News of President Carter receiving an award from Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law broke last week and the Internet lit up immediately. Graduates of the law school, graduates of Yeshiva University, and concerned pro-Israel advocates were outraged, incensed, and bewildered. How could the subsidiary of a Jewish University, the sister school of a Yeshiva, bestow an honor on a man who is blatantly and consistently anti-Israel? Alan Dershowitz, upon hearing about the award, put it best. “Carter has prevented peace, encouraged terrorism, and done more than anyone else to isolate and demonize the Middle East’s only democracy, Israel.”
After Cardozo made the official announcement, an uproar ensued. Some graduates reacted immediately to form the Coalition of Concerned Cardozo Alumni and even set up a Web site, shameoncardozo.com, declaring their outrage to the law school’s board of overseers. The controversy grabbed headlines in every Jewish newspaper, on blogs, in Israel, and even in the New York Times. The pro-Israel community expressed indignation, some going so far as to challenge YU’s commitment to Israel.
President Richard Joel soon after released a statement clarifying: “President Carter’s invitation to Cardozo represents solely the initiative of this student journal, not of Yeshiva University or the Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School.” He continued, “While he [Carter] has been properly lauded for his role in the Camp David Accords of 1978, I strongly disagree with many of President Carter’s statements and actions in recent years which have mischaracterized the Middle East conflict and have served to alienate those of us who care about Israel. President Carter’s presence at Cardozo in no way represents a university position on his views, nor does it indicate the slightest change in our steadfastly pro-Israel stance.” He concluded by saying that Yeshiva “both celebrates and takes seriously its obligation as a university to thrive as a free marketplace of ideas, while remaining committed to its unique mission as a proud Jewish university.”
The Anti-Defamation League and The Simon Wiesenthal Center blasted the students’ decision and described it as the result of gross ignorance. When it became clear that the event would take place despite the opposition, the rhetoric escalated. The Forward quoted one alumnus as saying that a dozen or so alumni would attempt to block Carter physically from receiving the award. Dershowitz said it should be turned into “an educational experience” by students handing out leaflets challenging Carter’s record or by having the University invite “someone like myself” to debate Carter. “He should be made to regret that he ever agreed to accept the award,” Dershowitz said. In the days before the award was to be given, tensions ran high as calls were issued for protests and rallies in opposition to Carter.
Well, the award ceremony took place this past Wednesday. About 250 Cardozo students gathered as the Journal of Conflict Resolution bestowed its International Advocate for Peace prize on Carter. Did President Joel, Yeshiva University and Cardozo Law School do the right thing in allowing the award to go forward? To be honest, it’s debatable. There is merit to both sides of the argument. On the one hand, as a University, it must honor academic freedom. On the other, every University will draw a line around the freedom they provide students before they run interference or even veto their decisions.
While those things are debatable, there is one thing that is not. The greatest indictment and biggest source of shame for our Jewish community this week came, in my opinion, not from YU, but from the deafening silence from of all those who made blustering promises to make sure Carter knows how we feel about him and then failed to show up at all.
Members of the media arrived at the event expecting to be greeted by hundreds or thousands of protesters carrying placards calling out Carter for his anti-Israel positions or handing out leaflets. How many so called pro-Israel activists did they find? Not one. With hundreds of thousands of pro-Israel Jews living in the tri-state area, absolutely no one showed up to protest Carter.
Haaretz journalist Chemi Shalev was on the scene and tweeted, “Anti-Carter protestors are a no-show at Cardozo award scene. Not even one.” He followed up, “Other than a few pro-Carterites and one foul-mouthed anti-Semite, all quiet as students fill into Cardozo hall for Carter ceremony.” In a story following the event, Aryeh Younger quotes Ben Winter, a senior at Yeshiva College, who claims that YU’s students are ultimately unwilling to physically volunteer themselves for pro-Israel causes. “While many students at YU feel strongly about their Zionism, few have the courage to publicly express their opinions,” he said.
I am shocked, stunned, and profoundly disappointed by the conclusion of this story. Sadly, it seems the postscript to the Carter event is that the Jewish community is much better at expressing criticism, condemnation, outrage, and castigation, than actually doing something about that which they bemoan.
Apparently, that wasn’t always the case. Yishai Fleisher recalled his time in Cardozo as a student when the very same journal awarded Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Holocaust denier, the same exact prize. “We had an amazing protest in the lobby of the law school, with placards detailing Tutu’s opinions. As Tutu walked by he was booed by many students who had joined CHAI’s loud and proud protest. Tutu had egg on his face, and I am not certain that the prize he received from the Journal of Conflict Resolution was worth the embarrassment for him. He certainly did not look happy.”
Perhaps Cardozo was wrong not to rescind the invitation. But once that decision was made, a tremendous opportunity presented itself. Imagine the impact on Carter and his legacy if indeed he had to walk past thousands of protesters vocally challenging his anti-Israel positions. Imagine the debate that could have resulted in the secular media evaluating Carter’s true legacy on Israel. Imagine how Carter might have been forced to think twice next time he was going to meet with the leadership of Hamas or describe Israel as an apartheid state.
Instead, because of our people’s complacency, laziness, indifference, or busy-ness, Carter left the event with his head held high and the clear impression that his positions are not reprehensible enough to elicit even one protestor.
Woody Allen once famously said, “80 percent of success is showing up.” Unfortunately, 100 percent of the people failed to show up this past Wednesday outside of Cardozo Law School. Whether in NY, Florida or anywhere in the world, the likelihood is we will be called upon to show up in support of Israel, rather than simply criticize from the comfort of our couch.
Our Rabbis teach us, “emor m’at, v’asei harbeh, say little and do much.” This sad, small chapter unfortunately displayed the opposite. Sefiras Ha’Omer is a time to not only count days, but also to make sure our days count. Let’s not just talk a big game; let’s make a big difference.