Oren speaks, Simon sings at quiet Brandeis graduation

Commencement address follows weeks of petitions for and against Israeli ambassador.

Michael Oren pose 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Michael Oren pose 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Despite a few dozen demonstrators with signs parading outside, Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren’s controversial appearance Sunday at Massachusetts’s Brandeis University, where he gave a commencement speech, passed without incident.
According to The Brandeis Hoot, the Brandeis community paper, Oren did not avoid politics and instead used his policy choices as teaching mechanisms to instruct graduates to “accept the responsibilities you will almost certainly have to shoulder once you’ve realized your dreams.”
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Oren explained that since he was a child, he had dreamed of being the Israeli ambassador to the US.
“As ambassador, I must grapple with issues that affect millions of lives, including the lives of my wife and our three children, and [an ambassador must] frequently face criticism in the media and on campuses,” he said.
In an address streamed live over the Internet via the university's homepage, Oren said he supported collaboration between Israelis and Palestinians toward helping build a Palestinian state.
“We have the responsibility of seeking peace, in spite of the painful setbacks and the potentially excruciating sacrifices.”
According to the Hoot report, Oren also referenced the legacy of the university’s namesake, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, and said that Brandeis’s dreams forced him to accept many of the responsibilities that come with serving on the Supreme Court.
Regardless of Oren’s message, the protesters outside were angered by the mere choice of Oren to speak.
Kade Crockford, who was part of the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights, said before the ceremony that she was angered by the fact that Oren was chosen to speak instead of humanitarian and founding director of Partners in Health (PIH) Paul Farmer, who received an honorary degree.
Rabbi Jack Nusan Porter, director of the Spencer Institute, and a scholar on genocide studies, told the Hoot that the message University president Jehuda Reinharz, sent by selecting Oren to speak from the list of honorary degree recipients is that “Israel is under attack and we need to defend Israel.”
“It’s just an example that most Jews are afraid of peace. They’re afraid to have a two-state solution,” Porter said.
Reinharz acknowledged the sensitivity of issues surrounding the Middle East in his remarks at commencement.
“I have been proud of the civility and thoughtfulness you have displayed in dealing with these issues,” he said to graduates.
Chairman of the Board of Trustees Malcolm Sherman commented in a similar vein, saying “this university has never shied away from controversy.”
Others to received an honorary degree from Brandeis were: Judith S. Kaye, the first female chief judge of New York; Antonio Muñoz Molina, a Spanish author; Dennis B. Ross, a member of the National Security Council and scholar on the Middle East; and Grammy award-winning musician Paul Simon, who concluded the ceremony by performing “The Boxer” for the graduates.