who is like Adolf Hitler. Its a perfect analogy everyone thought [Hitler] was a tin horn dictator [but] I do not want my children, and my childrens children, to regret our not taking Hezbollah seriously.

He didnt pull his punches, said Lathrop afterwards. [But] I dont think he did anything unfair. I asked a tough question, and I dont think he in any way defamed my character.

I feel [Dershowitz is] an excellent speaker, said Sam Ackerman 08. I think it was great he talked about a lot of the glaring omissions Carters vision is not a realistic view for peace in the Middle East.

I think [the speech] went well, said Tanenbaum, a member of the student-faculty committee that invited Dershowitz. I think it was interesting to see his views on a lot of things. When asked if Dershowitz was too harsh on his critics, Tanenbaum said I dont think he went too hard, but I think he got a little overboard sometimes.

The problem I feel with these speakers is that theyre embedded too deeply within their own camps, and find it hard to see the fallacy in the policies done by the governments at times, said Andrew Rhodes 09. He did say he felt that Dershowitzs comparing Iran with Nazi Germany was a step in the wrong direction even if hes right, this sort of treatment doesnt foster discussionthis is not how we bring peace to the Middle East but how we spark a continued war.

I was actually looking forward to a brawl because everyone here at Brandeis was so worked up about it, said Jennie El-Far 07. I thought Dershowitz was out of line. I thought the whole him saying he encourages dialogue and discussion and then calling people Nazis didnt work. Still, she said, she felt that the speeches increased dialogue around the campus, adding hopefully, if change is going to happen, it will start here.