Former President Jimmy Carter was honored at Cardozo Law School (Image: CarterCenter.org)
Cardozo Law School’s decision to honor former President Jimmy Carter generated a lot of bluster and outrage from the reactionary wing of the Jewish community. But after all that, the event with Carter came and went yesterday with a whimper.
There was no protest. Nobody blocked the door, as one alumnus had threatened to do to prevent Carter from entering. The former president strolled in through a side door without many people noticing. The activists who did come out were a small group of supporters of Carter, most of them affiliated with the National Lawyers Guild. They sent a radically different message than the one Alan Dershowitz and others disseminated in the days leading up to the event.
“We wanted to make it clear that not all Cardozo alumni are comfortable with bullying,” said Maria Chickedantz, a graduate of the law school and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace who was there to support Carter. “The entire Alan Dershowitz style of bullying–that’s what we’re against.”
Chickedantz was joined by about five other supporters of Carter. One held up a sign that read: “Jews for Jimmy.” Cardozo is a secular school but is affiliated with Yeshiva University, making the decision to honor Carter all the more noteworthy.
Law students lined up outside to enter the event, but nobody harangued them for wanting to see a former president. The students were excited about witnessing Carter at their school, who came to accept an award from the Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution for his peace work. Other figures the journal has honored include Dennis Ross, the former U.S. government official best known as a strong advocate for Israel inside presidential administrations, and Desmond Tutu. The journal’s editors say they had no intention to provoke a controversy. But the decision to honor Carter was a predictable spark for ginned-up furor.
Alumni from the school who are strong supporters of Israel put together a website decrying the decision to honor Carter. They urged other alumni to “condition any continued support of Cardozo, be it financial or otherwise, on the cancellation of this event” because of Carter’s “history of anti-Israel bigotry” and “for helping to mainstream the antisemitic notion that Israel is an apartheid state.” The group of alumni against Carter expressed dissapointment that the school’s leadership was “not prepared to take a moral stand and rescind the invite to honor Jimmy Carter made by the Cardozo Journal for Conflict Resolution.” Jewish organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center also weighed in to criticize the fact that Carter was being honored for being a broker of conflict resolution.
Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor who has long sparred with the former president over Israel, also joined in on the action and challenged Carter to a debate at the school. With no proof, Dershowitz claimed that “it was Carter who advised Yassir Arafat not to accept the peace deal offered in 2000-01. That failure led to the deaths of more than 4000 Israelis and Arabs.”
Carter has long been a lightning rod in the debate over Israel in this country. He has used his prominent position as former president to voice support for the human rights of Palestinians. In 2006, Carter said that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians constitutes “one of the greatest human rights crimes on earth.” His book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid generated immense criticism, which did not stop Carter from continuing to steadfastly speak out for Palestinian human rights.
The denunciations of Carter weren’t enough to persuade Cardozo and Yeshiva University administrators to pressure students to call off the event. Much like the Brooklyn College president’s stand in response to the furor over an event on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, the administrators have defended students’ right to honor Carter. But they also affirmed their support for Israel, with Dean Matthew Diller telling the New York Times that “we are part of a Jewish institution and we stand for Jewish values and commitments, and part of that is support for Israel.”
Despite the fact that nobody showed up to protest Carter, Cardozo alumnus Chickedantz worried that the bluster would have a “chilling effect” on future plans for events that feature supporters of Palestinian rights. Palestine is “the topic nobody wants to touch,” she said. And while people e-mailed her to show support for her efforts in favor of Carter, she said many did not want to show their faces in public on this issue.
Indeed, the furor directed at any critic of Israel has already persuaded some students at Cardozo to keep silent, at least when it comes to talking to a journalist. I spoke to a handful of students outside, but nobody wanted their name to be published. One student said that while “none of us RSVPed for the controversy,” the back-and-forth over Carter had provoked some conversation in the school over the past couple of days. Another student remarked that he didn’t want to make a comment about the Carter controversy that could jeopardize his future job prospects.