boston.com News your connection to The Boston Globe
ALEX BEAM

Another controversy at Brandeis

Never a dull moment at Brandeis, eh? First there was the endless, now-he's-invited-now-he's-not kerf uffle culminating in yesterday's two-ring, Jimmy-Carter-cum-Alan-Dershowitz circus. And now this.

While the Carter-Dersho-drama was playing out, some Brandeis faculty members have been grumbling about newspaper columns published by Shulamit Reinharz , the opinionated wife of Brandeis' equally strong-willed president, Jehuda Reinharz . Mme. R doesn't just bake cookies in the Reinharz household. She is a professor of sociology and director of Brandeis' Women's Studies Research Center. And, she says pointedly, "I am not the co president of Brandeis University."

In late December, Reinharz published a somewhat disjointed attack on Carter in the Jewish Advocate, mocking his 1976 Playboy interview about "lust in his heart," in which Carter invokes the Christian doctrine of forgiveness. Reinharz describes Carter as "good, weak, forgiven, governed by his notions of Christ, a confessor and predictable sinner. And Christ is partly to blame for this mess, because Christ's standards are impossibly high." Reinharz further taunts Carter about his remarks: "Jimmy, when Playboy published your 'lust' article, what did Rosalynn say to you? . . . Did she automatically forgive you, too? Like Christ did?"

I find it hard to believe that anyone who flippantly dismissed a core tenet of the Jewish religion wouldn't be branded an anti-Semite. Reinharz says I've misread her column. "I have no objection to the tenet of that religion," she says. "I was not mocking the tenet, but how he used that tenet."

Just prior to the Carter column, Reinharz attacked "anti-Semitic Jews," including poet Adrienne Rich, Noam Chomsky, Tony Kushner (recipient of an honorary degree from Brandeis, by the way), and Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. "Most would say that they are simply anti-Zionist, not anti-Semites," Reinharz writes. "But I disagree, because in a world where there is only one Jewish state, to oppose it vehemently is to endanger Jews." Reinharz goes on to say, "Let all Jews who are truly progressive, liberal, not self-hating, and not anti-Zionist develop a clear set of ideas to address these individuals specifically. Address the books and lecture head on. . . . Sue for libel."

Is it possible, I asked, that Rich, Chomsky, Kushner , and Cohen are anti-Semites? Isn't an anti-Semite someone who despises and disparages Jews? "Your notion of anti-Semitism is outdated," Professor Reinharz informs me. "You might believe that anti-Semitism was what Hitler was doing. I believe there are many forms of anti-Semitism, and that includes desire to do harm to the state of Israel."

Reinharz's outings have attracted plenty of attention at Brandeis, although few faculty members are eager to criticize her publicly. "Her columns violate all the principles that I teach about respect and understanding for others," says politics professor Steven Burg , who also sits on Brandeis' board of trustees. "I find them disturbing, and I am uncomfortable having the wife of the president of my university write these things. I'd be uncomfortable if one of my colleagues wrote such things."

"I don't write the articles to express my husband's point of view," Reinharz counters. "Jehuda is a big boy. He can write his own articles."

Free plugs
People objecting to your newspaper column? I know the feeling. I love my critics; praise saps the strength! Producer Josh Glenn and I have gathered yet another collection of reader hate mail into a podcast at boston.com/living.

Elsewhere on the Web, allow me to plug Brenna and Baxter Beam's (no relation, I swear) radio show at thebeamsareon.com . It's a cute serial aimed at children ages 6 to 11. Entrepreneur Jenny Mirken explains that "the stars of the show are the genius Beam siblings" -- now I know they're not related to me -- "who co host their very own radio show. The Beams live in outer space, hence the need to 'beam' the show to Earth." The kids' robot sidekick Comet tells age-appropriate jokes. What more do you want?

The pilot episode can be downloaded free from the website or as a podcast from the Apple iTunes store.

Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is beam@globe.com.

Related content:
Video of speech: Video Part 1 Video Part 2 Video Part 3
 EILEEN MCNAMARA: At Brandeis, a dialogue
SEARCH THE ARCHIVES