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Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan delivered the keynote address yesterday at the Brandeis University commencement.
Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan delivered the keynote address yesterday at the Brandeis University commencement. (Matthew J. Lee/ Globe Staff)

Jordanian at Brandeis; rift over writer erupts

WALTHAM -- Prince El Hassan bin Talal, uncle of Jordan's King Abdullah II, called yesterday for a transformation from bloody conflict into ''broad-minded coexistence," in a commencement address at Brandeis University that focused largely on discord in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the conferral of a degree to the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner led to a protest among students, who objected to his criticism of Israel. Kushner wrote ''Angels in America" and co-wrote the screenplay for ''Munich." He has been criticized by groups such as the Zionist Organization of America, who say ''Munich" inaccurately portrayed Israel. He has been quoted as saying Israel was a ''mistake."

As he received his honorary degree yesterday, a handful of the 1,014 graduating students unfurled and held aloft large Israeli flags, and shouts of protest echoed throughout the Gosman Sports and Convocation Center.

Wearing a graduation cap that read ''I [heart] Israel," Jonathan Cohen, 21, of Great Neck, N.Y., said he and others had waved the flags to show support for the state of Israel.

''A lot of us students felt that it was inappropriate for an institution named after Louis Brandeis, an ardent Zionist, to give a degree to him," Cohen said.

In his address to students, the university's president, Jehuda Reinharz, indirectly touched upon a recent controversy that was sparked after students complained about, and the university removed, an art exhibit showing the Palestinian perspective on the conflict with Israel.

''At Brandeis, we believe that art can educate, inspire, and spur healthy and constructive debate, and can best serve those purposes in a university context if it is accompanied by thoughtful contextualization," he said.

Later, confusion among audience members when bin Talal announced, ''You see, ladies and gentlemen, I am a Marxist," morphed into applause when he added, ''of the Groucho kind. Groucho Marx once said that 'military intelligence is a contradiction in terms,' and with no disrespect to anyone, we do have to think beyond solving our security issues militarily."

Reinharz hailed bin Talal as an important figure in international struggles, noting that Jordan is one of two Arab nations, Egypt being the other one, that has a peace treaty with Israel.

For his part, bin Talal encouraged graduates to be vocal about all things political.

''Whatever motivates you, whether it's fairer trade or saving gorillas, don't conceive of the future as an empty space to be colonized by the present and driven by the market," he said.

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