Action comes after Oct. 7 Hamas attack, antisemitism spike on college campuses
In the wake of startling antisemitic displays on college campuses nationwide, the University of Michigan is establishing the Raoul Wallenberg Institute to combat such behavior and promote religious diversity.
The institute, which the university announced earlier this month, will explore “why antisemitism is so prevalent in this country – and has been, not just in this country, but across the world … for 6,000 years,” former U.S. Ambassador Ronald Weiser, who sits on the UM Board of Regents, told The College Fix in a phone interview last week.
Focused on education and research, the institute will be located on the Ann Arbor campus and will leverage UM “research and scholarship around global antisemitism and divisiveness,” according to a Dec. 7 announcement from the university. UM spokesman Kim Broekhuizen declined to comment on the project but directed The Fix to the announcement.
The institute is “part of a university-wide effort to combat antisemitism and support religious diversity and inclusion on campus,” according to the statement.
Weiser, a UM alumnus and a leading supporter of the project, said he hopes the forthcoming research will uncover why the “conflict in Israel and Palestine brought out more overtly” the antisemitism on college campuses in recent months.
The institute’s namesake, Raoul Wallenberg (pictured), was a Swedish diplomat who saved approximately 100,000 people from the Nazis during the Holocaust, according to the university website.
This humanitarian feat was accomplished at the “risk of his own life,” Weiser said.
He also noted that Wallenberg graduated from the University of Michigan, another factor in the institute’s naming.
According to an article in The Detroit News, “half of the funding” for the institute “is coming from private donors, led by UM Trustee Ron Weiser.”
When asked what motivated his involvement, Weiser told The Fix, “We’ve seen the upheaval on the college campuses, and I think much of it is based upon misinformation.”
When asked if pro-Palestinian protests at UM were a factor in the institute’s founding, Weiser said he believes the demonstrations “brought to the surface, probably, antisemitism that existed; but it became much more overt because of those protests.”
During one protest in November, pro-Palestinian students entered a UM administrative building and refused to leave, FOX 2 Detroit reported. Many in the crowd chanted “From the river to the sea” and “Free Palestine,” according to the report.
Ultimately, Weiser said he thinks education is vital to the solution.
He said he, his fellow regents, and University President Santa Ono “agreed that having education about these issues was going to greatly enhance the ability of our Jewish population on the campus to be able to live there effectively and have better relationships” with other students.
To highlight the power of education, Weiser referred to a Dec. 5 op-ed written by Ron Hassner, a professor of political science at the University of California Berkeley, about college students’ understanding of the Israel-Hamas conflict.
The Wall Street Journal piece, “From Which River to Which Sea,” highlighted the findings of a recent poll of 250 students from “a variety of backgrounds.”
When asked if they support “From the river to the sea,” which many Jews consider to be a genocidal chant calling for the eradication of Israel and its inhabitants, 33% of students supported it “enthusiastically,” while 53% supported it “to a lesser extent,” the poll found.
Yet, when asked to name the river and sea in question, only 47% of those in favor of the slogan could do so, according to the poll.
The students’ opinions radically shifted after they were shown a map of the region. According to an article by The Fix, this visual allowed them to understand that “a Palestinian state would stretch from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, leaving no room for Israel.”
As a result, nearly 68 percent altered their original perspective and opposed the slogan.
“I hope that the same thing that you see in Mr. Hassner’s op-ed happens” at the University of Michigan as a result of the new institute, he told The Fix. “That’s what universities are for … to teach people how to think.”
“I think kids especially, the future leaders of our country, have to at least know the facts before they start acting out,” he said.
Those who neglect facts and favor misinformation are not “the kinds of people that are going to be the leaders of the country, I hope, in the future,” Weiser said.
The Fix also contacted the UM student-led organizations Palestinian Empowerment Foundation, J Street U, Students Allied for Freedom & Equality, the Arab-Jewish Alliance, Chabad House, and Michigan Hillel twice in the past two weeks but did not receive any responses.
IMAGE: University of Michigan