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Pro-Palestinian protesters march to U of M president’s house after cancellation of student votes

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Pro-Palestinian protesters march to U of M president’s house after cancellation of student votes

Dec 01, 2023 | 7:18 pm ET
By Jon King
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Pro-Palestinian protesters march to U of M president’s house after cancelation of student votes
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Pro-Palestinian protest at the University of Michigan, Dec. 1, 2023 | Jon King

A steady cold rain did nothing to dampen the passions of several hundred University of Michigan students and community members protesting the cancellation Thursday of voting on competing resolutions over the conflict between Israel and Hamas.  

The protesters gathered Friday afternoon outside the Michigan Union where Joseph Fisher, activism chair for Students Allied for Freedom & Equality (SAFE), rallied the crowd. 

“This week, the University of Michigan publicly told a lie,” he told the crowd. “The student body was intentionally made to believe that its Black and Brown students acted as vigilantes violating laws and procedures in order to skew election results. The truth quite obviously was as far from their lies as could be. The email that was sent out to the student body was authorized and sent by the university itself. By shedding the truth, we could do little to overshadow their deception, circulating in surplus of hate Instagram and Twitter accounts with millions of followers.”

“Platforms set up with the exclusive purpose of doxxing student activists worked overtime to find the full government names and photographs of Muslim women on this campus in order to publicly shame them under false accusations of email theft,” Fisher said. 

Citing inappropriate use of the university’s email system, the voting on the resolutions was canceled by university officials Thursday morning, with no plans to reschedule it.

The email in question was sent to the entire student body from the TAHRIR Coalition, which is not listed as an official student group. It asked students to approve AR 13-025, which requests the University label the “violence inflicted upon Gaza by Israel” as a genocide and form a committee to “investigate the ethics of its investments and funds that feed the university’s endowment,” largely seen as a call to divest from companies doing business in or with Israel. 

The email also asked students to vote against the other resolution, AR 13-026, which requested the university provide continued support, including mental health resources, for “all students affected by the ongoing violence in Israel and Gaza” and “share broadly their short-term and long-term plans to keep all students safe in their homes, in their classes, and on the broader campus.”

Fisher told the Michigan Advance that the TAHRIR Coalition is indeed a new group and not officially recognized by the university, but said they have received no information that fact had anything to with why the university decided the email was improperly sent. He added that the group was still in the process of getting organized.

 

“So basically it started off with when we had demands for the university as SAFE, we had all these student groups who wanted to be allies in the cause, and we wanted to build this into something that was more sustainable, that could fight for causes even beyond Palestine as well. And so we all got together and drafted this coalition that’s still forming,” he said.

SAFE led a Nov. 17 protest in which 40 participants were arrested after staging a sit-in at U of M President Santa Ono’s campus office. 

Friday’s protest was recognized as being organized by the TAHRIR Coalition, which led marchers peacefully a block from the Michigan Union to Ono’s house on University Avenue. 

As Ann Arbor Police set up barricades on the lawn of the home, the protesters lined the street and were led in chants for approximately an hour that included, “Ono, Ono you can’t hide, you are funding genocide,” and “No peace on stolen land, divestment is our demand.” 

Afterward, SAFE President Salma Hammamy addressed the protesters, saying it was  “an unprecedented decision” for the university to stop the voting.

“And they did that for a reason,” she said. “This was the first time ever in history where there was such high voter turnout. It was our communities that came to the front lines to vote. That is why they stopped the vote. Because they saw the numbers, they saw the rage, they saw that we will continue to advocate on all demands and on all fronts. That is why they shut down the votes.”

A statement by the coalition posted to Instagram, disputed the university’s version of events, saying the process to get the email sent required officials to approve it.

“In order for this email to be sent to the undergraduate student body, an authorized member of the University staff had to approve the content and the audience of the email, which they clearly did as evidenced by the successful sending of the email,” said the statement.

The group further claimed that outside entities, including the Jewish organization Hillel, spent thousands of dollars to advocate against the resolution and eventually “emboldened” the university to cancel the election. 

“In Hillel’s post on November 29th, they claim that the senders of the mass email were in support of AR 13-025, which is unequivocally false because of the previously shown fact that the email was authorized and distributed by a university staff member from a university server, whose political alignments and views on the resolution are not known.”

The TAHRIR Coalition accused Hillel of insinuating that the “supporters” of the email broke campus policy, “and by advocating for their surveillance through an investigation, Hillel’s statement directly feeds into Islamophobic rhetoric that associates visibly Muslim women with criminal activity. This association weaponizes widely-used stereotypes that racialize and vilify the Palestinian liberation movement.”

Hillel, meanwhile, posted that any accusation they improperly used financial resources “are unfounded, and we are concerned that they are based on common antisemitic stereotypes,” adding that “the alienation, harassment, and doxxing of various students this week is not acceptable and will never be encouraged by Michigan Hillel. Islamophobia and other forms of bigotry, including antisemitism, should not be tolerated; they have no home at UM.”

The university posted a statement Friday again stating that the election was canceled due to “an inappropriate use of the university’s email system” that had “irreparably tainted the voting process on the two resolutions.” However, it added that the university “unequivocally condemns the deliberate harassment and targeting of members of our community by doxxing, a dangerous form of online intimidation, or any other violation of privacy.”

Additionally, University of Michigan spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen told the Advance that they have “great respect” for peaceful campus protests and they have staff members who work diligently to make sure protesters are safe as they move about campus.