When editors of The Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution, a scholarly publication from the Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School, decided to bestow this year’s International Advocate for Peace award on former President Jimmy Carter, they sought to honor his decades as a mediator and humanitarian. But in the process, they ignited a sizable conflict of their own.
That is because Cardozo is a part of Yeshiva University, an Orthodox Jewish institution where support for the state of Israel runs high. And among supporters of Israel, there are few figures more controversial than Mr. Carter, who has repeatedly criticized Israeli policy toward Palestinians and described their circumstances as apartheid.
A group called the Coalition of Concerned Cardozo Alumni constructed a Web site, shameoncardozo.com, and posted a letter declaring the group’s outrage to the law school’s board of overseers. “Jimmy Carter is anathema to the aspirations of the Jewish people and the survival of the State of Israel,” the letter read in part. “Yeshiva University and Cardozo should not give a platform to his slander.” That outrage quickly ricocheted around supporters and critics of Israel, and even made headlines in the Middle East.
Richard M. Joel, the president of Yeshiva University, issued a statement explaining that the journal is run by students, and that it was they, not the university’s administrators, who chose the recipient of the award. However the event plays out, it casts a light on Cardozo’s unusual position as a secular law school within a religious university — one whose mission is in part to “bring wisdom to life by combining the finest contemporary academic education with the timeless teachings of Torah.”
The law school is closed on Friday evenings and Saturdays, in keeping with the Jewish calendar, and for annual religious holidays throughout the year. It serves only kosher food in its facilities. But it attracts students and faculty from a variety of religions, and its curriculum has no religious or political focus.
In 2010, when Mr. Joel condemned homosexual relationships, Cardozo’s dean, Matthew Diller, made a strong statement in favor of equal rights.
Founded in 1976 and located in a building just a few blocks north of Washington Square Park (the main Yeshiva campus is in Washington Heights), it was most recently ranked 58th in U.S. News and World Report’s annual survey of law schools, but sixth in the field of dispute resolution and fifth in intellectual property. It is also the home of the Innocence Project, a national organization that seeks to exonerate wrongfully convicted prisoners.
“Part of being a law school is being an open and diverse community with a cacophony of ideas which people are free to express,” Dr. Diller said Tuesday. But, he added, “we are part of a Jewish institution and we stand for Jewish values and commitments, and part of that is support for Israel.”
Brian Farkas, the editor in chief of The Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution, said that the decision to honor Mr. Carter had been mischaracterized.
He said he had spent the morning engaged in “respectful” discussion with members of the Jewish Law Students Association, and that plans were in the works for a future event that would offer differing perspectives on Mr. Carter’s work.
He added that Mr. Carter, who was not available for comment, had agreed to take questions from students after his address on Wednesday afternoon.
“We never want hurt feelings,” Mr. Farkas said. “I don’t think anyone here knew the extent to which that would result. But that said, it’s going to facilitate a lot of dialogue within the university that wouldn’t otherwise have happened. If one of the top legal conflict resolution programs in the U.S. is not trying to facilitate that dialogue, then we’re wasting our time.”
Among alumni, however, the debate remains somewhat more heated. One graduate announced his intention to try to bar Mr. Carter’s entrance into the school. And the Coalition of Concerned Cardozo Alumni employed another means by which to influence opinion: its Web site calls upon fellow graduates of the school “to condition any continued support of Cardozo, be it financial or otherwise, on the cancellation of this event.”
But Gary Emmanuel, speaking on behalf of the group, said he knew the event would go forward. “They’ve invited a former president of the United States. It would be extremely difficult for them to retract that.” He added, “They’ve created for themselves a real P.R. mess.”
Dr. Diller, the dean, said he sympathized with their outrage. “I think a number of President Carter’s statements and actions about Israel are jarring to the values of the institution,” and to his personal values, he said. But he would not stop the event. “I view this as a test of our institution’s commitment to openness.”
Julie Turkewitz contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: April 10, 2013
An earlier version of this article misstated a courtesy title for Richard M. Joel, the president of Yeshiva University. While he has a J.D., he has neither an M.D. nor a Ph.D., and so is not a “Dr.”