COLORADO SPRINGS Eager to find a provocative keynote speaker for a
three-day symposium next month on world events, Colorado College, a small liberal
arts institution here, invited Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian moderate well-known
in the West as a forceful and articulate spokeswoman for Palestinian causes.
But the invitation and Ms. Ashrawi's acceptance have angered Jewish groups
in Colorado and Jewish students at the school, who have accused the college of
insensitivity for scheduling her to speak one day after the anniversary of the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"We think she is an inappropriate speaker at that time," Rabbi Bruce Dollin,
president of the Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council, said. "We're not saying she
shouldn't come. But the timing is an affront to the victims of 9/11."
College officials said the conference, which will have nine other speakers,
including a former adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel, was not
intended as a memorial to Sept. 11. Separate events on campus are scheduled for
the 11th, they said.
Richard F. Celeste, a former Democratic governor of Ohio who became the college's
president last month, conceded that the conference name, "September 11: One Year
Later, Responding to Global Challenges," might have led some to assume it was
"But it's not," Mr. Celeste said today in an interview, adding that none of
the speakers were asked to focus exclusively on Sept. 11.
"The focus is the challenges we face in the world, post 9/11," he said. "Critics
I've had a chance to talk to have been understanding of that, if not supportive."
Even so, Rabbi Dollin, one of the critics who spoke to Mr. Celeste, said his
group planned a vigil outside the building when Ms. Ashrawi appeared, and members
of the college's Hillel chapter are planning a "civil protest," the group's faculty
adviser, Ofer Ben-Amots, a professor of music composition, said.
No such demonstrations have been planned for Ms. Ashrawi's other scheduled
appearances in Colorado: a speech on Sept. 14 in Boulder, sponsored by several
groups, including a student organization at the University of Colorado; and a
private fund-raiser on Sept. 15, sponsored by another group at the university,
the Coalition for Justice in Palestine.
Pauline Hale, a university spokeswoman, said university officials had received
"a handful of complaints so far" over Ms. Ashrawi's appearance.
Efforts to reach Ms. Ashrawi on the West Bank were unsuccessful.
The conflict at Colorado College is the latest incident on an American college
campus in which a Middle Eastern perspective has prompted controversy. Officials
at the University of North Carolina have been criticized for asking students to
read a book about the Koran, and the University of South Florida asked a court
if it could dismiss a tenured Palestinian professor who has been accused of having
ties to terrorists.
Ms. Ashrawi, a Christian Palestinian who has both served and opposed Yasir
Arafat, has become a leading figure in promoting peace between Israel and the
Palestinians. She is secretary general of the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion
of Global Dialogue and Democracy, which she founded.
Despite her moderate views, she is still considered by many Jews to be "an
apologist," as Rabbi Dollin said, for Mr. Arafat and the Palestine Liberation
Supporters of Ms. Ashrawi in the United States defend her as a visionary peace
activist. "She tells it as it is," said Leila Suleiman, of Colorado Campaign for
Middle East Peace, one of the groups sponsoring the Boulder appearances.
Mr. Ben-Amots said he had received 300 e-mail messages in the last 10 days
from people objecting to her participation. But some, he said, have complained
that the college did not do enough to balance the presentation with a stronger
figure representing an Israeli point of view.
The other keynote speaker, Gideon Doron, a professor of political science
at Tel Aviv University who was once a campaign consultant to Mr. Rabin, is scheduled
to speak a day after Ms. Ashrawi. Mr. Ben-Amots said that Mr. Doron "might be
a great person" but that he was not the political equivalent of Ms. Ashrawi.
Officials at the college said Mr. Doron was invited only after others with
loftier credentials declined because of scheduling conflicts. Still, it took a
recommendation from Mr. Celeste to elevate Mr. Doron to a parallel position with
"It has been my experience from visiting Israel that everything there is on
the front lines and involved in the political debate," Mr. Celeste said, defending
Mr. Doron as a suitable respondent. "I have a hunch that he will hold his own."
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company