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December 2, 2015 3:17 pm

Jewish Student Under Ethics Probe for Confronting Anti-Israel Demonstrators Defended by Peers


avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

University of Michigan student Jesse Arm confronted fellow students who put up an anti-Israel display on campus. Photo: Twitter.

University of Michigan student Jesse Arm confronted fellow students who put up an anti-Israel display on campus. Photo: Twitter.

University of Michigan students and former student government representatives defended a Jewish student on Tuesday who is facing an ethics investigation after he confronted anti-Israel demonstrators on campus, the student newspaper The Michigan Daily reported.

Jesse Arm, a University of Michigan sophomore and Central Student Government (CSG) representative, last month challenged fellow students who had assembled an anti-Israel display on campus. The altercation was caught on video and prompted Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE), the group behind the display, to call on the student government’s ethics committee to dismiss Arm. SAFE members claimed Arm’s conduct was “unbecoming of a regular student, let alone a CSG representative.”

The demonstration took place on Nov. 19, the day that 18-year-old American student Ezra Schwartz was killed in a Palestinian terrorist attack in Israel.

During a CSG meeting on Tuesday, University junior Matt Fidel, a former CSG representative himself, defended Arm by referring to Schwartz’s death. He said that after seeing footage of the confrontation, it is clear Arm was acting out of distress over the killing of Schwartz.

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“This was an American kid from Boston studying abroad in Israel,” Fidel said of Schwartz. “I can tell you from first-hand experience this was a very emotional day in the Jewish community.”

Fidel urged the assembly not to remove Arm on the grounds that his behavior was not disrespectful. He warned the CSG against being “in the business of telling leaders on campus that they should not be standing up for what they believe in or voicing their opinions on what they feel strongly about.”

“To have this protest and then not even understand slightly why this may have been a triggering experience for members of this community on campus I think is insensitive and also not really logical,” he said, according to The Michigan Daily.

Business senior Alex Adler, who is also chair of the university’s Hillel, echoed Fidel’s comments, saying Arm “reacted emotionally.” Rather than investigating Arm’s behavior, he said, the CSG should encourage a dialogue on campus between different student groups.

“I’m not here to say if that was right or wrong, but what I will say that he is not the only one from the Jewish community who felt triggered,” Adler said. “I’m not here to play politics. What I am here to say is what we have is an opportunity to have dialogue and discourse like we should in an academic environment.”

Law student and former CSG member Jon Lin said the assembly’s decision to launch an ethics investigation “sets a very low bar for what this assembly considers to be conduct becoming of a representative.”

“In the past, representatives in this body have done all sorts things with activism on this assembly that have gone far beyond what I saw in this video,” he said, before referring to the arrest of assembly members during protests at past meetings of the University’s Board of Regents.

“So I wonder, if being arrested doesn’t count as conduct unbecoming of a representative and didn’t start ethics investigations, how does a civil discussion on the Diag [quad] reach that standard?” Lin challenged.

The CSG ethics committee has not yet revealed its decision on Arm’s investigation.

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