A pro-Palestinian activist on the University of Michigan’s campus recently posted what experts described as "an overtly threatening" photo of himself wearing a traditional Arab headscarf and jamming a knife into a pineapple.
The emergence of the photo comes just days after Palestinian activists on the University of Michigan’s campus leveled death threats and racial epithets at pro-Israel students who opposed a resolution to divest from Israel.
Pro-Palestinian campus activists, angered by the student government’s recent decision to reject their divestment measure, leveled death threats at one student and have reportedly called other pro-Israel students "dirty Jew" and "kike."
The vote was reportedly cast by secret ballot due to concerns about the council members' safety, according to a report from the head of a leading pro-Israel campus group.
The latest image raising concern among civil rights leaders comes from a Facebook posting by Michigan student Yazan Kherallah, a leading voice in the campus’s Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a virulently anti-Israel movement that championed the divestment measure.
Kherallah in late January posted a picture of himself on Facebook in which his face is covered by a Keffiyeh and he is jabbing a large knife into a pineapple. The words "it’s on" accompany the photograph.
Kherallah is said to serve as the divestment chair for the campus group Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE), which authored the divestment measure and held "sit-ins" over the past weeks to intimidate student council members.
Civil rights leader Kenneth Marcus labeled Kherallah’s photograph as "overtly threatening" and said that it could contribute to the culture of fear within the University of Michigan’s pro-Israel community.
"In the context of the current controversy, the University of Michigan really needs to know what this student is trying to communicate," said Marcus, a former staff director at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. "The knife is held in an overtly threatening way [and] coupled with a keffiyeh, it appears to be a gesture of warning or a threat towards Zionists."
Marcus said that the use of a pineapple could have significant meaning as it has been used in recent months by the anti-Semitic French comedian Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala.
"The use of a pineapple may be arbitrary. But in recent months, in France, the comedian Dieudonne has associated the pineapple with Zionists and Holocaust denial, especially with his use of the term ‘quenelle,’" a gesture similar to the Nazi salute, Marcus said.
"The pineapple may also be the closest one can get in a Michigan grocery store to a sabra," a fruit associated with Israel and Jewish people, Marcus said. "Rather than speculating on who exactly this student was threatening, the university should find out as soon possible."
Kherallah did not respond to comments sent to his Facebook page and university email address asking him to explain the photo and its context. He has positioned himself as a vocal proponent of the BDS movement, writing in recent days that he and his anti-Israel allies "will not be silenced."
Kherallah, who says he is originally from Damascus, Syria, has also been referenced as a leading BDS activist in articles posted on the website Electronic Intifada, which has been hotly criticized for featuring anti-Israel and anti-Semitic materials.
"Investing in companies that profit from the military occupation and violence, no matter where or why, is unethical … it goes against the core values of this institution, and the legacies of the University of Michigan activists [who] have long fought for liberation and social justice before us … we ask that you divest our tuition from all unethical corporations that facilitate and profit from the military occupation of Palestine," Kherallah told Electronic Intifada in early January.
Kherallah penned an op-ed on Saturday in the Michigan Daily accusing Israeli soldiers of terrorizing Palestinians.
"During my time in the West Bank, I witnessed the occupation’s brutal policies," he wrote. "I saw the checkpoints, the segregated bus systems, the settlements, and Israeli soldiers’ terrorization of Palestinian towns and villages."
Kherallah is also a contributor to the website "Michigan Muslims."
Following days of pro-BDS sit-ins and tension between rowdy activists and student leaders, University of Michigan officials helped force the divestment measure to a vote scheduled for Tuesday evening.
Jacob Baime, executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, called Kherallah’s Facebook posting "totally outrageous" and said it "begs the question, should this vote even be taking place?"
"Should this vote be allowed to proceed when students and student government representatives, real human beings, are going to be asked to vote under the shadow of these death threats?" Baime said. "Is that really appropriate in a room filled with hundreds of people who are anti-Israel?"