Emory professors protest Carter visit
Letter asks: 'What's Jimmy afraid of?'
By ERNIE SUGGS
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 02/15/07
The controversy over Jimmy Carter's "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," will not go away, especially in the halls of academia.
Nine distinguished Emory professors, [NOTE: By the time the oped was published the number was 11] each holding named chairs, wrote a letter titled, "What's Jimmy Afraid Of?" The letter is scheduled to appear in the campus newspaper Friday to protest the fact that Carter is scheduled to speak at the campus, but has refused to debate.
"Despite having written a book whose purpose he claims was to promote dialogue and discussion, he has consistently dodged appearing with anyone who could challenge him on the numerous factual errors which fill the pages of his slim book," the letter states.
"We are happy that Jimmy Carter wants to come to Emory," said Deborah E. Lipstadt, the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies, and a signer of the letter. "But we think it should be an exchange of ideas, not a one-sided presentation. We felt that this is not up to the standards of Emory in terms of creative inquiry."
Earl Lewis, Emory's provost, said Carter speaks on Emory campus at least once a month in someone's class. Annually, he holds a town hall discussion on campus. Lewis said the Feb. 22 event will follow the town hall format that Emory has done for years.
He objected to claims that allowing Carter to speak and answer submitted questions was not academically challenging.
"I am not sure I agree with that," Lewis said. "It is not unusual, in any context, for someone who may have written a book that is controversial, to come speak on that book. We all would love to engage President Carter. But this is an opportunity for him to talk about his book."
Lewis said that Carter would speak for about 15 minutes, and then answer questions that have been submitted by students. Lewis said the university has not ruled out a possible debate in the future.
When Carter's book was published in November, the former president said he wrote it to spark debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East. In the book, Carter paints the Israelis as the aggressors in the conflict, even going so far as to liken their occupation of the West Bank to apartheid.
Although the book remains a best seller, critics have pilloried it.
Former allies have abandoned Carter and the Carter Center and more than a dozen Jewish members of an advisory panel quit the center.
But scholars have been most frustrated with Carter's refusal to debate his own book, although he has talked about the book at length in print and on television.
Last month, Carter spoke at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. Carter initially turned down an invitation to speak at the Jewish-sponsored school, when it was suggested he debate Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz.
Carter later appeared without Dershowitz, who was given a chance to rebut the former president after he had left the building.
The Emory faculty members said they approached and got an agreement from Dennis Ross, envoy to the Middle East in the Clinton administration, to debate Carter. Ross has accused Carter of misusing maps that originally appeared in his book, "The Missing Peace."
"I have watched the entire speech Carter delivered at Brandeis. It was disturbing and totally staged," said Melvin Konner, the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Anthropology at Emory. "I just thought, what can we do to prevent the Emory event from being the same thing."