Tensions Mount and Rabbis Clash Over Yeshiva University Ceremony Awarding Carter for Peace

As security tightens around Yeshiva University campus, Young Israel rabbis denounce Carter's 'animus and bias' toward Israel, while others uphold students’ 'academic freedom.'

On the eve of the arrival of controversial former U.S. President Jimmy Carter on campus, a leading Modern Orthodox group made a last-minute appeal to Yeshiva University and the Cardozo School of Law to rescind the invitation and cancel the ceremony in which he is to be given the International Advocate for Peace Award.

“Mr. Carter’s well-known animus and bias towards the State of Israel has earned him widespread condemnation from Jews and non-Jews alike, and he is certainly not deserved to have any honor bestowed upon by him by an entity that has ties to the Jewish community and the Jewish State,” according to Farley Weiss, President of the National Council of Young Israel.

“We hope that Yeshiva University and Cardozo will do the right thing and reconsider its decision to permit Mr. Carter on campus and not allow its students to pay honor to someone who has done much to hurt the honor of the State of Israel,” Weiss added.

The statement by Young Israel, a body representing over 150 Orthodox synagogues that has close ties to Yeshiva University, is the latest salvo in the war of words that has broken out after the decision by Cardozo’s student-run Journal of Conflict Resolution to recognize Carter’s work on behalf of peace and human rights.

Cardozo alumni have threatened to “physically block” Carter when he arrives on Wednesday afternoon at the Greenwich Village campus of the Cardozo law school where the award ceremony will be held. Security around the campus has been increased in advance of the ceremony, which was originally slated to be open to the public but has now been designated “by invitation only” and closed to the media.

On Tuesday night, Carter made an appearance on Jon Stewart’s popular Daily Show, but the issue of the Cardozo award did not come up. Carter is slated to meet with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Wednesday before speaking at the Cardozo campus.

Yeshiva University and Cardozo administrators have walked a fine line in fending off the harsh criticism leveled at the decision to honor Carter - led by right wing bloggers and bolstered by Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz - by dissociating themselves from Carter’s record on Israel while refusing to intervene in the Journal’s decision to recognize Carter’s efforts for conflict resolution and human rights.

The University’s position received a solitary but eloquent boost of support Tuesday from Emory University professor Michael Broyde who is also an Orthodox rabbi ordained at Yeshiva University, a dayan in the Beth Din of America and the first Young Israel rabbi in Atlanta.

In an article posted on the internal server of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) and published on the blog Hirhurim, meaning Torah Musings, Broyde writes that honoring the decision to grant Carter the award is part and parcel of having a yeshiva that also functions as a university.

“The basic balance of any yeshiva which is a university is that people are entitled to express their own ideologies and to advocate ideas (both as faculty members and as students) that are contrary to the mission, tone and tenor of the university,” Broyde wrote.

“[Yeshiva University] President Joel’s response that not everything our faculty or students say or do is part of the YU mission but we are not going to censor them – is the right reply to a student group honoring a president of the United States whose policies we do not agree with.

Rebuffing calls made by the group dubbing itself The Coalition of Concerned Cardozo Alumni to apply financial pressure on the University in order to force it to cancel Wednesday’s ceremony, Broyde wrote that he intends to increase his donations to Yeshiva University “in light of reasoned response from its president and I encourage others to do the same.”

“YU is the beacon of the ideal in our community. Of course it is not perfect (what is?) but it would be a less perfect an institution, and not a more perfect one, if the administration of Yeshiva University interfered with the academic freedom of a Cardozo Law student group functioning in its own name to honor a former president of the United States,” Brodye wrote. 

Reuters