image from Emory Douglas slide showing Benjamin Netanyahu and Adolf Hitler saying
Emory Douglas showed this slide of his work during an Oct. 4 Stamps Speaker Series lecture from the U-M School of Art & Design.

Artist’s lecture features slide of his work equating Netanyahu with Hitler.

Above: Emory Douglas showed this slide of his work during an Oct. 4 Stamps Speaker Series lecture from the U-M School of Art & Design.
Credit: Alexa Smith/Facebook

Emory Douglas, a California graphic artist and former Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, drew the ire of University of Michigan students, parents, alumni and Jewish community members when, as a guest lecturer Oct. 4 at a Penny Stamps School of Art & Design program, he presented a slide of one of his artworks comparing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler.

The image labeled both men “guilty of genocide” and gave the definition of genocide at the bottom of the artwork.

Douglas’ lecture, “Designing Justice,” also included two pro-Palestinian, pro-BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) pieces and his depictions of oppressed people around the world. Slides also showed satiric images of  Henry Kissinger, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, and others accused the U.S. of genocide for perpetuating war in the Mideast and blamed the U.S. for advancing diseases like sickle cell anemia.

The artist showed a brief film about his life, then presented his 200 or so slides with little context or commentary, other than reading the text in his art.

The lecture at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor was free and open to the public. The lecture series is a one-credit mandatory course requirement for Stamps students. They  must attend all 11 lectures; if they miss more than two, they fail.

Alexa Smith
Alexa Smith Jackie Headapohl | Detroit Jewish News

Stamps senior Alexa Smith of Livingston, N.J., attended the lecture and then posted the offending slides on social media.

Smith, a graphic design student who has created her own works focusing on promoting social justice, said she is no stranger to the controversial nature of art when used in politics. She knew the political and radical nature of Douglas’ work and knew he had created a pro-Palestinian mural in favor of the BDS movement in Oakland, Calif.

But she said his poster juxtaposing Adolf Hitler with Benjamin Netanyahu with the definition of genocide underneath crossed a line for her.

“That was no longer about boycotting Israel,” said Smith, who is active in pro-Israel activities on campus and designed the logo for the campus pro-Israel group WolvPAC. “It was a complete attack against Jewish students and it made me sick to my stomach that he equated the atrocities of the Holocaust to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. When things like this become the norm, it makes Jewish and pro-Israel students feel they don’t have a big voice on campus.”

Smith said her frustration was compounded because two years ago the Stamps series invited graphic novelist Joe Sacco to speak. In his novels Palestine and Footnotes in Gaza, Sacco did not draw faces of Israeli soldiers because, he said, it would humanize them.

After Sacco’s lecture, Smith went to the Stamps administration asking to invite Artists 4 Israel, a group that uses art to treat Israelis traumatized by war. She said this suggestion went ignored.

U-M spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald said the Stamps speaker series is intentionally provocative.

“(Douglas) presented and discussed a wide array of topics, much focused on the oppression of people across the globe by governmental powers,” Fitzgerald said. “The university understands how people may react differently to different speakers and disagreeing with controversial speakers is part of the learning process. Pertaining to its lecture series, Penny Stamps clearly states on its website that discovering what you do not agree with will help you find your voice as much or more perhaps than the things you find resonance with.”

On Monday, U-M Hillel leaders sent a letter to students and parents concerning this incident, noting it comes just weeks after a professor refused to provide a student with a recommendation letter to study abroad at an Israeli institution.

“We at Michigan Hillel share your concern that this image denigrated the memory of those killed in the Holocaust by suggesting a false equivalence to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today,” the letter stated. It went on to say Hillel staff and students have been communicating with U-M top administrators, expressing concerns about these incidents and “the broader concern of professors and lecturers inserting anti-Israel politics into the classroom or their actions without regard to the impact on the student.”

“We have suggested avenues and resources for more training and understanding around modern-day anti-Semitism and have offered steps to ensure a more inclusive classroom atmosphere,” the letter stated. “We were pleased to hear the university leadership’s repeated rejection of BDS, including the specific boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Based on our conversations, we are confident the university is taking these issues very seriously.”

Carolyn Normandin, Michigan director of the Anti-Defamation League, said since the Emory Douglas lecture, ADL has been in close contact with Michigan Hillel and with U-M administrators.

“Any time a person equates Israeli leadership to Hitler, it crosses a line from criticizing Israel into anti-Semitism,” she said. “It is one thing to criticize Israeli policy, as any country’s policy should be criticized in an open and free society … but no Jewish student in a required lecture should feel so blindsided.”

On Monday, news media in Israel reported that Israeli Minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett sent a letter to U-M President Mark Schlissel voicing strong condemnation of the comparison between Hitler and Netanyahu, which, he, says breached the accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism.

Bennett cited the recent U-M study abroad recommendation letter refusal and writes: “The time has come for you as head of the university to take a strong stand against what has clearly become a trend of vitriolic hatred against the Jewish state on your campus.”

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Stacy Gittleman is an award-winning journalist and has been a contributing writer for the Detroit Jewish News for the last five years. Prior to moving to Metro Detroit in 2013, she was a columnist and feature writer for Gannett's Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, NY. She also manages social media pages for other local non-profit organizations including the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. Contact her with breaking news and feature story ideas that impact Detroit's Jewish community at


  1. It is time for Jews to stop funding the University of Michigan. And for all the leftist Jews who think this is anti-Zionism and not anti-semitism, send your kid to campus wearing a kippah. If you are afraid to do that than you are willfully ignorant and merely useful fools.

  2. This lecture was misinterpreted and the slide was misread. In order to criticize Emory Douglas’s work it is important to understand the process behind his artistic practice. Douglas presented unabashed criticism of many world leaders, not on the basis of race but on the basis of humanitarian practices. It’s important to understand the social context surround the lecture as well as the black panther movement which inspired the works in question. Before dishing out biased criticism fully understand your subject.

    This quote form the Washington post is relevant to this present situation.
    “Despite what some pro-Israel organizations would have us believe, not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. Like all countries, Israel has a duty to uphold international human rights laws and to protect the rights of those living under its control. One may protest the use of live fire on unarmed protesters, the closure of the Gaza border and the subsequent humanitarian crisis, the military occupation of the Palestinian territories, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attacks on democracy and incitement against human rights leaders without invoking anti-Semitic tropes. Such policies would be wrong in any country, whether carried out by Jews or other people.”

    I can attest that this piece draws a fine line between criticism and anti-Semitism. However I would argue that it falls on the side of criticism. Intent must be considered. What was the artist intending to say? Develop an intellectual response to the art in question before you respond in a reactionary manner.

  3. It’s misleading to say that he blamed the US government for diseases “like sickle cell anemia.” He ALSO blamed the US goverbment for AIDS and syphilis, which are uh pretty different for sickle cell anemia. I’m not going to go into his arguments here. Either way, the statement you made is misleading and that’s just one small part of your article. Makes me question the article as a whole a bit more because if such an I consequential statement is misleading, what else is?

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