Suit and Blurred People

By Harry Onickel

At the University of Michigan, there has been a series of “Blue Ribbon Panels” to discuss “the intersection between faculty responsibility and political thought.” The panels came about in the wake of the controversy surrounding U-M Professor John Cheney-Lippold’s refusal to write a letter of recommendation for a Jewish student to study in Israel because it would have conflicted with his anti-Israel bias.

The panel’s Jan. 11 meeting was hijacked by members of a group calling themselves Direct Action for Palestine (DAP). According to an article in the Jan. 13 Michigan Daily, “Before the panel commenced the meeting, the DAP leader, who asked to be referred to by the pseudonym Rami Abdullah, took the microphone and turned his back on the panel, announcing to the audience that DAP was taking over the event.”

DAP members listed their demands, such as dissolution of the panel, no consequences for Cheney-Lippold, public apologies from university leaders, divestment from companies doing business with Israel and the end of partnerships with Israeli academic institutions. They were also upset that two panel members were engaged with Israeli academic institutions. They seemed to have a serious problem with Israel.

One DAP speaker said, “It is difficult to imagine this panel building room for dissenting views…” This was said while bullying dissenting views and trying to censor university officials in their official capacity.

Another complained that, “Palestinian students feel alienated in an academic system that stubbornly resists integration” while demanding the academic alienation of Jewish pro-Israel students.

While some non-DAP members were allowed to speak, the overwhelming majority of voices were for allowing Cheney-Lippold to shirk his academic responsibilities because — Israel.

A Hillel member spoke for Jewish students on campus, saying he felt “hurt and angered” by Cheney-Lippold’s actions.

One telling comment came from Samer Madhy Ali, director of the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, who said, “I think many of us realize that we would not be in the situation if it was a protest of Saudi Arabia, if it was a protest of China …”

Both Saudi Arabia and China engage in real, documented, outrageous human rights abuses, yet there are no campus protests against either regime. The reason is obvious as to why.

During this two-hour protest, questions from member of the Blue Ribbon Panel and president emeritus James Duderstadt were ignored. In fact, “… the panel member listened without comment as DAP speakers presented their views and led the discussion,” the Daily reports.

Duderstadt was finally allowed to speak at the discussion’s end. He was very appreciative. “Thank you very much,” he said, “because I think by taking over our meeting you actually triggered a dialogue which has taught us a great deal … This is an institution based on academic freedom and the freedom of speech.”

Duderstadt seems to have missed a couple of relevant issues. There is no freedom of speech when a group like DAP is allowed to decide who is free to speak and who isn’t.

It has been clear for years that voices raised in support of Jews and Israel are not welcome at U-M, and now Duderstadt and the rest of this panel have given DAP members even more power to silence Jews.

Duderstadt and the rest of the panel abdicated their professional responsibilities when they failed to retain control of their panel and be the “adults in the room.” Instead, they cowered to the mob. Now that DAP members have learned that they’re in charge, we can expect things to get worse for Jewish students, especially if they support Israel. Lies will continue to be spread and the truth will continue to be shouted down. Our children’s access to a university education will continue to be based on the political whims of university professors.

And remember, today’s Israel-hating campus mob is made up of tomorrow’s leaders. Our children will be facing their hatred, lies and discrimination.

Harry Onickel is a retired teacher and freelance writer from Ferndale.