University of Michigan Event Calling for Israel's Destruction Broke Federal Law, Legal Group Says

University of Michigan anti-Israel protesters in Jan. 2023
February 9, 2023

The University of Michigan may have broken state and federal law governing hate speech when it hosted a rally on school grounds that featured calls for violent insurrection against Israel and Jews, according to a legal watchdog group.

The Jan. 12 event, which was hosted by a student group as Vice President Kamala Harris appeared on campus, included calls for "intifada revolution" as well as the chant "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free," a phrase employed by those who seek the Jewish state's eradication. The school has yet to condemn the rally, and the International Legal Forum (ILF), a global network of more than 4,000 lawyers working to combat anti-Semitism, says the university may have breached Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination based on race.

"Although we firmly believe in the principle of free speech and right to protest on campus, this event was not a mere expression of difference in political opinion, but rather a direct and unadulterated call for violence, placing Jewish students, faculty, and staff in harm's way," the ILF wrote in a Jan. 26 letter to university president Santa Ono, obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Adding fuel to the fire, the university is scheduled to host an event next week with Mohammed El-Kurd, a Palestinian writer who has compared Jews to Nazis and claimed that Israelis eat Palestinians' organs. Soon after the El-Kurd event, the university is slated to host an event honoring Palestinian "martyrs," or those killed while performing terrorist attacks.

Such events are a sign of growing anti-Semitic attitudes on America's college campus. Attacks on Jewish students, both physical and verbal, doubled in the 2021-2022 academic year, according to Jewish advocacy groups and follow a similar rise in anti-Semitic attitudes in America at large. This includes the promotion of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories by celebrities like rapper Kanye West and basketball star Kyrie Irving.

The Jan. 12 event not only violated "the widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of anti-Semitism," but "the direct call to violence and hate speech may also be in breach of federal and state legislation, particularly as the University of Michigan is a public institution," according to the ILF.

Arsen Ostrovsky, the ILF's CEO, told the Free Beacon that the university has yet to communicate a plan to deal with anti-Semitic events on campus and said his group "will consider all possible legal avenues" to force the University of Michigan to address his group's concerns.

"Title VI claims were designed specifically to protect students from such harassment, [which] includes an intent to harm or incite violence, especially when such conduct is pervasive or persistent against a group of students on the basis of their race, shared ancestry, or national origin, as is the case here," Ostrovsky said.

Earlier this week, the ILF sent the university a follow-up email asking that it condemn the Jan. 12 rally and take action to investigate and potentially ban Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, the student group that hosted the rally, from holding further anti-Israel events.

The university would not answer Free Beacon questions about the rally, instead directing a reporter to a Jan. 31 statement on its website that says students have a right to use violent language.

"It is clear that many within and outside our university community heard certain chants as anti-Semitic," according to the statement. "We understand that perspective and thank those individuals for sharing their views, especially during this time in our nation's history when there has been a rise of anti-Semitic speech and violence."

The statement says, however, that "university policy does not—and should not—dictate or control the ability of students to protest or the content of their protest messages," the statement says.

Ostrovsky said the school's statement is "woefully inadequate," adding he is shocked that the university refuses "to even merely condemn a rally held on its grounds, calling for violence."

Ostrovsky also expressed concern over the upcoming event with El-Kurd, whose rhetoric the Anti-Defamation League calls "unvarnished, vicious anti-Semitism." That event is also being hosted by Students Allied for Freedom and Equality.

"If the University of Michigan believes they have the best interests of the Jewish community at heart," Ostrovsky said, "inviting to campus an unrepentant anti-Semite and extremist like El-Kurd, who peddles in the most obscene Jew-hatred and incitement, is not exactly the way to show that."