- The Washington Times - Friday, April 30, 2010

Despite attending a historically Jewish university named after one of America’s earliest Zionists, students at Brandeis University are protesting having Israel’s U.S. ambassador as their commencement speaker, arguing that the school is biased against Palestinians.

The selection of Michael Oren to give the graduation speech has prompted the founding of competing Facebook groups, charges of the politicization of graduation, vows of protests, and claims that Mr. Oren does not represent Brandeis’ values and is a “rogue-state apologist.”

Brandeis student Jonathan Sussman created the Facebook group Commencement Was Supposed to Be About Us: Against Michael Oren as Speaker, which had 234 members as of Thursday afternoon. Brandeis’ full-time undergraduate enrollment this year was 3,185.

“What this selection indicates is that Brandeis University, an institution which takes ‘social justice’ as one of its founding credos, is willing to send its new graduates into the world with the words of a rogue-state apologist, a defender of (among other things) the war crimes and human rights abuses of the war on Gaza,” he said in a post on the Middle East blog Mondoweiss.

While acknowledging that the Waltham, Mass., school is “a historically Jewish university with deep, abiding ties to the Jewish community” and “overwhelmingly of a Zionist bent,” he accused the university of marginalizing debate among U.S. Jews about Israeli actions in Gaza and elsewhere by inviting Mr. Oren.

“Michael Oren’s selection as commencement speaker is clearly designed to send a message … our university administration wants everyone to know that it has no qualms about marginalizing dissenting opinions by bringing a partisan, divisive speaker to commencement,” he wrote.

Noa Albaum wrote on the Facebook group page that she fears Mr. Oren’s invite “has created such divisiveness within the Brandeis community.”

“The decision to bring any speaker to the Brandeis commencement that would tear apart the community in such a way that otherwise civilized political debates turn into nasty and petty arguments was obviously a poor one,” the Brandeis student wrote.

Mariel Gruszko, a Brandeis student and one of the Facebook site’s administrators, agreed, writing at the blog innermostparts.org that “commencement should be a time to celebrate as we move onto the next phase of our lives, not a time for recriminations and ostracizations.”

“Commencement speakers traditionally give graduating students boring but sage advice on how to conduct oneself in the world.”

However, “many of us would rather not take advice from Oren. Many more of us are confused about how Oren fits into Brandeis’ commitment to social justice.”

Mr. Sussman, who also is active in Students for a Democratic Society, warned: “Don’t imagine that Brandeis students will take this lying down. We are organizing to protest this decision.”

Mr. Oren is an American-born Jew who held citizenship in both the U.S. and Israel until he renounced the U.S. to accept his ambassadorship last May. As Israel’s official representative in the U.S., he also has become the focus of pro-Palestinian campus activism and charges of war crimes against Israel in the 2008 Gaza invasion.

Mr. Oren declined an invitation to speak at last year’s J Street conference, calling the left-leaning Israel-advocacy group “out of the mainstream” and an enemy of the Jewish state that “opposes all policies of all Israeli governments.” He and J Street later reconciled.

He also denounced the U.N. Goldstone Report on the Gaza war, which said Israel likely committed war crimes, saying the report “goes further than [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and the Holocaust deniers by stripping the Jews not only of the ability and the need, but of the right, to defend themselves.”

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