On Tuesday evening, the University of Michigan’s Central Student Government met in the Michigan Union. During the public comment period of the meeting, concerned students spoke about the visit of Steven Salaita, a pro-Palestine author and activist, who visited the University earlier in the afternoon.
Public Policy senior Samuel Lawrence addressed the meeting following Salaita’s lecture. Lawrence recounted his own experience with finding a swastika in the Modern Languages Building earlier this semester, which he reported to the Division of Public Safety and Security. Lawrence expressed his disappointment with CSG’s response.
“After an article was published in The Michigan Daily and CSG reps to my knowledge were briefed on the incident, I awaited a response from you all,” Lawrence said. “All I heard, all the Jewish community heard, was silence.”
Salaita’s lecture was part of the 2018 Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium hosted by the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies. Lawrence and other Jewish students passed out flyers to audience members prior to the lecture detailing Salita’s 2014 tweets that caused the University of Illinois to deny his faculty appointment because of their concerns of his anti-Semitic tendencies. The flyers also included a definition of anti-Semitism and expressed their concern with Salaita’s endorsement of anti-Semitism. At the lecture, Salaita acknowledged tweets he sent in the midst of the 2014 Israeli-Gazan conflict at the lecture and explained the University of Illinois decision was based on a malicious interpretation of the tweet.
Lawrence urged the body to reflect and consider action with anti-Semitism on campus.
“Anti-Semitism takes many forms,” Lawrence said. “It sometimes looks like a swastika. Other times it looks like someone using politically correct language to discredit my legitimacy as part of the Jewish people. The inclusive community we are trying to build at this university will be a complete failure if Jews are left out.”
Following Lawrence’s speech, CSG Representative Benjamin Gerstein, an LSA freshman, echoed the concerns of Lawrence while speaking to CSG. Gerstein quoted statements made by Salaita at his lecture and shared his concerns about the content.
“Salaita was given a platform by faculty and repeated the age-old anti-Semitic statement that world’s problems are to be blamed on the Jewish people,” Gerstein said. “Further, Salaita has described as Jewish lives as McMansions and shopping malls. Today, he refused to walk back these comments from his writing, a clear connection to the anti-Semitic rhetoric used during and before the Holocaust.”
Towards the end of the meeting LSA sophomores Haya Akbik and Isabel Baer presented their resolution to have CSG sponsor a visit from Cherie Brown, a social justice dialogue facilitator and coalition builder. The purpose of Brown’s visit would be to help CSG learn how to better engage in dialogue regarding anti-Semitism on campus. Students involved in CSG would be given priority to the event, but Akbik and Baer did suggest the possibility of allowing students involved in outside organizations to attend.
“There is a lot of misconception about what anti-Semitism looks like in the 21st century,” Baer said. “It worries me when I see swastikas drawn around campus at places such as the skate park, the rock, the MLB and no one talks about it. As a Jewish person on this campus, anti-Semitism directly affects me; however, it is confusing and complicated and I think this is an amazing opportunity for us as student leaders to learn about an issue that is not only relevant globally and nationally, but also right here at the University of Michigan.”
The resolution is still being reviewed by CSG and has not been voted on yet.
The meeting concluded with a vote on a resolution originally put forth last semester regarding CSG producing a statement in support of the Lecturer’s Employee Organization. The resolution passed.