Jewish Student Under Ethics Probe for Confronting Anti-Israel Demonstrators: ‘I Acted for Those Who Felt Marginalized, Unsafe’ (INTERVIEW)
The Jewish University of Michigan student at the center of an ethics probe for arguing with anti-Israel demonstrators on campus told his side of the story to The Algemeiner on Wednesday.
“My actions came from my own place of hurt and that of a sizable portion of my constituency’s,” said Jesse Arm, a University of Michigan sophomore and Central Student Government (CSG) representative. “I am saddened that my fitness for office has been called into question by virtue of my opposition to a purposefully inflammatory protest.
“To suggest that I am not suited to be a member of Michigan’s Central Student Government because of my public opposition to Students Allied for Freedom and Equality’s protest on the Diag [quad] would be to undermine the core principles of democracy and pluralism on which our nation was founded and our University rooted.”
Last month, Arm confronted fellow protesting students who assembled an anti-Israel display on campus. 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.
The altercation between Arm and the demonstrators was caught on video and resulted in SAFE, the group responsible for the display, calling on the student government’s ethics committee to dismiss Arm. During a CSG meeting on Tuesday, a number of university students and former student government representatives spoke in defense of Arm.
Speaking to The Algemeiner about the confrontation on campus, Arm said he questioned the anti-Israel demonstrators about the taste, timing, and appropriateness of their display in light of the recent terror attacks taking place around the world, particularly in Israel. He said he felt a connection to Schwartz, who was killed the same day demonstrators put up the anti-Israel display.
“That American student was a contemporary of mine from my community with whom I shared many mutual friends,” Arm said. “He was abroad on a gap year program that I seriously considered attending before eventually electing to enroll at Michigan. His story was my story.”
Arm said he told the demonstrators they might make better use of their time by holding a moment of silence with pro-Israel student groups, as opposed to erecting what he called “an incendiary protest consisting of students portraying Israeli soldiers as terrorizers.” The college sophomore said he offered his phone number to the lead student activist, to whom he addressed his concerns, but the anti-Israel demonstrator told Arm he was not interesting in continuing their conversation at another time.
Commenting on the display itself, Arm said he took particular offense to one of the signs that read: “To exist is to resist.” He believes the phrase is a “plainly regressive way of looking at the conflict, no matter what side you are on.”
“To exist is to coexist. To exist is to dialogue. To exist is to compromise,” he said. “To exist is to strive toward peace. To resist these values is to threaten the existence of lives on both sides of this struggle.”
Arm said his encounter with the demonstrators was very brief, as he was between classes. He assured The Algemeiner that any accusation of his engaging in hate speech, or any form of physical or verbal abuse, is “categorically untrue.”
“I believe my actions reflect the type of civil exchange we expect from a representative of the student body and indeed from every student,” he said. “I disagreed with the decision of these student activists and voiced my concerns. In addition, I acted as a representative of students who felt marginalized or unsafe by that public demonstration.
“The implications that a student representative must either shed all ideas or stop expressing them and that a basic requirement for leadership in CSG is either to have no ideas or to remain silent is foreign to the underpinnings of a free democracy.”
Arm revealed that a fellow CSG representation participated in the SAFE demonstration. He told The Algemeiner, “If it is the case that it is unethical for a representative of CSG to challenge any student protester, then it should also be the case that it is unethical for a representative of CSG to partake in a protest that might not represent the views of all students.”
The University of Michigan student said he has no intention to “silence” any members of SAFE, explaining that he is a “fervent believer” in political pluralism and freedom of speech. He only asks SAFE members to present their arguments in a “respectful and considerate fashion to Jewish, Israeli and other Zionist students.”
The CSG ethics committee has not yet revealed its decision on Arm’s investigation.