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Brandeis will select queries posed to Carter

Questions cover range of subjects

About 1,700 students, faculty, and other members of the Brandeis community will attend a university forum tomorrow to hear Jimmy Carter discuss his controversial new book about Israel, but their questions will be limited to those selected by a committee that invited the former president.

After weeks of furor over Carter's visit to promote his book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," students and faculty will be allowed to ask at most 15 questions, said members of the committee, composed of five faculty and one student sympathetic to Carter's views. They added that no follow-up questions would be allowed.

The committee has selected the questions -- which will follow a 15-minute speech by Carter set to begin about 4:30 p.m. -- from more than 100 submitted to a campus website posted about a week ago, said Gordon Fellman , a professor of sociology and member of the committee.

He and other committee members said the questions, which will be limited to 45 seconds, reflect a range of views and represent an efficient use of limited time. Carter has agreed to answer questions for about 45 minutes.

"It would be chaos to open the questions to all 1,700 people who want to ask questions," said Kevin Montgomery , 22, a senior majoring in politics who started a campus petition to invite Carter and is the student on the committee. "We've tried to represent all points of view. I would say roughly two-thirds of the questions challenge Carter, and about three are softballs. I think it would be a travesty to allow a single issue to dominate the discussion."

Some faculty and students, however, worry the screening and lack of follow-up questions will hamper a free exchange of views on the predominantly Jewish campus, where many hoped Carter would debate Alan Dershowitz , a professor at Harvard Law School who has criticized the former president's book.

"I think the format they've chosen is outrageous," said Morton Keller , an emeritus professor of history. "It's like a Soviet press conference. If you have the people in the camp of the speaker choosing the questions, you have to assume that they're going to be fairly softball questions. It seems the administration could be doing more to ensure some nonpartisan basis for the selection of questions."

A spokeswoman for Carter did not return calls yesterday.

Aside from the media, Carter's talk will be closed to anyone outside the Brandeis community, university officials said. They said space, parking, and traffic concerns, as well as city ordinances and security issues, have prevented the campus from opening the event to the general public.

One of those being excluded from attending the forum is Dershowitz, who pleaded with campus officials to be allowed to attend. The university also told Academy Award -winning director Jonathan Demme , who hoped to film the event as part of a documentary he is making about Carter, he could not attend.

A designated protest area will be set up across the street from the hall, on property belonging to the City of Waltham, said Dennis Nealon, a university spokesman .

Nealon said Dershowitz "does not have a ticket, has no Brandeis ID -- therefore he does not get into the hall."

However, Dershowitz, invited to speak at Brandies by a separate group of faculty and students, will be allowed to address the forum -- after Carter is finished speaking and has left the hall, Nealon said. The Harvard professor will be allowed to watch the former president's appearance on a closed-circuit television outside the hall.

"I think it's really foolish that they won't let me in," said Dershowitz, adding that he would allow students and faculty to ask as many unscreened questions as they like, including follow-ups. "I'm going to encourage hostile questions. I want to show the difference between allowing filtered and screened questions chosen by a pro-Carter committee."

He said he invites Carter to remain at the hall to join his discussion. He also decried the university's decision to ban signs and leaflets inside the hall where Carter will speak. "He wrote a book saying he encourages debate, but he won't debate -- me or anybody," Dershowitz said.

Carter will be the first former president to visit Brandeis since Harry Truman delivered the university's sixth commencement address in 1957.

Last month, the former president told the Globe he had declined an invitation from a university trustee to speak at Brandeis because it came with the suggestion he debate Dershowitz.

Carter's original decision set off a furor on campus and sparked a petition of more than 100 students and faculty members, who argued the former president should be invited to speak without debating Dershowitz. The invitation to Carter also triggered questions about how open the campus is to views critical of Israel.

The effort to bring Carter to Brandeis started in November.

David Abel can be reached at