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October 5, 2018 1:48 pm

University of Michigan Student: I Was Forced to Attend ‘Antisemitic Lecture’ Comparing Netanyahu to Hitler

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A lecture led by Emory Douglas at the University of Michigan on October 5, 2018. Photo: Alexa Smith.

An undergraduate at the University of Michigan said she “was forced to sit through an overtly antisemitic lecture” on Thursday, which compared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler.

Alexa Smith, a senior, said the presentation was part of the Penny Stamps Speaker Series, which arts and design students are required to attend.

The image — shared by lecturer Emory Douglas, a graphic designer who served as minister of culture for the Black Panther Party — branded both Netanyahu and Hitler with the caption, “Guilty of Genocide.”

“In what world is it ok for a mandatory course to host a speaker who compares Adolf Hitler to the Prime Minister of Israel?” Smith asked in a Facebook post on Friday.

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“As a Wolverine, I sat through this lecture horrified at the hatred and intolerance being spewed on our campus,” she continued. “As a Jew who is proud of my people and my homeland, I sat through this lecture feeling targeted and smeared to be as evil as the man who perpetuated the Holocaust and systematically murdered six million Jews.”

Smith — a member of the campus group WolvPAC, which aims to promote the US-Israel relationship — said her recent experience was not unprecedented.

Two years earlier, she attended another Stamps lecture with comic book artist Joe Sacco, who “made references to Israel being a terrorist state and explicitly claimed that Israeli soldiers were unworthy of being represented as actual human beings in his artwork.”

“This time I will no longer sit quietly and allow others to dehumanize my people and my community,” Smith said. “The administration is repeatedly failing to forcefully respond to antisemitism, and so it comes back worse and worse each time. A line needs to be drawn and it needs to be drawn now.”

Rick Fitzgerald, a spokesperson for U-M, told The Algemeiner that Douglas’ lecture centered on the “vast body of work” he produced, most during his time with the Black Panther Party.

“His presentation included a video and nearly 200 slides with images of his work,” Fitzgerald said. “He presented and discussed a wide array of topics and subject matter, much of which was focused on the oppression of people across the globe by governmental powers.”

“The Stamps program is intentionally provocative and we are clear with our students about this,” he continued.

Part of the introduction to the event includes a disclaimer emphasizing the diversity and independence of speakers, which the university does not “control or censor,” Fitzgerald added.

He said undergraduates only need to select and attend 10 of 14 scheduled Stamps events to receive the required credit.

The incident comes shortly after a U-M digital studies professor, John Cheney-Lippold, rescinded an offer to write a letter of recommendation for a student after learning she sought to study abroad in Tel Aviv.

The professor, a supporter of academic boycotts targeting the Jewish state, defended his position amid significant criticism — including from the university president, who disavowed boycotts of Israel, and a regent who called the professor’s behavior “antisemitic.”

In response to the controversy, an executive faculty body at the school urged professors last week to base their letters of recommendations on “student’s merit” — a statement that was criticized by some for its ambiguity over disciplinary action. Tammi Rossman-Benjamin — director of the AMCHA Initiative, a campus antisemitism watchdog that led nearly 60 groups in condemning Cheney-Lippold — called the statement “irrelevant,” pointing out that it did not clarify whether any faculty members who violate it would be penalized.

Rossman-Benjamin estimated that “there are probably close to 2,000 faculty across the country who have endorsed some version of the academic boycott of Israel,” including at least two dozen at U-M, a number of whom serve in leadership roles within their departments.

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