UMich hosts anti-Israel activists two days after synagogue massacre

The University of Michigan hosted a town hall comprised entirely of anti-Israel speakers on Monday, just two days after the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre left 11 people dead, the worst anti-Semitic attack in American history.

UMich billed the event as a “teach-in town hall” explaining “what is BDS? And why does it matter?” The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement calls for an end to international support of Israel’s “oppression of Palestinians.”

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“What is fair and just, in light of our diverse histories: members of the U-M community recall boycotts of Jewish businesses in Nazi Europe, America’s history of civil rights boycotts, and boycotts in response to Palestinian displacement under Israeli Occupation?” the event description asks.

The town hall event announcement listed several prominent celebrities, including the singer Lorde, who canceled their events in protest of Israel.

UMich’s Arab and Muslim American Studies department, Department of Women Studies, Conflict and Peace Initiative; Colonialism, Race, and Sexualities Initiative; Department of American Culture, and the Middle Eastern Law Students Association (MELSA) were among the entities that funded the event.

Anti-Israel activists Susan Abulhawa, Tom Pessah, and Huwaida Arraf spoke at the event.

Abulhawa, a novelist, tweeted in 2013, “How many times must we become refugees? Why? So every American and European Jew can have dual citizenship?” 

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Pessah is a former board member of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at UC Berkeley, according to As a student, he authored a BDS resolution encouraging the UC Board of Regents to end its association with any “American companies materially and militarily supporting the Israeli government’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.”

Pessah has also praised a hunger strike led by Marwan Barghouti. The Palestinian Authority and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, groups which Barghouti has led and founded, respectively, have conducted terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens.

Arraf, meanwhile, is a co-founder of International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which aims to resist “the long-entrenched and systematic oppression and dispossession of the Palestinian population, using non-violent, direct-action methods and principles.” 

The ISM has been accused of providing material support to terrorists. Arraf, himself, once co-authored a piece claiming that “the Palestinian resistance must take on a variety of characteristics — both nonviolent and violent.”

UMich’s Monday event came two days after a gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, killing 11 people. The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization that fights anti-semitism, says the attack: “is the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States.”

Dylan Berger, President of the College Republican chapter at UMich, told Campus Reform that the university should apologize for hosting the BDS event.

“Our College Republicans community is devastated by the heinous attack in Pittsburgh,” Berger said. “It’s incomprehensible to imagine that someone would want to gun down innocent people in a place of worship. It’s an attack on the very essence of America. Unfortunately, this attack is indicative of the rising tide of anti-Semitism all over the country.”

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“The University of Michigan, in particular, has seen a culture of anti-Semitism arise with a vengeance,” he told Campus Reform. “The BDS Movement is at the center of the rising tide of anti-Semitism on campus. Make no mistake: an economic war against Israel is modern-day anti-Semitism.” 

“While those who support this movement should have a right to espouse their views, the event in question should have been canceled,” Berger continued. “It was wildly inappropriate to hold a BDS event mere days after such a vile anti-Semitic attack. College Republicans stand in solidarity with the Jewish Community on campus. The university should apologize for holding this event.” 

The event was organized by UMich’s Center for Middle Eastern & North African Studies (CMENAS), an entity directed by Samer Mahdy Ali. Ali, who also serves as an Arabic and Islamic culture professor at UMich, commented on the event to Campus Reform.

CMENAS “did in fact host a BDS event on Monday, and we did, in fact, consider canceling it, but we decided to proceed with the event with substantial modifications to acknowledge and integrate the horrific events of the Shabbat massacre,” Ali said. “Many of our Jewish friends from Hillel attended the BDS event, along with Jewish and Israeli left students affiliated with Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow and the Israeli organization Boycott from Within.”

Ali termed the claim that BDS is anti-Semitic “patently false.”

“BDS opposes the apartheid laws and policies that oppress millions of Palestinians as well as Israelis who are dark-skinned, such as Yemeni, Mizrahi, and Ethiopian Jews,” he told Campus Reform. “There is nothing inherently Jewish about oppression. Israel in its current form stands in violation of post-WWII international norms, International Law, and the Geneva Convention. It has been characterized as “an apartheid state” by Nobel Peace Laureates Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu, among others, because of racist laws and policies toward the indigenous population. Our event shows that many Jews and Palestinians and their allies want a more just and hopeful future for all.”

UMich punished in October a pro-BDS professor who refused to write a recommendation for a student intending to study abroad because that student wanted to study in Israel.

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The BDS movement expands well beyond the University of Michigan.  Students at Barnard University voted earlier this year to demand the school end its ties with eight allegedly pro-Israel companies.

“Schools that are promoting BDS or other kinds of anti-Zionist rhetoric...are three to eight times more likely to have incidents that target Jewish students for harm,” Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a lecturer at the University of California, Santa Cruz said in 2014. “These have included assault, the suppression of speech, and destruction of property.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AutumnDawnPrice