Almost 100 students, faculty, and alumni of Brandeis University have signed a petition calling for campus officials to bring President Jimmy Carter to Waltham to discuss his controversial new book about Israel without requiring him to debate.
The former president told The Boston Globe this month that he declined an invitation from a university trustee to speak at Brandeis, because it came with the suggestion that he debate Alan Dershowitz, a professor at the Harvard Law School who has criticized Carter’s book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”
A student who started the online petition — which calls for “neither censoring nor filtering [Carter’s] content” — said the group has received about $1,000 in pledges from faculty to help sponsor the visit. They plan to invite Carter in a letter by the end of the week.
“I think there’s a basic lack of debate here about Israel and Palestine,” said Kevin Montgomery, 22, a senior majoring in politics who started the petition. “My belief is debate doesn’t have to happen face to face. It can happen over time. Most speakers brought to Brandeis are pro-Israel, and I think it feeds a lack of understanding of the other side.”
In response, the Brandeis president, Jehuda Reinharz, sent an e-mail message to Montgomery, saying he had never made Carter’s visit conditional on debating Dershowitz.
He added that the former president had made an unrealistic request, saying he would come to Brandeis only if the university sent a plane to pick him up at his home in Georgia.
“The university does not contract private planes to bring speakers to campus for a book tour,” Reinharz wrote.
“Given the attention this issue has received in the press and over the Internet, and the fact that President Carter has twice declined to consider a visit to Brandeis, I do not think it would be fitting for me, on behalf of the university, to pursue this matter with him further.”
Reinharz could not be reached yesterday. Lorna Miles, a university spokeswoman, said the president would not object to additional efforts to bring Carter to Brandeis.
“The president has already said that the faculty may invite whomever they wish,” said Miles, noting Reinharz wrote to Montgomery that if Carter chooses to accept their invitation, “he would be received with the courtesy we extend to all guests and visitors.”
Carter could not be reached yesterday. Deanna Conglileo, his spokeswoman, said he has not received a formal invitation from the university, and generally does not comment on speaking engagements until receiving an invitation.
Students, faculty, and alumni who signed the petition were miffed that university officials were not doing more to bring the winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize to Brandeis.
“We’re missing an opportunity to have an American president speak to us,” said Kenny Fuentes, 20, a junior majoring in history. “It’s something I think I can learn a lot from.”
Among unsigned comments on the petition, someone wrote: “If dissenting voices are blocked from campus, then what is Brandeis worth anymore? Isn’t that what we pride ourselves on?”
Others said student and faculty questions would suffice as a means of probing Carter’s views.
“I would like to see Carter in a long Q & A session with Brandeis students and faculty, rather than bring in an outside opponent,” another petitioner wrote.
Montgomery said he found Reinharz’s response to the petition “disappointing, condescending, and almost juvenile.”