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University of Michigan Enabling Terrorist Sympathizers?

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The University of Michigan campus on January 17, 2003 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo: Bill Pugliano / Getty Images)
The University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor (Photo: Bill Pugliano / Getty Images)

Anti-Semitism at the University of Michigan has reared its ugly head over the past month, with some of the incidents on campus connected to the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement against the state of Israel.

The BDS movement uses radical, distorted and often anti-Semitic rhetoric to demonize Israel and its citizenry with the ultimate goal of annihilating Israel and replacing it with a Palestinian state. Many groups in U.S. which promote the BDS movement have a long history of employing Islamist terrorist financiers.

In one incident last month at the University of Michigan, former Black Panther leader Emory Douglas gave a lecture at the university, as part of a guest-speaker series through the university’s Stamps School of Art & Design. As part of the department-sponsored lecture, Douglas presented slides that dehumanized Israelis. One student described the slides as invoking “the most classical—and most genocidal—anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.”

Following a call-out by multiple groups, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel responded by saying that the slide was one of “nearly 200 slides,” as if to say that it’s OK to have anti-Semitism mixed into a presentation, so long as it’s not the main focus of the presentation.

This is not the first time University of Michigan has waffled on a high profile case of campus anti-Semitism. It’s not even the first time in a year. In August, University of Michigan professor John Cheney-Lippold — a tenured American culture and digital studies professor who supports the BDS movement —  reneged on a commitment to provide a letter of recommendation for a student interested in studying in a program at an Israeli university.

(Note: The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights employs the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, which includes anti-Israel activities that hold Israel to a behavioral double standard “not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation,” in investigating claims of discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.)

Following Cheney-Lippold’s actions, a teaching assistant identified as Lucy Peterson similarly went back on her commitment to provide a letter of recommendation for Jake Secker, a 20-year-old junior, after learning that his study-abroad program was in Israel.

Peterson’s refusal came on the same day as a letter from University of Michigan President Schlissel which stated, “Withholding letters of recommendation based on personal views [of Israel] does not meet our university’s expectations for supporting the academic aspirations of our students.” Schlissel further wrote that those who violate these expectations will face “serious consequences.”

As a public institution, the University of Michigan receives significant funding from the state. Any boycott of Israel contravenes Michigan’s anti-BDS laws, which prohibit the state from hiring businesses that boycott individuals or public entities of a foreign nation.  

Yet, for breaching these laws and his student’s civil liberties, Cheney-Lippold received merely a slap on the wrist. He will not receiving a merit raise for the 2018-19 academic year.  Additionally, he will not be allowed to go on an upcoming sabbatical in January or another sabbatical for two years. Cheney-Lippold, for his part, stated that he has no regrets, and that he is proud of his actions.  As of this writing, the university has yet to take action against Peterson.

Additionally, despite claims made by Cheney-Lippold — and confirmed by the actions of Peterson — that there are “many university departments” which have pledged an academic boycott of Israel, the University of Michigan has yet to even investigate, let alone take action.

A recent letter to the University of Michigan from The Lawfare Project criticized the school for failing to investigate various academic departments that have been accused of such a boycott.

“It was clear after the first incident that an investigation was warranted, but now after the second, it is suggestive of deliberate indifference on the part of the university in refusing to investigate,” the letter states.

It is time for University of Michigan to get serious about their stated opposition to BDS and institute the “serious consequences” they claim will come if professors violate their students’ rights, not to mention their state’s laws. If the University of Michigan refuses to enforce these laws, then the State of Michigan should step in with their own “serious consequences,” namely cutting the university’s funding.

 

 

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Ryan Mauro and Alex VanNess

Ryan Mauro is the director of the Clarion Intelligence Network and Shillman Fellow for Clarion Project. Alex VanNess is a research analyst for the Clarion Intelligence Network.