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April 13, 2021 4:26 pm

Jewish Students at Michigan State University Withdraw Previously Passed Antisemitism Bill After Backlash, ‘Weaponized’ Process

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

Michigan State University sign. Photo: Ken Lund.

A group of Jewish students at Michigan State University have withdrawn a previously passed bill to adopt the leading definition of antisemitism, following a backlash from members of the Students United for Palestinian Rights (SUPR) group and other students.

The adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition was initially passed by the Associated Students of Michigan State University (ASMSU) General Assembly on March 18, by an 81% margin, according to Michigan State University Hillel statement. In the days that followed, the statement said, student representatives who claimed to have not read the bill began to withdraw their support, and a special ASMSU session was planned for April 6 to “reconsider” the measure.

The SUPR alleged that the definition provided by the IHRA “limits the understanding of the true roots of antisemitism [and] plays an active role in silencing political thought surrounding the occupation of historic Palestine.” Instead, the SUPR called for adopting the Jerusalem Declaration of Antisemitism (JDA), an alternative proposed by critics of the IHRA definition.

“A bunch of SUPR representatives anonymously participated at a special virtual student government body meeting to discuss the bill, disguised their names or identities and disrupted the process by disseminating misinformation,” Jordan Robinson, Executive Vice President of University Relations for the Jewish Student Union, which presented the IHRA resolution to the student government body, told The Algemeiner. “Some of the SUPR members who spoke out against the IHRA adoption were Jewish, which was another trigger for the concerns which led to the bill being reconsidered.”

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The IHRA definition of antisemitism reads, “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” It includes examples of antisemitic acts, including delegitimization of the Holocaust and Jewish self-determination, and has been endorsed by over 30 governments around the world, including the US, Germany and the UK,  as well as a growing number of universities.

“We understood that this was not anymore about the IHRA, which was intended to protect Jewish students from hate and hurt at the campus,” Maddi Jackson, Director of Israel Education and Programming at Michigan State University Hillel, told The Algemeiner. “The definition was politicized and weaponized against us. Taking a stance against antisemitism and hate was being conflated with taking a stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The backlash and the number of special ASMSU meetings — which took place during and just after the Passover holiday — made the Jewish students, who had sponsored the bill, “feel victimized and condemned.”

In what followed, the Jewish students supporting the IHRA bill were asked to return to the ASMSU General Assembly to explain why each example cited by the definition constituted antisemitism, or else face a veto. The Jewish Student Union ultimately decided to rescind the bill.

“Our students felt isolated with no one standing up for them. They turned into the villains,” Jackson said. “We understood that further debate would only lead to continued targeting of Jewish students and more education was needed.”

Jackson claimed that the MSU Jewish community of about 3,500 students was being held to a different standard than other communities, including LGBT, Asian, and Arab students on campus — groups which had previously been the subject of anti-discrimination measures passed by the student government body.

Antisemitic incidents at the MSU campus have included a Jewish student receiving antisemitic death threats via Facebook Messenger, vandalism of a religious symbol on a Jewish student’s apartment door, and the destruction of the MSU Hillel Sukkah.

Moving forward, Jackson said that MSU Hillel and the Jewish Student Union plan this summer to set up a working group with the Serling Institute for Jewish Studies, to formulate a definition of antisemitism for MSU that protects both Jewish students and the Jewish faculty.

“We need to get some power back. This time we will work straight with the university administration and bypass the student government body so that the definition will be adopted by the university,” Jackson added.

“All victims of hate have the right to define that hate — the Jews are no exception. And we Jews understand that there are times when the condemnation of Israel crosses the line into antisemitism. That’s why the IHRA definition of antisemitism is so important. And that’s why we’re so proud of our students and partners at MSU for raising this issue. We must not — and will not — let others legitimize the most prevalent form of campus antisemitism today,” Maccabee Task Force Executive Director David Brog told The Algemeiner in reaction to the MSU events.

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