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After months of searing criticism over a book comparing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with earlier state-sponsored racism in South Africa, President Jimmy Carter met an overwhelmingly friendly crowd at a Harvard Square bookstore on Jan. 23.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner signed copies of “Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid” at the Harvard Coop while in town for a highly anticipated speech at Brandeis University.
Coop President Jerry P. Murphy ’73 said he had ordered 1,600 copies of “Palestine” for the store. The hundreds of people hoping to see Carter had to show the book to Coop employees and Secret Service agents on their way up two flights of stairs.
“What better at an academic community than to have a controversial book,” Murphy said.
Crowds braved the freezing air outside the Coop starting at 11:00 a.m., armed with copies of “Palestine” and posters of support.
“I definitely believe there is an apartheid,” said Lorraine Grazyb, a Palestinian rights activist, while holding a sign outside the Coop.
“The wall is dividing. Palestinians have no rights in their own territory,” she said, referring the security barrier constructed on the Israeli border with the West Bank.
Other vocal Carter supporters included a man wearing a yarmulke who carried a large sign that read “Thank you, Jimmy Carter.”
With most students finished with exams and heading out for intersession, there were relatively few student demonstrators at the event.
Despite listserv e-mails from Harvard Students for Israel President Dana Stern ’09 urging the club’s members to distribute materials critical of the book at the event, those protesting against “Palestine” were a minority throughout the afternoon.
For much of the day, Michael Segal ’09, also a Crimson editorial editor, was the only HSI member passing out fliers in front of the Coop building on Harvard Square. One of the fliers, produced by the pro-Israel advocacy group StandWithUs, included a grid of point-by-point rebuttals against Carter’s assertions.
It claimed, for example, that the description in “Palestine” of the security barrier as an “imprisonment wall” is unfair because it was created to prevent terrorists from entering the country during the second Intifada when 1,000 Israelis were killed between 2000 and 2004.
“President Carter’s book has been met with controversy and criticism by top scholars who consider it to lack objectivity and to contain factual errors, omissions, and plagiarism,” Stern said in a statement sent via e-mail. “Writing a book which omits facts and contains incorrect information is detrimental to the goal of achieving peace and understanding between the Israelis and Palestinians.”
She noted that Dr. Kenneth Stein resigned from his post as Middle East Fellow at the Carter Center because of the book, along with 14 members of the center’s advisory group, which includes more than 200 members in total.
Despite the controversy surrounding Carter’s latest book, Murphy, the Coop’s president, said that most visitors today had only kind words for the former president and that “several people called him courageous.”
After the Coop appearance, Carter made the short trip west to Brandeis, where he defended his book to a crowd of students and faculty at the historically Jewish college.
“I can certainly see now it would provoke some harsh feelings. I chose that title knowing that it would be provocative, but in the long run it has precipitated discussion and there has been a lot of positive discussion,” Carter said, according to The Associated Press.
The majority of the demonstrators outside the hall where Carter spoke expressed pro-Palestinian views, the AP said.
—Staff writer Rachel L. Pollack can be reached at email@example.com.
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