5,000 support Michael Oren's addressing Brandeis

Student started overwhelmingly successful petition in response to attack on the Israeli ambassador's being chosen as commencement speaker.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
May 12, 2010 09:06
2 minute read.
Michael Oren

Michael Oren pose 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

WASHINGTON – Nearly 5,000 people have signed a petition supporting Brandeis University’s choice of Israel’s US ambassador as its commencement speaker, weeks after several students called for the invitation to be rescinded.

Brandeis senior Adam Ross started the letter to demonstrate that many at the university and in the broader Jewish community were pleased that Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States and a historian by background, would be speaking at the graduation, to be held on May 23.

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The petition’s current tally exceeds the number of students on campus and includes many alumni, parents and members of the Jewish community. Ross estimates that about 10 percent of those who have signed are students.

In contrast, the petition criticizing the invitation has been signed almost exclusively by students, though only around 150 have done so. These students have also held two small rallies, launched a Facebook page and penned articles opposing the invitation in the school newspaper which have garnered media attention.

“I wanted [Brandeis] President [Jehuda] Reinharz to know that there are students who are happy to have Oren come,” explained Ross of his decision to start his petition.

He added, “Brandeis is a very friendly campus to Zionism and Israel so it didn’t make sense that there was only this rhetoric against Ambassador Oren coming to campus.”

Senior Tara Metal, one of the organizers of the petition criticizing Oren’s selection, acknowledged that her position is in the “extreme minority” on campus, but said she was pleased that the effort had at least sparked a debate – something she maintained the venue Oren is to speak in would not allow.

“It gives us no room for dialogue, no room for protest. Our grandparents are there,” she said of the graduation ceremony.

That’s one of the main reasons Metal said she opposes his invitation, as well as citing the highly “insensitive” decision of the university to choose a controversial commencement speaker who will make some in the audience feel uncomfortable, such as the Palestinian graduates.

Other students have spoken against Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza and the views of the government Oren represents as reasons they object to Oren speaking. But Metal insisted that she and most of her peers were not anti-Israel or anti-Zionist.

Despite the pockets of student opposition, the Brandeis administration has not considered rescinding the invitation, according to Andrew Gully, the school’s senior vice president for communications.

Gully said that Reinharz, who recently met with students upset over Oren’s appearance, told them that “they don’t know what he’s going to say and to prejudge what he’s going to say before he has said it [and] oppose it is not in keeping with the traditions of Brandeis.”

Gully explained that Oren had been selected to give the commencement address because he’s “a distinguished historian and scholar and holds a position within the Israeli government that merits his invitation.”

Oren, for his part, still plans to attend.

“Ambassador Oren was happy to receive the invitation from Brandeis University and considers it an honor and a privilege. He’s looking forward to going,” an embassy spokesman said, adding, “It’s unfortunate that it’s being drawn into a political debate.”


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