Jewish groups urge 'U' to cancel student-led pro-Palestine conference

Wednesday, January 22, 2020 - 7:48pm

Jewish organizations across the country are urging the University to cancel the upcoming 2020 Youth For Palestine Conference.

Jewish organizations across the country are urging the University to cancel the upcoming 2020 Youth For Palestine Conference. Buy this photo
Kelsey Pease/Daily

Jewish organizations across the country are urging the University of Michigan to cancel the upcoming 2020 Youth For Palestine Conference hosted by campus student organization Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE). 

The conference is scheduled to be held from Jan. 25-26 at the University’s Ann Arbor campus. According to Youth For Palestine’s website, the event aims to inform attendees on the history of student activism for Palestine and provide tools to promote community organizing. 

Pro-Israel groups and Jewish organizations such as Students Supporting Israel and StandWithUs have expressed concern that the conference will create an unsafe and discriminatory environment for pro-Israel students on campus, citing previous investigations into the organization for possible anti-Semitic speech.  

The University of California-Los Angeles is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for hosting a National Students for Justice in Palestine conference in November 2018. The Zachor Legal Institute warned the University that if similar discrimination occurs during the 2020 Youth for Palestine Conference, it could constitute a violation of Title VI, a federal Education Department provision that bans discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin from programs receiving federal financial assistance.

In a statement to University administrators, the Zachor Legal Institute wrote it is not asking the University to cancel the conference. Instead, the Institute would like the University to review the conference's agenda to ensure it aligns with the law.

"Our request is that the University review the proposed agenda of the conference and compare it to the IHRA definition that has been adopted as the Title VI standard of antisemitism," the Institute wrote.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote in an email to The Daily that the University is forbidden, legally and on principle, from declining speakers based on the “presumed content of speech.” 

“Freedom of speech is a bedrock principle of our community and essential to our core educational mission as a university — it is reflected in our history, policies and practices,” Fitzgerald wrote. 

The controversy comes on the heels of President Trump’s executive order adding a provision to Title VI banning discrimination rooted in anti-Semitism by all organizations receiving federal funding. 

Correction: A previous version of this article stated organizations on campus are protesting against the conference, but the article has now been changed as the organizations mentioned have no presence on campus. It has also been updated with an email from the Zachor Legal Institute. 

Reporter Julia Rubin can be reached at julrubin@umich.edu