Pro-Israel Students Called ‘Kike,’ ‘Dirty Jew’ at University of Michigan

University of Michigan spokesman: Death threats to pro-Israel students just ‘activism’
An anti-Israel rally at the University of Michigan in 2012 / AP

An anti-Israel rally at the University of Michigan in 2012 / AP

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The University of Michigan would not explain how it is responding to death threats and racial epithets that were reportedly issued by pro-Palestinian activists at students who oppose a resolution to divest from Israel.

University of Michigan police were first contacted last week after two pro-Palestinian activists shouted “threats of violence” at a student who refused to support their boycott initiative during a “sit-in” at the student government’s headquarters.

The Washington Free Beacon has further learned that the pro-Israel student received death threats and that others have allegedly been called “kikes” and “dirty Jews” by backers of the virulently anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to delegitimize the Jewish state through economic means.

The atmosphere of intimidation and violence could leave the University of Michigan vulnerable to legal action and political retribution on a national scale, according to multiple sources in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere who are monitoring the situation.

Kenneth Marcus, a former staff director at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, told the Free Beacon that he has contacted high-level university officials to discuss the situation but that these calls have yet to be returned.

In addition to the death threats made against one pro-Israel student, Marcus has been informed that other “students have been called ‘kike’ and ‘dirty Jew’ and other epithets.”

“This is a very disturbing incident and if the students’ allegations are true, this is an environment that is hostile to Jewish students and the university has a legal responsibility to take prompt and effective action,” said Marcus, who serves as president and general counsel of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.

Marcus, like the Free Beacon, has not been able to get answers from university officials.

“Our biggest concern is these Jewish students might be vulnerable to a violent criminal attack, and we’re very concerned about whether the university is taking that seriously enough,” he said. “If the worst happens there is substantial liability for the university.”

“Even short of that, if the university allows a hostile environment to form without taking effective action, it could be liable for a civil lawsuit or federal investigation” by the Department of Education, Marcus said. “If Jewish students are being called ‘kike’ and ‘dirty Jew’ and the university is not addressing it in a firm and effective way, the university may be liable under federal law.”

The university has been under fire from campus activists and others since at least December when it was accused of taking inadequate action after pro-Palestinian activists posted 1,500 anti-Israel “eviction” notices on the doors of pro-Israel students and Jews. The campaign appears to be coordinated by national and international groups hostile to Israel, as well as by University of Michigan groups.

Senior pro-Israel leaders in Washington, D.C. have been closely monitoring the situation and say they are gearing up to take action.

“The University of Michigan has allowed known pro-Hamas activists to openly organize riots on their campus and create an environment in which pro-Israel students had their lives threatened,” said one high-level official with a prominent pro-Israel organization.

“Now, after months of watching outside groups coordinate hateful stunts, university administrators are allowing students to be bullied into taking an anti-Israel vote with a gun pointed to their heads,” added the source. “They’ll have to answer for this, certainly politically and probably legally.”

The BDS brouhaha first began earlier this month when the school’s student government overwhelmingly suspended consideration of a divestment resolution. That prompted the pro-Palestinian group Students Allied for Freedom and Equality to hold protests on campus and inside student government chambers.

On Wednesday evening of last week during one of these sit-ins, a student opposed to the BDS resolution had “threats of violence” shouted at him by two “Arabic males,” according to a police report filed that evening.

University officials in recent days have helped broker a deal that led to an apology from the student government’s president for tabling the divestment initiative. The university has helped ensure that the initiative comes to a vote in the coming days.

University of Michigan spokesman Rick Fitzgerald—who first said that he did not understand a reporter’s questions—declined multiple requests to comment on the death threats and violent rhetoric from activists, saying that the school encourages “students to report them to police.”

Fitzgerald—who adopted an incredulous tone when faced with questions—additionally refused to connect a Free Beacon reporter with the university’s provost or other high-level officials, saying that the issue does not rise to the level of their involvement.

“This is activism of students with their student government,” he said. The BDS activists “do not believe their voices were heard.”

Fitzgerald said that the university would not take an official position on the BDS issue. Scores of other university presidents and academic groups have flatly rejected the movement in recent months.

“The university has not been advocating any position,” Fitzgerald said, adding that there are “heated emotions on both sides.”

The Free Beacon could not find any instances of pro-Israel students engaging in violent rhetoric, threatening other students, or using racial epithets.

“At this point we have been working to bring our students together to respect each other’s point of view and resolve their differences,” Fitzgerald said.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean, said that the university must take more aggressive action and denounce publicly all violent rhetoric.

BDS supporters must be “held accountable when they cross the line,” Cooper said. “At a minimum, it demands a statement from the university” and the “failure to do that is something that would be cause for serious national attention.”

“This is a threat to someone’s civil rights and its important for the adults in the room to indicate to the university that they should not marginalize our kids,” Cooper said. “That kind of language does not have a place in campus life.”

Adam Kredo   Email Adam | Full Bio | RSS
Adam Kredo is senior writer for the Washington Free Beacon. Formerly an award-winning political reporter for the Washington Jewish Week, where he frequently broke national news, Kredo’s work has been featured in outlets such as the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and Politico, among others. He lives in Maryland with his comic books. His Twitter handle is @Kredo0. His email address is kredo@freebeacon.com.