Audience members at former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s speech Thursday will be the first group able to ask unscreened questions on his tour of colleges.
Carter, who has already visited Brandeis and Emory universities, has until now only answered questions that have been through a screening process. Students at the event Thursday will be given index cards on which to write their questions, said Ambassador Edward “Skip” Gnehm, Gulf and Arabian Peninsula affairs professor, who is organizing the event.
“No one is going to look at the questions, it’s not going to be censored,” Ghenm said.
Carter has recently been under fire over his book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” released in November. The 39th president, who served from 1977 to 1981, helped broker the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt. In his text he hypothesizes that Israel’s control over former Palestinian territories has been the fundamental roadblock to peace.
Carter has also drawn fire over his comparison between Israel and the racist South African regime that oppressed Africans during Apartheid.
Carter will answer questions in an approximately 45-minute session after he speaks for about 15 minutes in Lisner Auditorium, Ghenm said. The questions that Carter does not have time to address will be answered by posts on his Web site.
“I just had a very clear communication back (from his office) which is that he’s coming because he wants to engage with students,” Gnehm added.
University officials said there is space reserved for a protest of Carter’s visit on campus.
“There has been one student who has requested space to protest and that will be granted, but we have to give them University space, which would be in Kogan plaza or university quad,” said Tracy Schario, GW Media Relations director. A protest on city property would require a permit with the Metropolitan Police Department, Schario said.
Michael Peller, managing director of Marvin Center and University Conferences, said that the student requested a protest space yesterday. The student, he said, is affiliated with a small group of demonstrators.
Schario added that her office has recently met with the Secret Service concerning security for the event.
“Our policy is that people have a right to share all matters of opinion and we encourage peaceful and respectful protest,” Schario said.
Many Jewish-American organizations and Israel supporters have been critical of Carter since the book was released. National publications have printed criticisms of Carter’s theory and 15 board members of the nonprofit Carter Center resigned in January.
Rob Fishman, executive director of GW Hillel, said that Hillel is not organizing an event concerning the Carter visit. “I think you’ll see a great deal of respect from the students at GW,” Fishman said.
“I was told that (the questions are) not going be pre-screened, so we’re hoping that students have read the book and are prepared to ask challenging questions,” he said.
Hillel sent out a listserv e-mail March 1 explaining the organization views the event as “an educational opportunity” and a contribution “to the ongoing dialogue surrounding the Middle East conflict.”
Carter’s speech is the third installment of the Middle East Policy Forum, a series of lectures put on by the Elliott School of International Affairs. Gnehm told The Hatchet last week that he called his fellow Georgian on a whim to see if he would be interested in participating in the series.