Outside Brandeis Universityâ€™s commencement ceremony yesterday, about 20 students protested the collegeâ€™s choice for its keynote speaker, Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States.
The selection of Oren, who critics say is a polarizing figure due to his role in defending controversial Israeli policies occupied territory, such as the building of settlements in Jerusalem and the invasion of Gaza in 2008-09, sparked controversy when the school announced its choice last month.
It was not the first time a speaker with ties to turbulence in the Middle East has angered students. In 2007, there was intense debate on campus over whether to host President Carter following the release of a book that was critical of Israelâ€™s policies toward the Palestinians. Last November, some students objected to a campus appearance by Richard Goldstone, who oversaw a United Nations report that accused Israel of war crimes.
â€œOrenâ€™s far-right positions reflect only a small part of the opinion of the Jewish community, and his selection privileges that part as the embodiment of the Jewish people,â€™â€™ said a letter signed by 140 Brandeis students. â€œThis marginalizes the significant (and growing) segment of the Jewish population that does not agree with him on these issues, as well as the larger Brandeis community that feels similarly.â€™â€™
Outside the commencement ceremony yesterday afternoon, students showed mixed feelings about the controversy.
Some students said they were proud of the student protesters. â€œI congratulated them because they had a focus on human rights,â€ said Bimal Gadal, who earned a masterâ€™s degree in international development. â€œThis school is about social justice, and they got attention to their issues. I thought it was the right thing to do.â€™â€™