Michigan State University
(Wikimedia Commons)

Students were subjected to harassment and intimidation after attempting to get a bill to define antisemitism passed by MSU’s student government.

Jewish students at Michigan State are estimated to number between 3,000 and 3,500. During the past several years, a number of antisemitic incidents have occurred — threatening phone messages, a defaced mezuzah and a swastika painted in front of a fraternity house. In addition, Hillel’s sukkah was damaged and Jewish students have experienced some casual antisemitic remarks. While these were not considered major problems, Jewish student leaders thought that being proactive by defining antisemitism would be helpful. 

Maddi Jackson, MSU Hillel’s director of Israel Education and Programming, explains that MSU has a broad anti-discrimination policy. However, without a clear official definition of antisemitism, she thinks that some incidents on campus probably go unreported.

The Jewish Student Union decided to propose adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) “working definition” of antisemitism, which has been approved by 30 countries and many universities. While approved by many entities, it has generated criticism for allegedly focusing too much on anti-Israel actions rather than white supremacists, who some contend pose a more immediate threat to American Jews. 

Jules Levy
Jules Levy

Jordan Robinson, 20, an undergraduate from West Bloomfield, is the Jewish Student Union representative to MSU’s student governing body — Associated Students of Michigan State University (ASMSU). The antisemitism proposal (see excerpt on bottom of page) was submitted to ASMSU’s Policy Committee, which passed it by a voice vote and sent it on the full governing body. The proposed definition was approved as a resolution by 81 percent of members on March 18, 2021, and was scheduled to be signed.

However, Jewish student leaders were soon told that some student government representatives claimed that they hadn’t had time to read it. According to Jules Levy, MSU’s Jewish Student Union president, Students United for Palestinian Rights (SUPR) at MSU posted a statement on Instagram opposing the proposal. This was posted and reposted online, reports Levy, a 21-year-old senior from New Jersey. 

Misinformation Spread

According to Jackson, several student organizations, including SUPR, started spreading misinformation about the proposed definition of antisemitism. 

“They claimed that Jewish students were trying to silence them, which is not true at all,” she says. “Criticism of Israel is not antisemitic. Hillel has brought Palestinian speakers to campus. We don’t protest at Palestinian events. They are politicizing this and trying to make students take sides on the Palestinian-Israeli issue.” 

Jordan Robinson
Jordan Robinson

ASMSU contradicted its official policies by scheduling a “re-vote” to be held after public comment sessions on Zoom on April 1 and 8. Jordan Robinson says that Jewish student leaders were assigned the initial comment period. Then a flood of criticism and negative comments followed from students who chose not to identify themselves on Zoom. 

According to Jules Levy, opponents claimed that the antisemitism definition would prohibit any campus events that were critical of Israel, which was inaccurate. “People were really attacking us on Zoom. It was not expected, and students felt very unsafe and upset about this,” she explains. “It was a very intense night. I had never gone through anything like that before and don’t want any other students to experience it.”

As a result of the intense pushback, the Jewish Students Union decided to rescind the proposed resolution. When asked in retrospect if the antisemitism definition was a good idea, Robinson focuses on the positive side. “It was a huge learning experience,” he says, adding that there was a lot of empathy for Jewish students from others on campus. 

“This whole process shows that there are a lot of areas that need work,” Jackson states. While there have been conversations with MSU administration about the situation, university officials have not commented about it publicly. Robinson says that the Jewish Student Union plans to form a working group of students and faculty to work on the issue over the summer. 

Read the official statement from the MSU Jewish Student Union, signed by 42 students.

An Excerpt from A Resolution for: ASMSU to adopt the official definition of Antisemitism as stated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)

WHEREAS, On May 26, 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) adopted a “working definition” of antisemitism that 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”; and,

WHEREAS, the IHRA definition includes numerous examples of antisemitic acts, including delegitimization, dehumanization, and demonization of the Holocaust, Jewish self-determination, and accusations of dual loyalty that, in its totality, are inextricably linked with, and cannot be severed from, what constitutes modern antisemitism. 

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