Jordan Wohl, a freshman at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, was in the Office of Student Engagement March 22 when a number of students came in, distraught after finding “parking violation” tickets on their cars.
The tickets said the vehicles were going to be towed and possibly demolished at the owner’s expense. Police were in the parking lot, and the students didn’t know what to do.
Wohl, recently elected a senator of the Central Student Government, and Neil Cantor, director of Jewish Student Life for Hillel of Metropolitan Detroit (HMD), went to the parking lot. Campus police were indeed there, but they were removing the tickets, which had been put on every car.
Wohl and Cantor found one ticket on the ground and quickly realized this was a stunt carried out by the anti-Israel group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
The document had “mock ticket” in faint letters that were easy to overlook; new wording had been pasted onto an actual Dearborn Municipal Court ticket dated Jan. 23, 2016.
After stating the vehicle would be towed and possibly destroyed, the “ticket” continues with a strident anti-Israel diatribe, accusing the Jewish state of being a racist colonizer guilty of ethnic cleansing and apartheid.
The “ticket” ends by promoting two upcoming SJP events.
Cantor and the students he works with at UM-Dearborn say they are disappointed because they have experienced little anti-Semitism on campus and feel comfortable there.
“I’ve never had a problem, and I wear my kippah when I’m on campus,” said David Solomon, a senior from West Bloomfield. “It’s very open, a good campus to have dialogue.”
Ellana Collins, a junior from West Bloomfield, noted that the Jewish Student Organization (JSO) and the Muslim Student Association co-sponsored a program last year called “Let’s Talk About Peace,” featuring Jewish and Muslim comedians.
Collins, JSO president, noted sadly that this year the Muslim students declined to do a joint program with her group, possibly because of growing pressure from SJP.
Cantor estimated UM-D has between 50 and 60 Jewish students.
A letter to UM-D deans from a lawyer with California-based StandWithUs, an Israel advocacy organization, states that “SJP’s mock tickets antics are illegal: They are in clear violation of both Dearborn Municipal Codes and UM-Dearborn policy.”
The letter states that “Section 14-81(d) of the Dearborn Municipal Code makes it unlawful to place a handbill on any automobile or other vehicle.”
It also says “according to UM-Dearborn Posting Policy, all postings must be stamped for approval by the Office for Student Engagement. These ‘mock tickets’ lack any stamp of approval.”
Upset students, including many non-Jews, contacted the university administration, which responded quickly.
“The university does not agree with or approve of the views expressed on the leaflets, nor do we approve of the manner in which they were distributed,” said Daniel Little, chancellor of UM-Dearborn.
The campus department of public safety, the Office of Institutional Equity and the Office of Enrollment Management and Student Life are investigating the incident, he added. When and if those responsible are identified, he said, they or their organization could face a code of conduct review or a Title IX bias incident.
“UM-Dearborn’s campus community has worked hard to build a welcoming and safe environment rooted in inclusion, respect and mutual understanding,” he said. “The inclusive nature of our campus community is a great source of pride for all of us at UM-Dearborn.”
Little noted that the university has a campus-wide incident reporting website where students, faculty and staff can report discrimination, harassment, bias or sexual misconduct.
David Kurzmann, executive director of the JCRC/AJC, said the “parking violation” incident does not represent the atmosphere on campus.
“It’s a great operation. Unfortunately, students sometimes do really stupid things,” he said.
Unlike some Muslim organizations, Students for Justice in Palestine and other supporters of the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement are unwilling to engage with Jewish students in a respectful way, Kurzmann said. The JCRC/AJC and Hillel of Metro Detroit have offered to hold joint programs with SJP, but they have refused, he said.
Miriam Starkman, HMD executive director, said the parking ticket incident was disturbing.
“We want all students to have a safe, comfortable environment on campus, and the university administration wants that as well,” she said. “They work hard to encourage inclusivity and civility.”
An issue perhaps more upsetting to Jewish students on campus is that student government meetings are held on Friday night, when many Jewish students are unable to attend.
“This has been going on for several years,” Collins said. “We contacted the president of the student government about our concerns, and the response was that there were other ways Jewish students could be involved.”
Collins said the Jewish Student Organization would continue to press for changing the meeting time so that Jewish students can participate fully in student government.