UMich Student, Alum Call for University to Adopt IHRA After Recent Antisemitic Incidents

"Dozens of students expressed feeling unsafe on a campus that did nothing to stop the display of hate speech.”
June 17, 2021
Photo by Ken Lund (Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0))

An incoming master’s student and one alumnus from the University of Michigan called for the university to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism after a spate of recent antisemitic incidents on campus.

During the public comment session of the June 16 university’s Board of Regents meeting, University of Michigan graduate and incoming master’s student Samii Stoloff said, “For the past six years, I have watched antisemitism thrive on campus coming up in BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] resolutions, CSG [Central Student Government] endorsements and most recently, incidents involving The Rock.” “The Rock,” which is located nearby campus, has been painted with various political, sporting and Greek life messages over the years. Stoloff said toward the end of the May, The Rock was painted with “phrases like ‘Israel is a terrorist state’ and words like ‘apartheid’ and ‘genocide’ appeared. Dozens of students expressed feeling unsafe on a campus that did nothing to stop the display of hate speech.”

Stoloff and her friends responded by painting the words “Stop Jewish Hate” and “Israel wants peace” over the anti-Israel rhetoric, only to later find that the words “F— Israel” were painted over their words. Stoloff claimed that when she and her friends went to paint back over those words, around 20 people walked by asking them if they were painting over the anti-Israel rhetoric because they supported “ethnic cleansing” or “genocide.”

“We made up cover stories to hide the fact that we were Jewish,” Stoloff said. “We feared that because we were Jewish, we would be attacked for defending Israel’s right to exist.” She added that when she later went to paint over the anti-Israel rhetoric on The Rock with a rainbow to celebrate Pride Month and posted to social media about it, she was swarmed with death threats and slurs like “F— Zionists” online; additionally, her photography business has since been plagued with one-star reviews, including from one student who called for students to not hire Stoloff because she uses “LGBTQ+ liberation as an excuse to silence Palestinian voices.”

“I truly believe if this were any other issue there would be more action by the administration,” Stoloff said, concluding her speech with a call for the university to adopt IHRA.

Dan Smith, a University of Michigan alumnus, similarly called the IHRA definition crucial to fighting antisemitism on campus. “To properly address a problem, you must first be able to identify it. That has become particularly evident by the events of the past couple weeks in Ann Arbor.” In response to the graffiti on The Rock as well as red handprint graffiti on the University of Michigan Hillel, the university responded with a statement denouncing “all vulgar and hateful messages.” “It did not label these messages as antisemitic, and how could it? It has no rubric to identify antisemitism,” Smith said.

Smith proceeded to criticize University President Mark S. Schlissel’s statement on the matter for not calling the graffiti antisemitic while also denouncing other forms of hate. “I’ll be clear with how that read to me: when the Jewish community on campus was targeted with harassment, at a time when Jews were being beaten in the streets across our country, your response was that ‘All Lives Matter.’ Now of course all these forms of bigotry must be condemned with equal force, but why can’t antisemitism be condemned on its own?

“Worse, your statement’s inclusion of ‘anti-Palestinian bias’ and exclusion of ‘anti-Israel bias’ politicized what should have been an unequivocal condemnation of hate. This botched condemnation of antisemitism reiterates the need for the IHRA definition to be adopted and utilized by the university when evaluating biased incidents.”

Student Matthew Jason also spoke during the meeting and criticized the CSG for its Instagram statement about the recent escalation between Israel and Hamas. The statement, which was posted on May 10, accused Israel of murdering Palestinians in their strikes against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip and called the conflict “emblematic of Israeli settler-colonialism, ethnic cleansing and apartheid.” The statement also alleged that “anti-Palestinian sentiment” has festered on campus and that the university is “complicit” in “Israel’s violence” because the university won’t “divest from Israeli companies profiting off of the settler state’s occupation.”


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Jason accused the CSG’s statement of dividing the campus and becoming a “springboard” for “acts of hatred and vandalism” on campus instead of providing a “safe space” for dialogue. He called on the university to allow students to opt-out of their $10 contribution to the CSG from their tuition this year. “If it is the current consensus of CSG to not represent the student body, the student body should not be required to fund them.”

Rick Fitzgerald, Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs, said in a statement to the Journal regarding IHRA, “The University of Michigan has a longstanding policy that prohibits discrimination of any type. That’s not to say discrimination does not exist in our community, but we are very clear about the expectations we have of students, members of the faculty and staff.” He added that the policy states in part: “It is the policy of the University of Michigan to maintain an academic and work environment free of discrimination and harassment for all students, faculty, and staff. Discrimination and harassment are contrary to the standards of the University community. They diminish individual dignity and impede educational opportunities, equal access to freedom of academic inquiry, and equal employment. Discrimination and harassment are barriers to fulfilling the University’s scholarly, research, educational, patient care, and service missions.”


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