boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe

Carter agrees to speak at Brandeis

Will face questions, not debate, on book

Jimmy Carter, after weeks of controversy, has agreed to speak and field questions on his new book about Israel at a forum at Brandeis University, administrators and a spokesman for Carter said yesterday.

Last month, the former president told the Globe he had declined an invitation from a university trustee to speak at Brandeis, because it came with the suggestion he debate Alan Dershowitz, a professor at Harvard Law School who has criticized Carter's book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid."

Carter's original decision set off a furor on campus and sparked a petition of more than 100 students and faculty members, who said Carter should be invited to speak without debating Dershowitz. Others contended that inviting Carter to speak without a debate would violate the university's responsibility to promote free speech.

The invitation to Carter also triggered questions about how open the predominantly Jewish campus is to views critical of Israel.

In the end, Carter is slated to speak for 15 minutes and answer questions for 45 minutes, campus officials said. The forum is scheduled for Jan. 23, but the date may change, they said.

"We're pleased that this has all worked out," said Deanna Congileo, a spokeswoman for Carter. "President Carter looks forward to the opportunity to having a dialogue with everyone at Brandeis."

She said the president has set no conditions and would answer as many questions as possible. Carter has spoken about his book in media interviews in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other cities. This will be the first time he has spoken about the book at a university, Congileo said.

Carter -- who will travel commercially and pick up the expenses of his trip -- will be the first former president to visit Brandeis since Harry Truman delivered the university's sixth commencement address in 1957, campus officials said.

The former president was formally invited by a committee of faculty and students -- not the university, officials said. However, they said, Brandeis will provide security and help plan the event.

Students and professors have criticized Brandeis's president, Jehuda Reinharz, for not doing more to secure Carter's visit.

Last month, Reinharz sent an e-mail to students who started the petition supporting Carter's visit, telling them he did not plan to push the subject.

"Given the attention this issue has received in the press and over the Internet, and the fact that President Carter has twice declined to consider a visit to Brandeis, I do not think it would be fitting for me, on behalf of the university, to pursue this matter with him further," Reinharz said.

A university spokesman said Reinharz supports Carter's visit.

"The university is doing its utmost to facilitate the visit," said Dennis Nealon, a Brandeis spokesman. "The function of the president is to make sure that students and faculty members' academic freedom is expressed as much as possible. That's his role. If he was in the business of selecting speakers, some might think there was an agenda. There is no agenda."

In a statement, university officials said the forum will be "open to members of the university community only."

The statement added that "space, time, and parking limitations, among other logistical concerns, make it impossible to offer public access to the event itself."

However, Nealon said the university doesn't plan to block Dershowitz from visiting.

In a phone interview last night, Dershowitz vowed to attend.

"I will be the first person to have my hand up to ask him a question," he said. "I guarantee that they won't stop me from attending."

He said he would like to ask Carter why the former president has accepted money from Saudi Arabia and why the Carter Center has been critical of Israel while not looking into "the far more extensive human rights abuses" in Saudi Arabia.

He added that others will attend the debate with signs written with questions, so Carter can't avoid them.

"This will be the debate, whether he wants it or not," Dershowitz said.

"He will get the first word and the last word, but he will not get the only word. This will be the toughest encounter he has ever had in his professional career. This marks the end of his softball outings with the media."

The effort to bring Carter to Brandeis started Nov. 14, when professor Harry Mairson, chairman of the Faculty Senate, asked Carter in a letter whether he would be interested in visiting.

Carter had said he was inclined to say yes, but before accepting, he called longtime friend and former adviser Stuart Eizenstat, a member of Brandeis's Board of Trustees.

Eizenstat said he advised Carter not to accept because he did not know whether the professor had an agenda.

Eizenstat approached Reinharz with an idea: Why not invite Carter to debate Dershowitz, who had recently reviewed Carter's book. Reinharz liked the idea but it stunned Carter, who won the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.

Yesterday, some professors and students were thrilled to learn of the visit.

Kevin Montgomery, 22, a senior majoring in politics who started the petition, said he was "very excited" that Carter agreed to visit.

"This is a really good academic exercise" he said. "The last big speaker here was the Dalai Lama. It's a good opportunity to ask questions to someone we would not normally have access to."

"We're thrilled," said Gordon Fellman, a sociology professor who sent the last invitation to Carter. "To have a man of Carter's stature to talk about this is important. Of ex-presidents, Carter has done the most to promote world peace and human understanding."

Morton Keller, an emeritus professor of history, supported having Carter debate Dershowitz.

"You can't require everyone to be subject to debate, but I think the administration has a responsibility to present a range of views," Keller said.

"Either way, I think it's good to have an exchange of views."

Archives ARCHIVE: Too hot to handle
SEARCH THE ARCHIVES
 
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives