*Major givers reportedly withholding funds from school, sparking fierce
free-speech debate on Massachusetts campus. *
*Larry Cohler-Esses - Editor At Large
The Brandeis campus is reeling in the wake of former President Jimmy
Carter's visit. *
*Major donors to Brandeis University have informed the school they will
no longer give it money in retaliation for its decision last month to
host former President Jimmy Carter, a strong critic of Israel.
The donors have notified the school in writing of their decisions — and
specified Carter as the reason, said Stuart Eizenstat, a former aide to
Carter during his presidency and a current trustee of Brandeis, one of
the nation's premier Jewish institutions of higher learning.
They are "more than a handful," he said. "So, this is a concern. There
are evidently a fair number of donors who have indicated they will
Brandeis history professor Jonathan Sarna, who maintains close ties with
the administration, told The Jewish Week, "These were not people who
send $5 to the university. These were major donors, and major potential
"I hope they'll calm down and change their views," Sarna said.
Sarna indicated he knew the identity of at least one of the benefactors
but declined to disclose it. He said only that those now determined to
stop contributing include "some enormously wealthy individuals."
Eizenstat said his information came from discussions Tuesday with
university administrators, who did not disclose to him who the donors in
question were, or how much was involved.
Kevin Montgomery, a student member of the faculty-student committee that
brought Carter to Brandeis, related that the school's senior vice
president for communications, Lorna Miles, told him in a meeting the
week before Carter's appearance that the school had, at that point,
already lost $5 million in donations.
Asked to comment, Miles replied, "I have no idea what he's talking about."
Miles said that university President Jehuda Reinharz was out of the
country and unavailable for comment. The school's fundraising director,
Nancy Winship, was also unavailable, she said.
"I have not heard anything from donors," said Miles. "I don't know where
Stuart's information is coming from. I don't think there is any there
there, in your story."
The apparent donor crisis comes on the heels of a series of
Israel-related free speech controversies on the Waltham, Mass., campus,
of which Carter's January appearance is only the latest and most
high-profile. Critics of Israel last year protested Reinharz's removal
of an art exhibit from the school library containing anti-Israeli
paintings — denounced by some as crude propaganda — by youths from
Palestinian refugee camps.
The university got flack from the other side when it awarded an honorary
doctorate in June to renowned playwright and frequent Israel critic Tony
Kushner, who once referred to Israel's founding as "a mistake."
The run-up to Carter's appearance was also punctuated by acrimony when
the former president declined an initial invitation to appear in a
debate format with Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz. Instead,
Dershowitz appeared only after Carter left the hall.
Yet, the school has also won notice for a course it offers on the Middle
East conflict co-taught by Shai Feldman, a prominent Israeli strategic
analyst, and Palestinian Khalil Shikaki, a leading West Bank
demographer. It also conducts an exchange program with Al Quds
University, a Palestinian school in East Jerusalem. The Brandeis student
body of about 5,000 is about 50 percent Jewish but also contains a
significant population of Muslims.
Nevertheless, the free-speech controversies seemed to pit Brandeis'
commitment to maintaining its status as a top-tier, non-sectarian
university —with all the expectations of untrammeled discourse this
brings — against its determination to remain, in Reinharz's words, a
school under "continuous sponsorship by the Jewish community."
The alleged action by some top donors has now sharpened the tensions
between those two goals, intensified by the school's commitment to the
ideals of its namesake. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, a founder
of American Zionism and one of the judiciary's fiercest free speech
"The American Jewish community understands the visit by Carter to
Brandeis to be reflecting a heksher" — a stamp of approval — "from the
university," said Sarna, whose field is American Jewish history. "They
see it as a statement that Brandeis certifies him as kosher.
"The faculty views it very differently," he said, "that Brandeis is a
forum; that views are uttered in that forum, some of which we agree with
and some of which we don't. But the faculty does not view his appearance
as a heksher.
"It's that gap in perception that seems to require greater dialogue
between the two entities so at least one understands the other," said Sarna.
But the Carter event may have instead opened the door to greater
tensions. Emboldened by it, a group of left-wing students are now
seeking to bring to campus Norman Finkelstein, a controversial Holocaust
scholar who charges that Jewish leaders exploit the tragedy to fend off
and silence criticism of Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians.
He charges, too, that Jewish organizations have inflated the number of
Holocaust survivors to inflate reparations payments.
A group of right-wing students has invited to campus Professor Daniel
Pipes, an Arabist and policy analyst who writes often of the security
threat he sees to the United States and Europe from Muslim immigrants.
Pipes has also founded Campus Watch, a program that seeks to monitor
what professors teach in class and publicize those it regards as
extremists. This has provoked charges he is a McCarthyist, which he denies.
In a contentious meeting with faculty after the Carter event, Reinharz
denounced Finkelstein and Pipes as "weapons of mass destruction,"
according to a report in The Justice, the Brandeis campus newspaper. His
executive assistant, John Hose, explained, "These are people who tend to
inflame passions, whose mission is not so much discussion and education
as it is theatre, a show ... If you want serious discussion, there's
lots of resources available for that already at Brandeis."
At the Feb. 5 meeting, Winship, the school's chief fundraiser, also
alluded to the brewing problem with donors. The e-mails from them "kept
coming and coming," The Justice quoted her as saying. "We're just trying
to repair the damage. The Middle East is just this trigger of emotions
for our alumni and for our friends. For the most part, the donors who
come to us come through the Jewish door."
Reinharz sharply criticized the committee that brought Carter to campus
for leaving the university with $95,000 in logistical and security
costs, according to The Justice.
"Faculty members should not be allowed to invite whoever they want and
leave Brandeis with a huge bill," Reinharz complained, according to the
The school's budget for 2005, the latest year for which tax records are
available, was $265.75 million against revenues of $310 million.
Members of the sponsoring committee protested that Reinharz had earlier
assured them money would be no barrier to bringing the first U.S.
president to Brandeis since Harry S Truman's 1957 commencement speech there.
"I think Jehuda [protested the cost] because he wanted to distance
himself from Carter," said Montgomery, the student member of the Carter
committee. "I feel this is Jehuda's attempt to appease the harsh donor
The Brandeis president did not attend the Carter event, with his office
making it known that Reinharz was out of town.
At the faculty meeting, Susan Lanser a professor of English, complained,
"I know many, many faculty who do not feel they can speak freely about
the Middle East" in public forums. And in an interview with The Jewish
Week, Mary Baine Campbell, another English professor, spoke of "the
chilling effect of knowing one speaks about things unwelcome by the
administration in charge of working conditions and pay. They could be
angels. I don't know. It's a slightly chilled atmosphere."
Lanser said the administration's warnings about donors had reinforced
that sense. "I'm not saying that was the intent of the meeting," she
said. "I think Brandeis is committed to open intellectual inquiry. But
this issue gets complicated because of the strong feelings of some donors."
This vexed aftermath contrasted sharply with the widely praised tenor of
the event itself. The university audience of almost 2,000 received
Carter with notable civility and even gave him several standing
ovations. At the same time, student questioners challenged him with
tough and critical queries.
The focus of hostility toward Carter — his new book on the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict — has led to no less than Anti-Defamation
League leader Abraham Foxman charging him with "engaging in
anti-Semitism." Many others have echoed this.
The protests start with the book's title, "Palestine: Peace Not
Apartheid," implicitly comparing Israel's policies towards Palestinians
in the occupied West Bank and Gaza to apartheid-era South Africa. The
book itself contains gross factual errors, charge critics, and a
lopsided bias that lays blame almost exclusively on Israel for the
failure to resolve the conflict.
Critics object especially to Carter's claim that pro-Israel forces in
the United States have a disproportionate and stifling impact on public
debate of the issue — denounced by Foxman as "the old canard and
conspiracy theory of Jewish control of the media, Congress and the U.S.
At the event, Carter defended himself against such charges. Interviews
with audience members suggested their ovations stemmed more from respect
for Carter's former office and their acceptance of his basic integrity
and good faith than agreement, necessarily, with his views.
"I think everyone was surprised at how well he was received," said
Michael Berenbaum, a Holocaust scholar and historian unaffiliated with
Brandeis. "That may be the most important part of the story. Instead of
coming as partisans, they listened to Carter attentively, asked tough
questions and gave him an audience. The Jewish community may have a more
significant generation gap than they understand between what young
people are prepared to hear and what older activists are prepared to
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