The morning after a much-publicized appearance on campus by former US president Jimmy Carter about his controversial new book brought with it what some said were new possibilities for dialogue at Brandeis University. Shayna Weiss, 21, of Florida said Wednesday that the Carter visit "has the potential to change the climate" on what many assume to be a totally pro-Israel campus, where about half the students are Jewish. "A president voiced views that Jewish students here have thought about but never expressed. "It's true that there hasn't been much debate about Israel at Brandeis, but people who have thought differently [than the vocal pro-Israel students] might have seen yesterday that there were a lot of people like them," Weiss said. "Wherever you fall on the spectrum, it's important to see the human consequences of your political decisions."
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Carter addressed those human consequences on Tuesday afternoon in his address to the 1,750 Brandeis students and faculty in a gymnasium filled to capacity.
Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid has caused an uproar in the American Jewish community for seeming to imply that the situation in Israel is parallel to South Africa's former racist policy of apartheid, and the book has triggered the recent resignation of 14 members of the Carter Center's advisory board in Atlanta.
Carter, 82, told the audience that using "apartheid" in the title was his deliberate choice, "knowing that it would be provocative."
However, he stressed, the word denotes conditions not in Israel but in the West Bank, where "the choice hilltops, vital water sources, and productive land have been occupied, confiscated and then colonized by Israeli settlers."
Life for Palestinians in the West Bank is "almost intolerable," Carter said, because of "spider-web-like" connecting roads between settlements, often for the exclusive use of Israelis, as well as the 500-odd checkpoints and "a huge dividing wall."
After Carter's speech, Ido Givon, 26, of Givatayim told the former president that he had guarded roadblocks as a soldier and asked how Israel could possibly abandon a policy so "vital" to its security. Carter responded by repeating that Palestinians are forbidden to use the highways in their own territory.
"Carter answered my question like a politician," Givon told The Jerusalem Post. "Thousands of terrorists have been stopped on their way to murder innocent Israeli civilians by the roadblocks. He didn't really address what I was talking about, but if you look at the statistics, the numbers don't lie."
Heather Klein, 21, of Connecticut, said that she agreed with the president that the Palestinians are suffering but did not see why the burden rested upon the IDF to fight its own people during settlement evacuations like during the 2005 disengagement from Gaza. "UN troops should be doing the pullouts. Why should it be the Israeli people fighting themselves to create peace?"
Originally invited to Brandeis to debate Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, an outspoken critic of Carter's book, the former president agreed to speak at the school only without conditions.
Dershowitz addressed the crowed in rebuttal after Carter had departed, noting that Carter worked very closely with Yasser Arafat during the 1990s. "It seems extremely likely, therefore, that Arafat sought the advice of president Carter when he had to make the decision whether to accept or reject Camp David and Taba," Dershowitz said.
Was Carter asked to advise Arafat about Camp David, Dershowitz wanted to know, and if so, did he tell Arafat that, "as you have subsequently said, there is no possibility that any Palestinian leader could accept such terms and survive - did you advise Arafat to turn down the offer of statehood at Camp David and Taba? If the answer to that question is yes, then president Carter has to look himself in the mirror and ask, to what extent is he responsible for the problems of the Palestinians today in the West Bank and in the Gaza?"
A certain four-letter word was left out of Carter's speech, Dershowitz noted: Iran. "Not a single mention [was made] of a nuclear power threatening to annihilate Israel and having the enormous support of Palestinians on the ground."
"How can you talk about Israel's vulnerability without mentioning Iran? Carter made it sound so simple," Dershowitz later told The Jerusalem Post.
Looking to move dialogue forward, the Brandeis Student Union planned a "Reflect and Connect" discussion to be held Wednesday evening for a respectful forum on Tuesday's speakers.