A requirement for students in the Art and Design Program at the University of Michigan was to attend a lecture given by Emory Douglas, one of the department's guest lecturers. Douglas, former head of culture for the Black Panthers, stood on stage and spoke. Behind him was a huge screen. On the screen were photos of two men — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Adolf Hitler.
Both men had their hands raised in the air, their mouths open in excited speech. The words "guilty of genocide" were written across both their foreheads. Below the image was a definition of the "genocide."
To say that this lecture and this graphic image were vehemently anti-Semitic is to belittle the definition of anti-Semitism.
Hate speech and hateful action are running rampant across campuses in our country. We are bombarded with examples — we see them on television, read about them in news reports, and even bear witness with our own eyes and ears. And somehow, this act of anti-Semitism still left me shocked.
Maybe it was the image. Maybe it was the fact that students were required to attend this Penny Stamps Speaker Series lecture — and that they received one credit for attending. Or maybe it's that this university hid behind the by now banal, overused and misused terms "freedom of expression" and "academic freedom" explaining that there was nothing they could do before, during, or in the aftermath of the lecture.
Freedom of speech is protected unless it advocates violence — that is true. But freedom of speech and academic freedom are not synonymous. A university, in fact every university, has an obligation to make certain that within their walls truth is presented — not falsehoods, not lies, and certainly not hate. U of M, like every other university in the free world, must clamp down on their anti-Semitic programs, clubs, and professors. They must clamp down with strength and with conviction on all the "antis," not just anti-Semitism. Just like universities may not teach that the world is flat or that the sun revolves around the earth, they may not teach hate. It's that basic.
And even though there are steps that universities and all institutions of learning must take to insure not just the physical safety of their students, but also their emotional safety. Anti-Semitic canards and tropes that threaten Jews on campus must be met with university sanctions and even disciple.
Alexa Smith, a U of M student, is not feeling safe. She attended the lecture and this is what she posted on her Facebook page: " Yesterday I was forced to sit through an overtly antisemitic lecture as part of the Penny Stamps Speaker Series, which is a required course for all art students at the University of Michigan. Yesterday’s lecturer, Emory Douglas, projected an image of Adolf Hitler and the Prime Minister of Israel together, with the caption 'Guilty of Genocide' across their foreheads. In what world is it ok for a mandatory course to host a speaker who compares Adolf Hitler to the Prime Minister of Israel?"
"As a Wolverine, I sat through this lecture horrified at the hatred and intolerance being spewed on our campus. As a Jew who is proud of my people and my homeland, I sat through this lecture feeling targeted and smeared to be as evil as the man who perpetuated the Holocaust and systematically murdered six million Jews. "
"The administration is repeatedly failing to forcefully respond to antisemitism, and so it comes back worse and worse each time. A line needs to be drawn and it needs to be drawn now."
To turn a blind eye and deaf ear is to relinquish your duties and obligations as educators. One of the primary responsibilities of a university is to create a safe learning environment in which students and faculty engage one another with respect. Freedom of expression at the university includes exchanges of ideas and the recognition of differences tempered by respect for the ability for others to share different thoughts. We're not looking for robots or puppets, we're looking for respectful dialogue and discourse.
Inviting speakers to campus functions, knowing full well that their agenda is to spew forth hateful messages must be stopped. Faculty and students should be encouraged to invite a variety of speakers with varying messages with the caveat that the speaker couches their remarks with respect for other points of view. And if that is what is expected of outside speakers, it is even more expected, even required, or faculty and all university personnel.
That's not what happened when Emory Douglas stood up in front of that screen at the University of Michigan. And it's not what happened when another U of M faculty member, Associate Professor John Cheney-Lippold, a stalwart supporter of the anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) Movement who, because of his beliefs, rescinded a letter of recommendation for a student hoping to spend time studying in Israel. In that case the university is bringing disciplinary action against the professor, a faculty member in their department of American Culture. His sabbatical was pushed off one year and he will not get his increase in pay. A second faculty member also refused to give a recommendation because the student was applying to an Israeli institution,
In response to the letter of recommendation, the Interim Dean of the U of M College of Literature, Sciences and Arts wrote in a letter that "You are not to use student requests for recommendations as a platform to discuss your personal political beliefs."
And in a feeble attempt at justifying the sham lecture, Rick Fitzgerald, the spokesperson for the University of Michigan was quoted in the Forward newspaper saying: "the introduction given as part of the series, which he called 'intentionally provocative,' warns listeners that the event may be provocative or upsetting."
Provocative is one thing. Hateful is quite another.
Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. To read more of this reports — Click Here Now.
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