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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Commencement is not the proper venue to protest

Published: April 30, 2010
Section: Opinions

The events at Michael Oren’s February appearance at the University of California, Irvine were an embarrassment for the school and for its students. The Israeli Ambassador to the United States was interrupted ten times throughout the course of his speech and school administrators pleaded with those in attendance to stop the protests to no avail.

Don’t let this happen here. Not at commencement.

You might not like what Oren represents and you might not like the fact that a “divisive” and “controversial” figure has been invited to speak at graduation, but if commencement is supposed to be about us, as the Facebook group formed to criticize the selection suggests, refrain from any form of protest during his commencement address.

Heckling or even booing him at commencement will forever make the day about Michael Oren and his appearance here. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Oren is apparently a lightning rod—three Facebook groups have been formed to debate his appearance at commencement. Some students would like to hear him speak, but feel graduation is not the proper time or place. Others defend his appearance and look forward to the potential discourse on the Middle East. Some feel the selection only solidifies the Brandeis stereotype that this is a Jewish institution. Most are indifferent.

Oren happens to be a respected scholar of the Middle East, but his affiliation with the Israeli government, particularly his role as Israeli Defense Forces spokesman during the Second Lebanon War and Gaza operation in 2009, has made him a polarizing choice for some students.

Protest this decision every day leading up to graduation, if you so choose. March up and down the Rabb steps letting us know how you feel. Spend hours writing on Facebook walls and blogging on Innermost Parts about how Partners in Health founder Paul Farmer would have been a more worthy choice. After all, this is Brandeis.

But come May 23, it’s all about us, the graduating seniors. Leave the protest signs in your dorm rooms.

Graduation is not the right venue for protest. Protesting here shows a lack respect for this institution.

Take for example Joe Wilson, the South Carolina congressman who shouted “You lie!” during President Obama’s health care address to Congress this past September.

Wilson had every right to disagree with the President and to protest his policy, but to do so during an official address shows a lack of sound judgment on his part.

Commencement will be the first and only time that many in attendance will ever step foot on this campus. Many in attendance will not be familiar with Oren. It would be a mistake to embarrass Brandeis and to give off the impression that after four years of college we cannot demonstrate the ability to behave like civil human beings in a formal setting.

Let May 23 be a day to celebrate the class of 2010—and yes this can still happen, even with Oren speaking.

“One of the great and eternal, cultural facets of the Middle East is hospitality,” Oren told the UC-Irvine crowd after being interrupted by a heckler. “When you invite somebody into your house, even if you do not agree with them, even if they are ostensibly your enemy, once you have invited them into your house, you are their hosts and they are your guests.”

Love it or hate it, Michael Oren is coming to our house. We may not all agree with what he will be saying, but we all need to treat him with respect.