Zionist Organization of America-Michigan Region members returned, for the third time in 12 months, to address the University of Michigan Board of Regents’ meeting. Sheldon L. Freilich, Irving Ginsberg, Ed Kohl and I spoke at the Feb. 16 meeting. We voiced concerns over the university’s silence over the past three years when Jewish/pro-Israel students had been targeted and intimidated.
Ed Kohl and I spoke during the formal meeting. I overviewed the U-M situation, mentioned that Professor Alan Dershowitz at Temple Beth El stated that anti-Semitism is rising on university campuses and pointed out that U-M junior Mara Cranis stated in the Feb. 16 issue of the JN “that anti-Semitism has been increasing on campus since September.”
Kohl pointed out that when the Valentine cards with “my love 4 u burns like 6,000 Jews” incident happened a few weeks back, Central Michigan University President George Ross immediately released the following: “With heavy hearts and great embarrassment, we apologize. To those of Jewish descent, rest assured that we stand with you and vow to continue the effort to educate others.”
No such statement has been expressed by U-M’s administration regarding Jews, including when spoof hate emails attacking Jews and blacks appeared several weeks ago.
President Mark Schlissel made a strong public statement at the Regents’ meeting, saying, “Bigotry of any kind is unacceptable in our community, and I’ve said so countless times. Bigotry includes bigotry on the basis of race, ethnicity and on religion. Anti-Semitism is not tolerated here or elsewhere and should not be.”
Regent Andrea Fisher Newman thanked ZOA for coming and said, “I want to agree with the president’s remarks, and I think that abuse of any student – Muslim, Jewish, or otherwise – is not acceptable on this campus.”
She added, “Until recently, I didn’t appreciate the fact that some felt there was a double standard for Jewish students, and I wanted to thank those students and others who have reached out to let me know how they feel.”
Regent Andrew Richner said, “While hate speech is protected by the First Amendment, we don’t have to sit idly by and listen to it or accept it. I think the speakers are right in bringing this issue to our attention, and it deserves our attention and due diligence.”
During public comments, Ginsberg and ZOA-MI President Freilich spoke about the ugly climate of anti-Semitism on campus extending over multiple years. Both reported that university officials displayed an unacceptable double standard, vigorously responding when other groups are attacked, yet ignore and are silent when Jewish students are harassed and intimidated on campus.
Ginsberg referenced several quotes by Schlissel about harassment against other minority groups, but he had been continuously silent when Jewish intimidation occurred.
Freilich mentioned that as a son of Holocaust survivors, he was acutely aware of how racial, religious and ethnic persecution of Jews can lead to degradation, violence and bloodshed if unchecked by governmental officials.
He outlined four steps the university should take to ensure that the educational environment is safe:
Disciplinary measures for those who commit anti-Semitic bigotry; publicly and forcefully labeling incidents that are explicitly anti-Semitic bigotry; publicly and forcefully labeling incidents that are explicitly anti-Semitic; educating teachers and students about the dangers of anti-Semitism; and informing all students of the school’s procedures when seeking redress for incidents of discrimination.
The regents were given copies of the new film Hate Spaces: The Politics of Intolerance on Campus. (ZOA, with its cosponsors, will be screening Hate Spaces at 7:15 p.m. March 15 at The Corners in West Bloomfield).
After the meeting, Regent Michael Behm told us how thankful he was that we spoke up.
While we were pleased we obtained the university’s attention with these public statements, it is up to the community to be vigilant and Jewish students to be involved on campus in Jewish and Israel issues while not letting apathy prevail.
The ZOA asks for nothing more than Jewish students being treated the same as all other students on campus.