Carter calls on students to unite

Times Staff Writer

On a campus beset by strained relations between Jewish and Islamic groups, former President Jimmy Carter urged the UC Irvine students to understand each other’s positions and to work together.

“I’d like to see the leaders form a combined group and take my invitation to go to Palestine and see what’s going on for yourselves,” said Carter, in Orange County to discuss his controversial book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”

For the record:

12:00 a.m. May 5, 2007 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday May 05, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Carter speech: An article in Friday’s California section included a subhead saying former President Carter urged students to travel to Palestine. The area referred to is the Palestinian territories.

“If you take me up on it, I’ll raise the money to pay for your trip.”

Carter’s hourlong talk Thursday morning at a packed Bren Center before about 3,300 students and faculty was generally well-received. He got two standing ovations and several lengthy bursts of applause, the longest when he called the invasion of Iraq “one of the greatest foreign policy mistakes our nation has ever made.”


Not everybody cheered Carter, the 82-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner whose book criticizes Israel for its refusal to return the land it has occupied since the 1967 war and the United States’ unwavering support for the Jewish state.

Jewish groups have criticized the book’s comparison of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to South Africa’s former system of racial segregation.

The book prompted the resignation of 14 members of an advisory board to Carter’s human rights center in Atlanta.

Emily Shaaya, co-president of the Jewish student group Anteaters for Israel, found Carter’s depiction of the Middle East conflict “very inaccurate” and too sympathetic to the Palestinians.

“We’re supportive of dialogue on both sides,” said Shaaya, 19. “We’d have much rather not had President Carter speak on this campus or at least have him speak in a much more debate-oriented format.”

The leader of the Muslim Student Union declined to comment.

Shaaya’s group and the Islamic organization passed out literature before Carter’s speech, and campus police said there were no incidents. In the past, UCI has become a flashpoint in the national Israeli-Arab debate.

Last year, the U.S. Office for Civil Rights began an investigation into anti-Semitism at UCI. In 2003, a memorial to Holocaust victims was vandalized. The next year, an anti-Zionism mural erected by the Society of Arab Students was set on fire.

On Thursday, Carter’s 20-minute speech was followed by his response to half a dozen questions students had submitted earlier. Carter, who has written 23 books since leaving office in 1981 after one term, did not receive a fee for his appearance.

“We get a great man and don’t have to pay him the fortune that he’d be worth,” said William R. Schonfeld, director of UCI’s Center for the Study of Democracy.

Carter emphasized how pro-Israel lobbyists have stifled debate in this country on the Israeli-Palestinian situation. He urged UCI students to make a difference.

“The main problem with college students is indifference and the lack of deep commitment to change things around the world they deplore,” he said. “There’s political fear in Congress and among U.S. presidential candidates to speak out on a balanced position with anything that relates to Israel. But college students can play a crucial role in this debate. You have nothing to lose.”

Members of UCI’s Islamic and Jewish groups embraced Carter’s message of a more open debate on the Middle East, but neither side seemed excited about accepting his invitation to visit the occupied territories together.

“What’s needed is dialogue, but we don’t even know how to contact each other,” said Justin Saba, 18, a member of the Jewish student group.

“Maybe we just need to hope something will happen.”

Editorial assistant Nardine A. Saad contributed to this story.