Dear Parents and Friends of U of M Hillel,
Because we want to keep the entire U of M Hillel community informed of current events on campus, we sent this email to several thousand parents, alumni and friends of Hillel last week. We realize that many of you did not receive this message, and so are resending it to the entire list. For those of you who did receive this letter last week, please scroll down to the bottom where an update to the original message can be found.
As you may already know, the University of Michigan has found itself the site of the Second Annual Palestine Solidarity Conference this year. The conference, scheduled to take place on campus this weekend (Oct. 12-14), has already engendered a great deal of attention on campus as well as national and international media coverage. I want you to know what this conference is about and what Hillel is doing in response to it.
The conference is being planned by a campus student group known as Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE). It is being sponsored by a host of other organizations, including the Palestinian Right of Return Coalition, the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and Jews for a Free Palestine. The fact of a conference held on the topic of a Palestinian state would not necessarily be threatening to the Jewish community on campus or indeed nationally; however, this conference holds as its main goal the establishment of a divestment campaign, aimed at convincing the University of Michigan and other American universities to withdraw investments in Israeli companies. The conference's stated strategy in achieving this goal is to portray Israel as an apartheid state engaged in human rights violations and racism.
Hillel and our student leaders have been working closely with a wide variety of local and national Jewish organizations to plan a multi-faceted and effective response involving a steady stream of pro-Israel programming during the two weeks leading up to the conference and continuing through the entire academic year. While we are aware that other groups are planning to protest at the conference site this weekend, we are encouraging our students to refrain from demonstrating at the conference site or from holding protests that weekend. Our view is that engaging in such behavior simply fans the flames of animosity and draws attention to the anti-Israel cause rather than away from it. Instead, our students are planning a rich mix of both anti-divestment and pro-Israel programming. Last week, we held a Mass Meeting for Israel Solidarity; more than 450 students turned out to show their support and sign up to help. U of M Professors Todd Endelman and Zvi Gitelman spoke about the real issues behind the conference and its attempt to deligitimize Israel, and gave a strong lesson on the history of Israel and its role as the only democracy in the Middle East. Hillel's student leaders then spoke about what students on campus can do to counter the divestment and anti-Israel movement, and highlighted the major components of our pro-Israel programming this semester. These programs include:
An Israel Rally on Oct. 10, the day before the conference, at which Dr. Raymond Tanter, University professor, will speak on human rights and civil liberties in the Middle East and several Hillel and other campus student leaders will voice their opinions in support of Israel. One thousand students will wear blue and white t-shirts bearing the slogan, ?Wherever we stand, we stand with Israel? that day. Tomorrow evening, former Knesset member and University of Haifa Professor Michael Bar Zohar will speak on democracy and terrorism in Israel.
An on-line anti-divestment petition will collect the names of students, alumni, and friends of U of M to emphatically support the University's opposition to the divestment campaign. (Please scroll to the bottom of this message for updated information about the website.)
A campus drive to collect funds to help rebuild the Frank Sinatra International Student Cafeteria at the Hebrew University (destroyed this summer by a suicide bomber).
A pro-Israel publicity campaign, in which a series of nearly twenty ?myth versus fact? style advertisements will appear in the Michigan Daily. These ads will also be printed as flyers and posted around campus throughout the semester.
A six-week Israel Advocacy Training seminar, to equip students with the facts and tactics they need to defend Israel in conversation with their peers.
Dr. Elliot Chodoff, internationally-acclaimed speaker on the Middle East conflict, will speak on the sociology of terrorism on Oct. 21.
A Friday night oneg (party) featuring Israeli food and a forum where students can share pictures and stories of their trips to Israel.
A series of Israel Coffee Talks, where U of M professors will lead informal discussions on various aspects of Israeli culture and society. The first Israel Coffee Talk, on Oct. 7, featured Professor Noga Morag-Levine on environmentalism and women's rights. On Oct. 22 U of M Law School Professor Omri Ben Shahar will discuss Israel in the context of international law.
The King David Drum Circle for Peace, an Israeli percussion troupe, will hold sway on the Diag from 11 am to 3 pm on Oct. 29.
The combination of these programs, as well as many others still in the development stages for this semester and next, will continue to counter the divestment campaign and its anti-Israel rhetoric. I would urge parents to talk to your students at Michigan about the importance of supporting Israel during such tough times. The slogan coined here last year, and stamped proudly on our rally t-shirts, is ?Wherever we stand, we stand with Israel.? At this crucial moment when the very legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state is under attack, we must act together to stand in solidarity with Israel no matter how different our own personal political views may be. Hillel and our students are as committed to Jewish pluralism as we are to the Zionist cause; it is our intent to unify the community through a message of peace and tolerance as we rally around our love of Israel as the Jewish national homeland.
We have been in close contact with President Coleman and other leaders of the University about this conference. The administration has made it clear that the conference is not sponsored by nor does it represent the views of the University. Furthermore, in a letter to the University community two weeks ago, President Coleman stated that neither she nor the University supports divestment from Israel and that the organizers of the conference will be expected to respect all University rules concerning appropriate conduct on campus. The University's Department of Public Safety and the Ann Arbor police are aware of the conference and will be heightening security for its duration. So many of us have been appalled by recent reports of intimidation of Jewish students by anti-Israel activists on some other campuses. While we do not anticipate anything like this here, the University understands that this cannot and must not happen at Michigan.
Responding to this conference has been consuming the collective energy of Hillel's staff and student leadership. Because the University of Michigan is such a bellwether campus, we know that what happens here will have an impact on universities across the nation. Countering the divestment campaign and its attendant anti-Israel rhetoric is and will continue to be a top priority for us. We gratefully acknowledge the Clarence and Jack Himmel Foundation for its special support of our Israel programming this semester, and all of you whose generosity has been helping to make these efforts possible.
We are very proud of the work our students are doing to defend Israel on campus. We are confident that the strategies that they have chosen to develop and implement represent the best way to combat the anti-Israel rhetoric coming to campus this fall, and that responding to this challenge will prepare them even better to serve as leaders in the Jewish community in the years ahead.
Michael Brooks Executive Director U of M Hillel Foundation
P.S. The anti-divestment petition can be found at www.umichjustice.org. The website will be up and ready for signatures in the next few days. All current U of M students, alumni, faculty, and staff are invited and encouraged to add their names in support of Israel and against the divestment movement.