Clash at Brandeis U. over Israeli speaker

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In March, his speech at the University of California at Irvine was interrupted repeatedly by Muslim hecklers saying, among other things, “How many Palestinians did you kill?” Eleven students were arrested.

However, figures from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference in March showed that of 1,270 student delegates in attendance from more than 370 campuses across the country, 213 were elected student government presidents. That also shows a breadth of pro-Israel support on college campuses.

Brandeis University was named after Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. He became a Zionist in the 1910s, advocating a Jewish return to their historic homeland in Palestine. Though Zionism inspired Israel’s 1948 founding, it was not a widely held Jewish view in the 1910s.

The Israeli Embassy’s press office told The Washington Times that it could not release any statement on the furor at Brandeis.

But a backlash has emerged. Brandeis student Nathan Mizrachi founded a Facebook group called Those who are in favor/don’t have anything against Michael Oren. As of Thursday afternoon, this group was gaining ground, with 155 members.

In the group’s description, Mr. Mizrachi said protesting Mr. Oren was a “waste of time” and acknowledged that although he is a controversial figure, “anyone who is consistently contributing to our worldview in a dignified, widely respected manner - instead of idiots like Michael Moore or Fox News - is someone who merits our attention.”

He went on to ask students not to protest vocally during Mr. Oren’s commencement speech as the Muslim students did in California.

“That would truly be a disgrace to our university,” Mr. Mizrachi wrote.

Mr. Sussman, Ms. Gruszko and another administrator of the anti-Oren Facebook site did not reply to e-mails from The Times seeking interviews. Administrator Philip Lacombe-Bouck also did not return a message left on his telephone.

Mr. Mizrachi declined via e-mail to comment.

Andrew Gully, senior vice president for communications at Brandeis, said commencement speakers are selected by the university’s president, Jehuda Reinharz, but the topics of the addresses are chosen by the speaker.

“We can assume, given his background and accomplishments, that, at least in part, Ambassador Oren will make some remarks about the Middle East, since that is a topic of almost universal appeal,” Mr. Gully said.

He went on to say that many noteworthy speakers are controversial but still deserve respect for their accomplishments.

“If the honorees at commencement are all expected to be noncontroversial, we would be forced to remove from the list of potential honorees a great many individuals with outstanding records of achievement. We believe all Brandeis graduates support free speech, and that especially includes speech by those with whom they most strongly disagree. All speakers at Brandeis are entitled to a respectful hearing, regardless of any of our personal feelings about their views,” he said.

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