U-M departments sponsor one-sided event.
Stacy Gittleman Contributing Writer
On Oct. 29, the University of Michigan’s Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies (CMENAS) hosted a public teach-in about the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The program was funded by CMENAS Endowments, Institute for the Humanities, Department of Anthropology, Arab and Muslim American Studies, Department of American Culture, the International Institute, Conflict and Peace Initiative, Colonialism, Race and Sexualities Initiative (through IRWG), Middle Eastern Law Students Association (MELSA), Department of Women Studies and the College of Literature, Science and Arts.
The lecture was not recorded and CMENAS did not invite any experts with opposing views.
Speakers included Palestinian-American activist Huwaida Arraf, After the BDS event, she tweeted she hoped the event was “just the beginning b/c just as UM divested from apartheid South Africa, it should divest from apartheid Israel.”
Another speaker was Israeli sociologist and activist Tom Pessah, who, the Michigan Daily reported, explored the difference between anti-Semitism and what he calls ‘anti-Semitizing,’ a way of equating criticism of Israel with the hatred against Jews.
Another speaker was author and political commentator Susan Abulhawa, who, as reported by the Michigan Daily, told attendees that 70 years ago, “Palestine was a thriving pluralistic country that was changed with the introduction of Zionism and that Israel has stolen Palestine’s home, lands, dignity, history and heritage.”
In an email to the JN, U-M spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald maintains the university is steadfast in its policy of not enacting any boycott of academic institutions in Israel.
“That does not mean, however, the university can suppress the speech or academic freedom of members of our faculty who may organize events like the one focused on the BDS movement,” he wrote. “They are free to discuss this issue or any other issue. The university does not require balance in the consideration of ideas in events organized by groups of faculty, staff or students on campus, even when some of the funding for those events comes from university departments. We are not aware of a great university that does so by policy.”
Michigan Hillel Executive Director Tilly Shames said Hillel’s role is to equip students with the tools to ask questions and bring up additional information and to put efforts into its Israel programming to educate the campus on the full diversity of Israel.
She said Hillel’s Israel Fellow, Orr Viznitzer, attended the program with about 10 students who asked critical questions. They later debriefed with Hillel staff.
“I know it is upsetting for students, parents and alumni to see these events happening on campus,” Shames said, adding that students were disappointed by this kind of “blatantly one-sided presentation” supported through university departments, but were glad they could attend to ask challenging questions and bring another perspective.
A Michigan Daily online post stated, that on Oct. 30, a group of students from Direct Action for Palestine met with U-M President Mark Schlissel and presented him (and the regents) with a list of demands, including divestment of companies involved in the occupation of Palestine, ending relations with Israeli academic institutions, dropping sanctions against two educators who refused to write recommendation letters for study at Israeli universities, written public apologies from Schlissel for his Sept. 20 statement opposing a boycott of Israeli academic institutions and more.
In the Oct. 31 University Record, Provost Martin Philbert reaffirmed that “university leaders believe academic boycotts violate the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech.”