There wasn’t much of a controversy when Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren came to speak at Brandeis University’s graduation last weekend.
Only about 20 protesters showed up May 23, despite the recent campus debate over whether he should have been invited and given an honorary doctor of laws degree. The protesters were holding signs criticizing Israel’s treatment of Palestinian civilians and blaming Israel for committing war crimes, the weekly Brandeis Hoot reported.
Another honorary degree was awarded to singer-songwriter Paul Simon, who ended the ceremonies by singing “The Boxer” while many in the crowd sang, swayed and clapped.
But it was Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, who challenged the graduates to seek their dreams in an economy that will leave many of them struggling.
Oren shared his youthful experiences as an Israeli paratrooper and the questions he has been asked through the years about his experiences jumping out of planes.
“Most times, there were these two large gentlemen on either side of the door who pushed me out,” he confided to the appreciative audience.
“Now, you, too, now stand at the door — outside the darkness is howling, and you’re far from the ground with a chute that you hope will properly open,” he told the 8,000 students, faculty and friends.
He urged them to leap fearlessly into the unknown in pursuit of their dreams. “Whether it be teaching in an inner-city school, building a clinic in Africa, developing the world’s smallest microchip or serving as president of the United States, if that is your dream, go for it,” Oren said.
In a short discussion of Israel, he said the Jewish state has a responsibility to make peace with its neighbors.
“And yet fulfilling our dream of peace will not absolve either of us, neither Israelis nor Palestinians, of our individual responsibilities but only create collective responsibilities — of healing past wounds and reconciling with one another’s narratives, of forging a shared, flourishing future.”
Oren has been at the center of a debate over free speech on campus after hecklers were arrested for repeatedly disrupting an address he gave in February at U.C. Irvine.
Yet just last week, dozens of university student body presidents sent a letter to Oren inviting him to speak on their campuses. Oren was scheduled to address Yeshiva University in New York City on May 26.
“We, the undersigned, clearly recognize the shared values that bind the United States and Israel,” said the letter to Oren released May 20 and signed by 51 presidents of student bodies. “We also understand the importance of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. Finally, we would be delighted — and honored — to welcome you to our campuses any time.”
The letter, initiated by Brandon Carroll at Virginia Tech and Wyatt Smith at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, noted the disruptions Oren faced at U.C. Irvine and the protests ahead of his commencement address at Brandeis.
“Such behavior is absurd and offensive,” their letter said. “Please be assured that these individuals do not remotely represent American college students or mainstream campus leaders.”