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Fighting Back Against the University of Michigan Referendum on BDS and Israel

This week, the University of Michigan is holding a vote on a campus wide BDS referendum that accuses Israel of genocide.
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November 29, 2023
Photo by Ken Lund (Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0))

This week, the University of Michigan is holding a vote on a campus wide BDS referendum that accuses Israel of genocide. The voting, which started November 28 and ends at 10 p.m. Michigan time on November 30, forces students to be either pro-Israel or pro-Palestine. Now, students and pro-Israel activists are calling on University of Michigan president Santa Ono to remove the BDS referendum from the ballot.

“BDS activity on campus has led to a rise in antisemitism on campus,” actress and author Noa Tishby posted on X. “It only causes division on campus and isolates Jewish students. President Ono (@UMichPrezOno) and the university administration must immediately intervene and remove this antisemitic referendum from the ballot.”

“President Ono (@UMichPrezOno) and the university administration must immediately intervene and remove this antisemitic referendum from the ballot.” – Noa Tishby

Actor Brett Gelman from “Stranger Things” also chimed in on the vote, posting a sarcastic video on Instagram.

“I’m really thankful to the University of Michigan today, who are forcing its student body to vote on an anti-Israel referendum,” he said. “Yeah, that was created by BDS. So yeah. Very soon, the student body is going to have to vote whether they are pro- or anti-Israel. And I think we all know how that’s going to go. That’s going to go really, really well… not for the Jews.”

Pro-Israel students at the University of Michigan created a group and website called Facts on the Ground (FOG) at Michigan, which is urging students and supporters of Israel to vote no on the referendum.

According to their website, their goals are to “Mobilize students to vote ‘No’ on the ballot and inform students of the importance of their vote in shaping the future of our campus climate” as well as “Combat antisemitism and Islamophobia by preventing the spread of disinformation that aims to compromise students’ opinions and incite division on campus.”

On November 28, FOG held an event with Son of Hamas co-founder and peace activist Mosab Hassan Yousef, along with Former Congressman – Chair of House Ethics Committee and Chair of Subcommittee on Middle East and Counterterrorism for the House Foreign Relations Committee Ted Deutch. The two spoke about perspectives on the Israel-Hamas War.

The University of Michigan has a history of antisemitic and anti-Israel events on its campus, starting in 2014, when an anti-Israel activist and campus BDS leader posted a photo of himself wearing a traditional Arab headscarf and jamming a knife into a pineapple. The student was the divestment chair of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE), a pro-Palestinian campus group.

In June of 2021, when Israel was fighting against rockets coming from Gaza, the University of Hillel chapter at the University of Michigan was targeted with antisemitic and anti-Israel graffiti that said “F*** Israel” and had red handprints around it.

On October 11, 2023, just days after the massacre in Israel, nearly 1,000 faculty and staff members signed a letter to President Ono demonizing Israel, saying that it committed “structural apartheid.” A student tore down hostage posters on October 27, claiming that settlers were “not innocent,” and on November 18, a student at a pro-Palestine protestor on campus held up a poster comparing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler.

President Ono released statements following the attacks in Israel. On October 10, in the wake of the massacre, he wrote: “Many members of our university community are personally affected by these events, and we encourage students to be conscious, kind and compassionate to their peers during this difficult time. We encourage faculty and staff to demonstrate understanding and accommodation for those affected by this violence.”

However, Ono has not yet spoken up about the ballot referendum. For pro-Israel activists, this lack of action is concerning.

“This is unacceptable,” posted influencer Lizzy Savetsky. “President @SantaJOno should remove the BDS vote from the ballot immediately!”

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