Brandeis Seen Avoiding Controversial Speakers

By Rebecca Spence

Published February 16, 2007, issue of February 16, 2007.

In the wake of former president Jimmy Carter’s high-profile visit to Brandeis University, the school is being accused of blocking controversial speakers, both pro- and anti-Israel, from making future speeches on campus.

Late last month, Brandeis administrators denied a request by student groups to bring Norman Finkelstein, a left-wing political theory professor well known for his anti-Israel views, to the Waltham, Mass., campus. This week, a committee formed to oversee Middle East dialogue, put on hold a visit from Daniel Pipes, a hawkish pro-Israel advocate who keeps tabs on Islamic fundamentalist groups.

In a stinging opinion piece that appeared February 13 in the Brandeis student newspaper, The Justice, Pipes not only took the school to task for putting his talk on hold, pending approval from the new committee, but also assailed the university’s record on Israel. He also railed against being put in the same category with his ideological nemesis, Finkelstein, by Brandeis’s president, Jehuda Reinharz, who dubbed them both “weapons of mass destruction.”

“Yoking me to Finkelstein betrays Reinharz’s profound moral confusion — something especially regrettable in the case of the president of a major university whose moral judgment is in steady demand,” Pipes wrote.

Pipes, who was slated to testify on February 14 before the Middle East subcommittee of the House of Representatives, ended his column by suggesting that as long as Reinharz remains president, donors who are “concerned with Israel’s security and welfare” should steer clear of supporting the school.

Reinharz, who has been attacked from the liberal side of the political spectrum for allegedly distancing himself from the Carter visit, was unavailable for comment.

In one of several gibes leveled against Brandeis faculty, Pipes used the term “muddled” to describe Israeli scholar Shai Feldman, director of Brandeis’s Crown Center for Middle East Studies and a respected security scholar in Israel. Feldman told the Forward: “It’s beneath response.”

While Pipes and Finkelstein represent opposite ends of the political spectrum, both men tend to inflame passions when they make appearances on American campuses. Pipes, for example, was recently interrupted by shouting from Muslim student activists while delivering a lecture at the University of California, Irvine.

According to The Justice, the committee to deal with Middle East-related visits was created following the controversy that swirled around Carter’s January 24 visit to the school. Carter’s new book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” was attacked as anti-Israel by many Jewish organizations and prompted a slew of resignations from board members at the Carter Center at Emory University. Despite the fierce criticism in Jewish circles, Carter’s Brandeis address — which was followed by a rebuttal from fervent Israel supporter Alan Dershowitz — was warmly received by the student audience.



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