Jewish Students Report Intimidation as BDS Battle Ignites at University of Michigan
by Joshua Levitt
Jewish students reported being intimidated and threatened at University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, ahead of a student senate meeting on Tuesday evening, where it will be decided if a vote, which had been indefinitely tabled, will be re-taken after a campus group promoting divestment in Israel staged a sit-in at the weekend to pressure student leaders.
At 7:30 PM on Tuesday, the school’s Central Student Government will reconsider the motion which would call for a vote to ask the school to divest assets from certain companies that do business in Israel or whose products impact areas that the Palestinian Authority claims for a state.
Last week, the CSG voted to table that discussion “indefinitely,” but the meeting turned riotous, as members of SAFE, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, which published an Op-Ed in the Michigan Daily student paper to make their case, harassed Jewish students who opposed the vote.
The Washington Free Beacon reported on Monday that at least one pro-Israel student “received death threats and that others have allegedly been called ‘kikes’ and ‘dirty Jews’ by backers of the virulently anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which aims to delegitimize the Jewish state through economic means.”
Campus police were notified of the threats, but no action was known to have been taken, nor have school administrators done anything more than encourage the student groups to engage in civil debate over the issue.
Molly Rosen, a University of Michigan senior who was at the meeting, told The Algemeiner on Tuesday that while the student speaker “did a great job” of keeping order at the meeting, many students “definitely were feeling intimidated because of how they voted on the issue.”
“I, personally, was not scared, but I know many students who are now not willing to express opinions in class for fear of retribution on campus or on social media,” Rosen said.
She pointed to Twitter hashtag #UMDivest to get an idea of the tenor on campus:
On Tuesday afternoon, Amneh Sheikh-Khalil, from “Michigan/Palestine” wrote, “I wish I was @ UM-Ann Arbor participating in #UMDivest. Fighting for Palestine & the rights of my people is what I’d love to do for a career.”
The loudest voice pushing the divestment campaign on behalf of #UMDivest on Tuesday was actually from outside the campus, from Electronic Intifada, who quoted Suha Najjar of SAFE on Twitter as saying, “Our student government silenced the voices of Palestinians.”
Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abunimah traveled to the University of Michigan campus last week to help organize the student demonstrations that snowballed into death threats.
In his article about last week’s vote, Abunimah described the campaign against Israel as similar referendums at Loyola University, in Chicago, and at the University of the West of England, in the UK, went in their favor. But as the campus becomes a violent front in the battle to delegitimize Israel, campus rights specialists are making their objections to those heavy handed tactics that seem out of place in an environment where all students are meant to feel safe.
Rosen, the University of Michigan senior, an Emerson Fellow participated on a trip in June with CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. Rosen wrote an Op-Ed, published in The Algemeiner in December, about a “mock eviction” campaign by SAFE, which placed 1,500 notices on the doors of pro-Israel students and Jews on campus, breaking school rules for intimidation and for harassing students at their dorms.
“The Mock Eviction campaign broke the peace of mind of thousands of students on campus and was only constructive in tearing communities and individuals at the University apart,” Rosen wrote.
A similar campaign at Northeastern University earned a one-year suspension for campus group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), while the group’s executive board was barred from ever serving on any future board in the organization, school administrators ruled this month.
Rosen noted that Northeastern’s Hillel and dean of students stood up for Jewish students on campus, but that it remains to be seen what will happen at Michigan.
Aviva Slomich, CAMERA Campus Director, told The Algemeiner on Tuesday, “Northeastern has very strict policies, a very strong Hillel, and pro-Israel organizations on campus, and in Boston, in general, that we’ve worked with closely. We’ve also had a CAMERA fellow there to help organize awareness events. It makes sense the SJP would be suspended by the school because what they did broke school guidelines, and Northeastern takes that very seriously.”
“At Northeastern, it’s a priority for each group to follow the guidelines, which really are aimed at preventing any student from feeling intimidated on campus, so we’re hoping to see a similar stance at the University of Michigan,” she said. “All universities are handling it differently, but I know the ‘eviction notices’ campaign also got the SJP group suspended at Florida Atlantic University, where they pushed the boundaries even further by using a university stamp on the notice.”
“There was a question of, was this just an informational campaign, but we know that the notices were targeted at vocal pro-Israel students and Jews, the example being that, in one case, just one student, a Jew, received the notice on an entire dorm floor, so, no, it is not a coincidence,” Slomich said. “These are planned to make students uncomfortable in their ‘homes’ and that is against every school’s policy.”
“At Northeastern, there was also an SJP walkout of an event featuring Israel Defense Forces on Yom Hashoa (Holocaust Memorial Day), which was another case of the group not following the school’s protocol. All of this adds up to students feeling intimidated and targeted, and crossing the line from freedom of speech to incitement and intimidation against Jews,” she said. “The school administration has an obligation to protect all students, to keep them in a safe environment, and, in the case of Jews, there is no reason why a Jewish student should be forced to endure calls for Intifida, which, if you don’t know, means the murder of innocent Israelis. That is unacceptable.”
Slomich said CAMERA is active on 50 campuses in the U.S. and Canada, as well as in Uruguay, Argentina, South Africa and in Jerusalem, a new office which she is now heading to reach Jews studying in Israel. Students come to Boston for an annual training session in August, when they learn how to be “strong confident activists and Zionists on campus, armed with factual information, ready to present the truth about Israel and counter any misinformation they experience in terms of the BDS movement.”
CAMERA maintains an archive of 30 years of research about anti-Israel initiatives, where “some of the names have changed, but the points they try to present against Israel are the same, and students can learn how to respond with strength,” Slomich said.