Commencement should unite us; Oren tears us apart

Mariel Gruszko is a student at Brandeis and a friend. She wanted to share her thoughts with the community, so this is a “guest post” of hers. Do you want to write for/on Innermost Parts? Email us at

I can’t even begin to convey the stunned disappointment I felt when Brandeis University announced its selection of Michael Oren as Commencement speaker for the 2010 graduation ceremony.  I was angry, too; but anger doesn’t cover the half of it.

Michael Oren, the current Israeli Ambassador to the United States, previously served as a spokesman for the IDF during Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon and as an IDF media relations officer during Israel’s 2008-09 strikes on Gaza. He famously declared that the Goldstone report was more dangerous for Jews than either Ahmadinejad or Holocaust deniers.

Regardless of your feelings for Israel, the 2006 Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead, or the Goldstone Report, Ambassador Oren is undeniably a controversial figure.  Commencement is meant to be an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the entire Brandeis community; for graduating seniors, it represents a final coming-together as one.  Ambassador Oren’s presence as Commencement’s keynote speaker does not bind our community together.  As should have already become evident, it tears us apart.

For some Jews, Oren is a model of statesmanship.  For others, he represents a paranoid style in Israeli politics.  For most outside the Jewish community, Oren is a figure of little note.  For Palestinians, he is the apologist and gatekeeper for a government that has denied them basic rights and humanitarian assistance and made them vulnerable to deportation.  Oren is a painful reminder of the divisions we face as a community.

We deserve better than this.  Commencement should be a time to celebrate as we move onto the next phase of our lives, not a time for recriminations and ostracizations.  Commencement speakers traditionally give graduating students boring but sage advice on how to conduct oneself in the world.  But many of us would rather not take advice from Oren.  Many more of us are confused about how Oren fits into Brandeis’ commitment to social justice.

I hope that we can once again unite as a community to celebrate diversity rather than embracing a one-sided and exclusionary view of what it means to be a Brandeisian.  It’s a shame that students are likely to learn more from each other as they navigate yet another perfectly-timed Brandeis crisis than they will from this year’s commencement speaker.


11 thoughts on “Commencement should unite us; Oren tears us apart”

  1. Art, remember that this is a guest post–no one asked me to write for IP; I did so because hearing that an “architect of genocide,” in your words, was speaking at commencement nearly brought me to tears. If the administration’s choice for a commencement speaker generates a “brouhaha,” then maybe that’s something they should take into consideration next time they’re asked to choose a speaker for a celebratory rather than academic event.

  2. people didn’t need IP to tell them that this man is a monster. brandeis students can think for themselves. how exactly will protest ruin commencement?

  3. Really? You really believe that? If IP didn’t generate this bruhaha, know one would know that this man was the architect of a genocide. They’d listen to a man give a speech, and that’s that.

  4. Whether or not anyone decides to protest, the day has already been ruined for hundreds of seniors.

  5. So, if you decide to protest, even silently, at commencement, know that you’ll be ruining one of the most important days of ~7-800 seniors.

  6. So what do we do? Is there some sort of group or listserv or something that I could get involved in to try to prevent this man from speaking at my graduation? If we can’t prevent it, we need to at least demonstrate our anger by making a major statement at commencement.

  7. I too agree with this wholeheartedly.

    I view Brandeis as so much more than the stereotype this decision propagates. What remains to be done now? How can we voice our dissatisfaction and demonstrate Brandeis’ true diversity?

    I know this is particularly daunting, given that this is our commencement, but I think we need to start discussing what useful ways there might be to voice our feelings.

  8. I agree wholeheartedly, Mariel.

    As a fellow graduating senior with similar feelings, I don’t know what to do. Commencement is supposed to be the culminating ceremony of my Brandeis career, but with Oren speaking it won’t feel that way at all. I like to think that I’ve learned about how to uphold ideals of justice and equality in the world during my time at Brandeis, but Oren doesn’t stand for these principles. The Gold-Goldstone event was hard enough in challenging my position and identity on our campus. That was the first time I stood up for my principles in regards to the Israeli Occupation (both literally and figuratively).

    Then what about all my family members who will be visiting? This speaker won’t show them the Brandeis I know. All they’ll see is the stereotypical Jewish institution that exists to support Israel no matter what it does.

Comments are closed.