Opposition to appearances by Israeli officials at US campuses is spreading. In the wake of demonstrations against an appearance by Israel's Ambassador to the US Michael Oren at the University of California Irvine, in February, students at Brandeis University, near Boston, have initiated a noisy campaign against an invitation to Oren to speak at the commencement ceremony and a decision to give him an honorary PhD.
The new campaign against Oren is particularly poignant since Brandeis has deep Jewish roots; it was founded by US Jews in 1948, named for the first Jewish Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis, most of its major donors are Jews, and all its presidents have been Jews. A large part of the university's student body is Jewish. Nonetheless, it is not a Jewish university, but a secular academic institution that offers extensive courses in Jewish studies and about Israel.
Oren's invitation has created a great to do on campus. A coalition of opponents, including a J Street group, faced off against enthusiastic supporters of his attendance. A Facebook page, entitled "Commencement was supposed to be about us" was set up by a student to torpedo the invitation. The Facebook page has 242 members, 7.5% of Brandeis's student body, as of this morning.
In a post on a leftwing Middle East blog "Mondoweiss", the same student wrote that the choice of Oren shows that Brandeis University, an institution whose values include social justice is prepared for its new graduates, before they depart to the wider world, to hear a message from an apologist for a law-breaking nation.
A blogger on the conservative site "American Thinker" responded, "Brandeis must be turning over in his grave." He claims that anti-Israel radicals had flooded the campus with leaflets defaming Oren as a war criminal.
An editorial by Brandeis student newspaper "Justice" said, "Oren is a divisive and inappropriate choice for keynote speaker at commencement, and we disapprove of the University's decision to grant someone of his polarity on this campus that honor." It adds, "For the administration, Mr. Oren's invitation constitutes at best naiveté and at worst disregard concerning the reality of the range of student political orientation on this campus."
The editorial says, "Although under different circumstances he could have been a fascinating speaker to bring to the campus", but it goes on to say, "commencement is a time to bring the University together in celebration of the achievements of the graduating class. Commencement is not a forum for academic or political debate."
Prof. Harry Mairson, a professor of computer science at Brandeis condemned the "political statement" by inviting Oren, saying that it compromised the university's commitment to social justice.
Brandeis Vice President Andrew Gully defended Oren's invitation, which was extended by university president Jehuda Reinharz. Gully told the "Jewish Telegraph Agency", "Ambassador Oren is a highly distinguished scholar and eminently deserving of the honor he will receive." Gully added that the Brandeis administration is not expecting disruptive protests during the speech.
During his speech at University of California Irvine, Oren was repeatedly interrupted by Muslim protestors, who yelled, among other things, "How many Palestinians have you killed?" 11 demonstrators were arrested. At Manchester University in the UK, demonstrators rioted during a speech by Israel's Deputy Ambassador to the UK Talia Lador-Fresher last Wednesday, and the police were forced to escort her off campus.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 2, 2010
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