A senior Israeli cabinet minister sent a letter Monday to the University of Michigan president over campus incidents that the politician described as showing a “vitriolic hatred against the Jewish state.”
Naftali Bennett, the minister responsible for education and diaspora affairs, admonished university President Mark Schlissel over a lecture last week at the Ann Arbor school. In it, artist Emory Douglas shared his work, including a collage of side-by-side images of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Adolf Hitler and the phrase “guilty of genocide” across their faces.
“The time has come for you as head of the University to make a strong stand against what has clearly become a trend of vitriolic hatred against the Jewish state on your campus,” Bennett wrote to Schlissel.
School officials declined to comment about the letter but said in a statement that the “school does not control or censor what speakers present” during the Penny Stamps Speaker Series, in which Douglas was featured. They said the program is “intentionally provocative,” and that the school makes this clear to students.
Douglas was a longtime artist for the Black Panthers and much of the artwork highlighted during his lecture drew on themes of domestic racial and social injustice and oppression. Some of the works featured images and messages supportive of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.
The movement’s supporters say that in urging businesses, artists and universities to sever ties with Israel, they are using nonviolent means to resist what they feel are Israel’s unjust policies toward Palestinians. Israeli officials say the movement’s real aim is to delegitimize or destroy the Jewish state.
Bennett’s letter also criticized a Michigan professor’s recent decision not to recommend a student for a study program in Israel, though the school has said it opposes boycotts of Israeli higher education institutions. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that another instructor declined to recommend a second student who was applying to a study-abroad program in Israel. The teaching assistant said her decision wasn’t personal, but was born of a pledge to “boycott Israeli institutions as a way of showing solidarity with Palestine.”
University officials said Tuesday they are working to ensure that faculty members’ political views won’t affect their responsibilities to students, and created a faculty panel to examine issues stemming from the incidents. A letter obtained by news outlets says the university also disciplined one instructor, professor John Cheney-Lippold, by denying him a raise this year and freezing his sabbatical eligibility for two years.
It’s not clear whether the other instructor, a teaching assistant, will be disciplined.
Meanwhile, Israel has kept an American graduate student detained at Ben-Gurion International Airport for the past week because of her of support for the BDS movement. Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old U.S. citizen with Palestinian grandparents, landed there last Tuesday with a valid student visa but was barred from entering the country and ordered deported based on the suspicion that she supports the movement.
An Israeli court ordered that she remain in custody while she appeals. The weeklong detention is the longest anyone has been held in a boycott-related case, and it was not clear Tuesday when a final decision would be made.
Alqasem is former president of the University of Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.