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Jewish students outraged after UMich student government accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing, war crimes

‘It is the most brazen attack on Israel and its Jewish people I’ve ever read from a Michigan student organization’

Leaders of the University of Michigan’s Central Student Government issued a strongly worded statement Monday night accusing Israel of “inhumane, international war crimes” toward Palestinians, drawing the ire and condemnation of many different groups of various political persuasions on campus.

Individual student voices joined with groups such as Michigan Hillel, Wolverine for Israel and Young Americans for Freedom to denounce the two-page statement that frames the decades-long unrest in the Middle East as “ethnic cleansing and apartheid” by the Israelis.

The student government statement comes as Hamas terrorists have launched hundreds of rockets into Israel in recent days, attacks Israel has responded to with its Iron Dome defense system as well as counterstrikes. There have been casualties on both sides.

“This is not a ‘conflict,’ but emblematic of Israeli settler-colonialism,” states the student government’s press release, addressed “to our Palestinian friends and the U-M community at large.”

The student government leaders at Michigan’s flagship public university go on to state that “anti-Palestinian sentiment has been allowed to run rampant” on campus and that the university “remains complicit by choosing to not divest from Israeli companies profiting off of the settler state’s occupation.”

The statement calls for an end to school-sponsored trips to Israel and asks students to follow the official Twitter page of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement against Israel, among other pro-Palestinian individuals and organizations.

Central Student Government leaders — including its president, vice president and diversity coordinator — also broadly condemn “the interlocked systems of deadly capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism that manifest in global oppression” in the statement.

It was also signed by the Arab Student Association and the Muslim Student Association.

Many Jewish students in the University of Michigan community expressed outrage at the news release.

“I was absolutely appalled when I read the statement,” senior Aaron Zelmanov told The College Fix.

“The open endorsement of the BDS movement, which is an inherently anti-Semitic movement, places a target on the backs of all Jewish students on campus,” he said in a written interview.

Zelmanov called on the authors of the document to resign “immediately” in his statement to  The Fix. According to Zelmanov, none of the authors are Jewish.

He accused the authors of parroting “the same talking points used by Hamas and other designated terrorist organizations.”

Another Jewish student, Michael Wolff, who just celebrated his graduation, said he was shocked by the statement.

“It is the most brazen attack on Israel and its Jewish people I’ve ever read from a Michigan student organization, including the pro-Palestinian SAFE (Students Allied for Freedom and Equality), JStreet or Jewish Voice For Peace,” Wolff said in a written interview with The College Fix.

Wolff noted that the statement commits only to working with “organizations advocating for Palestinian liberation” to address the situation in the Middle East and not with any pro-Israel groups.

Michigan Hillel, the largest Jewish organization on campus, said in a statement it is “disheartened that Jewish students were not considered when writing and releasing this statement.”

“This one-sided statement was released while rockets were being launched into Israel, with no consideration of how Jewish students with a connection to Israel may be feeling,” the Hillel governing board wrote.

Wolverine for Israel, a group of pro-Israel students trained by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, also issued a statement arguing the student government’s message lacks “crucial context and historical facts.”

It is “based more upon rhetoric and propaganda than a nuanced and analytical understanding of the conflict,” the group stated.

Meanwhile, the university administration had neither endorsed nor condemned the Central Student Government statement.

Asked for comment on the statement by The College Fix, University of Michigan spokesman Rick Fitzgerald pointed to the school’s “longstanding policy on freedom of speech.”

“U-M’s Central Student Government does not speak for the University of Michigan,” he said via email.

In addition to pro-Israel groups on campus, the conservative Young Americans for Freedom at the University of Michigan joined in the criticism of student government leadership.

“We fear that the release will open the door to anti-Semitism against Jewish students at the University of Michigan,” the executive board wrote in a statement.*

There have been multiple events on the U-M campus that have been called anti-Semitic in recent years.

The Washington Free Beacon reported that, in 2016, pro-Palestinian students erected “an ‘apartheid wall’ on campus during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.”

In 2018, a professor at the University of Michigan rescinded his willingness to write a student a letter of recommendation because the student wanted to spend a semester studying in Israel.

In 2015, activists on campus called for the dismissal of a Jewish conservative student, Jesse Arm, from the student government after he argued with pro-Palestinian demonstrators on campus. Those demonstrators also built an “apartheid wall” after a Palestinian terrorist attack in Israel killed a friend of Arm’s.

Arm also took to Twitter to express his outrage at the statement: “6 years ago these orgs called for my removal from @umcsg because I publicly supported Israel. I was the subject of the body’s first ethics committee investigation.”

“Today, a @UMich president signs their terrorist propaganda on official letterhead. There will be no investigation.”

The College Fix contacted the email listed on the Central Student Government homepage on Tuesday but received no response.

*Editor’s note: The author of this article serves on the UMich YAF board.

MORE: Pomona College student government approves sweeping anti-Israel BDS resolution

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About the Author
Charles Hilu -- University of Michigan