Controversy Dogs Carter To Brandeis

Former President Jimmy Carter laughs as he answers a question at a Town Hall Meeting on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2007, during his three-day University of Georgia symposium on his presidency in Athens, Ga. AP/Athens Banner-Herald

The controversy that has dogged former President Jimmy Carter since his book on the Israel-Palestine conflict came out last year is following him to Brandeis University.

There's criticism that Carter won't be debating Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz. Filmmaker Jonathan Demme is unhappy that Brandeis won't allow him to film Carter's talk. And others say discussion may be stifled because organizers are allowing only pre-selected questions for Carter after his speech Tuesday afternoon to Brandeis students and faculty.

The university originally invited Carter on the condition that he debate Dershowitz, a critic of Carter's book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." But Carter said he would only visit the campus without conditions, and he later accepted an invitation from a committee of students and faculty to speak without a debate.

"President Carter thinks it is important to present his ideas directly to audiences that can be influential today and in the future in finding permanent solutions to bring peace and security to Israel — and peace and justice to the Palestinians," Carter's spokeswoman, Deanna Congileo, said Monday.

Brandeis, located in the Boston suburb of Waltham, is a nonsectarian university founded by the American Jewish community. About half the students are Jewish.

Critics of Carter's book say it appears to equate South Africa's former apartheid system of state-sanctioned racial segregation with Israeli treatment of Palestinians. Carter has said his use of "apartheid" did not apply to circumstances within Israel. He said Israelis are deeply concerned about terrorism from "some Palestinians," and that a majority of Israelis want peace with their neighbors. Carter brokered the 1978 Camp David peace accord between Israel and Egypt and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

Brandeis has arranged for Dershowitz to speak in the hall after Carter leaves. Organizers say Dershowitz will not be let in earlier because space limitations forced them to restrict Carter's appearance to Brandeis faculty and staff, and some members of the media.

Critics, however, are not satisfied. "It's puzzling because he said that he wants to have a discussion of his book and then refuse to appear with professor Dershowitz," said retired Brandeis history professor Morton Keller.

Gordon Fellman, a sociology professor and a member of the committee arranging Carter's visit, said Brandeis has an agreement with Waltham not to have an open public event at rush hours on weekdays because of traffic. This forced organizers to restrict the indoor gathering, he said. The speech will be streamed live on the Internet.

Dershowitz is neither a student nor faculty member at Brandeis and therefore, "he can't get in, and it's not anti-Dershowitz," Fellman said.

"I think it's really foolish that they won't let me in," Dershowitz told The Boston Globe. He did not return a telephone message for comment Monday to The Associated Press.

Demme is making a documentary, "He Comes in Peace," about Carter and wanted to film the former president's speech and question-and-answer session. School officials have said no documentary crews are being admitted because of the special logistical problems involved. Demme said he'll try to get as close as he can.

He said Sunday he plans to film and interview students and faculty and "anyone who will be willing to talk to us" if he's turned away from Carter's speech.

Critics are also unhappy that members of the committee that invited and support Carter chose the 15 questions that will be directed at him from a list of at least 120.

"The whole idea was that everyone would benefit if there is a more focused way of getting questions to the president, not having 1,700 people raise their hands to ask questions," said university spokesman Dennis Nealon.

Fellman says the questions picked "do not support the views of the people who selected them.

"We simply selected a representative section of the questions asked," he said.

Fellman said all the questions submitted will be posted on a blog on Wednesday, "So anybody can compare them with those that would have been asked."
By RODRIQUE NGOWI

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