Thursday, 4:30 PM
Carter opens Brandeis speech with a joke, defends book
Protesters and supporters gathered at Brandeis University for the former president's talk. (David L. Ryan / Globe Staff Photo)
By Globe Staff
Jimmy Carter, stepping to the podium to applause and a standing ovation, quipped to Brandeis University students and staff today that the school's invitation to speak there was the most exciting one he had received in nearly 30 years. It came in second only to the US Congress's invitation to deliver his presidential inaugural address, he said to laughter.
Then Carter, responding to criticism about his controversial book, "Palestine Peace not Apartheid," outlined the work he had done as president to bring peace to Israel and defended the use of the word, "apartheid" in the title.
"With my use of apartheid, I realize this has caused great concern in the Jewish community," Carter said. "The title makes it clear."
The book is about events in the Palestinian territory, not Israel, he said, gesturing with his hand to emphasize his point. As the audience was silent, he spoke of roads Palestinians could not use and of the more than 500 checkpoints in the tiny West Bank they had to go through on a regular basis.
He suggested that a group of Brandeis professors and students visit the occupied territory to see for themselves "the plight of the Palestinians."
The event to promote Carter's new controversial book, "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid," almost didn't happen because the former president initially declined an invitation. The first invitation, extended in November, included a caveat that he debate his book with one of his most ardent opponents, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowtiz.
Carterís initial decision to not come sparked a furor on campus, with some questioning whether the university was denying free speech by requiring a debate. It also triggered questions about how open the predominantly Jewish campus was to views critical of Israel, given another incident where a student had to take down a show of art by Palestinian children.
Ultimately, after more than 100 students and faculty signed a petition re-inviting him without strings, Carter agreed to speak. Dershowitz was barred from sitting in the speech, but was allowed to give a rebuttal after Carter left.
Dershowitz told the Brandeis audience he and Carter are both "pro-Israel and pro-Palestine."
"Had he written a book that was similar to what he said from this stage, I do not believe there would have been much controversy," Dershowitz said.
The Harvard Law professor said he also favors an end to Israeli occupation and settlements in the terrorities, but he said Carter does not talk about the opportunities Palestinians have passed up to have their own state.
"President Carter makes it sound so simple," he said. "I'm afraid those simplifications are not really conducive to an enduring peace.
The controversy at Brandeis is only the latest stemming from Carter's book, which has stirred allegations of errors and omissions and charges of anti-Israel bias. The book takes issue with Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory and Carter's use of the word, "apartheid," to treatment of Palestinians. At the same time, the 39th president has gotten support from some who say he is raising important questions about the United States' support of Israel.
Outside the speech, a mix of about 50 critics and supporters held signs and shouted slogans in designated protest areas. Erik Miller held a sign that said "Carter lied, thousands died." A few feet away, Karen Klein held a sign that said "Another Jew for Negotiation over war."
Earlier in the day, Carter was greeted by hundreds of well-wishers at a book signing with tight security at the Harvard Coop as Secret Service agents stood throughout the store. People could smile and wave to the former president, but they couldn't shake his hand. A rope barrier separated the crowd from Carter, who sat behind a wide wooden table.
Customers handed copies of the book over to store employees or Secret Service agents, who handed them to the former president to sign. Mostly, Carter and well-wishers simply said "thank you" to each other. One woman said, "Thank you for writing this book." Another woman said, "I wish you were running in 2008."
The few people with signs were in support of the president. "Thank you President Carter - What about 5 million Palestinian refugees?" one person's sign said.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.