CAIR blasts WSU president for blocking Israeli-Palestinian statement

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News
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The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights organization, joined a Wayne State University student organization in a complaint Tuesday against the school's president, saying he wrongly censored the group's statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Roy M. Wilson

The WSU Student Senate recently approved a resolution on the armed clash last month in which the Palestinian group Hamas fired rockets into Israel and the country's armed forces launched airstrikes against the Gaza Strip, killing more than 250 people, most of them Palestinians. A cease-fire was reached after 11 days of fighting.

Wayne State University president M. Roy Wilson blocked the dissemination of the statement through the university's email listserv, which reaches the school's faculty and students. The statement condemned all forms of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and violence against Israeli and Palestinian people, as well as the use of American taxpayer dollars to support Israel's policies regarding Palestinians.

The university president called the statement "inflammatory."

"We are a university community, and we support the right to free speech. While we support the right of our students to express views important to them, I regret their use of some needlessly inflammatory terminology," Wilson said in a June 3 statement. "We must treat each other with civility and respect. Some of their words did not do that."

CAIR-Michigan executive director Dawud Walid condemned Wilson's actions in a statement Tuesday.

“We are troubled by Wayne State University President Roy Wilson’s censorship of the Student Senate statement condemning recent Israeli violence perpetrated against Palestinian civilians," he said. "The suppression of students' free speech rights — even if some disagree with their political views — runs counter to the stated ethos of the university, which offers liberal arts education and purports to have an environment in which ideas are allowed to be rigorously debated."  

CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid

In a statement issued June 4, WSU defended Wilson's action, saying he "issued his campus communication to support students' rights in this regard while also clarifying that the Student Senate's position was not an official university position. He also hoped to assure students who felt threatened by the Student Senate's statement that Wayne State is welcoming to diverse people and points of view." 

Asked for comment Tuesday, university spokesman Matt Lockwood said in an email, "By making available the use of the student listserv to one viewpoint, it could be construed that the student statement represented the views of the university, which it did not."  

In its June 1 statement, posted on its Facebook page, the Student Senate said: "It is important that we also stand against all forms of antisemitism and Islamaphobia. We condemn violence against Jewish, Muslim, Israeli, and Palestinian people in any form, and work to make this campus the safe space we know it can be."

The statement also read: "Without criticizing the everyday people who reckon with actions they have no decision-making power in, it is possible for us to criticize the violence done at the hands of the Israeli government, currently headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This violent ethnic cleansing has been happening since 1948 and continues to this very day. It is our responsibility to stand against these acts of oppression and occupation, regardless of whether or not we are directly affected by this violence. Injustice anywhere in the world threatens our own freedoms, and we must stand in solidarity with those beaten, killed, and silenced."

The student group also urged students to "contact your representatives and to hold our government accountable for using taxpayers' dollars to promote violence." The group also encouraged students to "advocate and support bills such as H.R. 2590 ... to stop our tax dollars from funding ethnic cleansing."

Student Senate member Harrison Cole, its director of government affairs, said the organization was asked by some members of the campus' Palestinian community to make a statement on the issue.

Cole said Wednesday that the Senate wanted to send its statement out to the entire campus but is proud that it showed its support for Palestinian students at Wayne State and steered others to resources that could help as well.

The Student Senate's executive committee has received a request to meet with Wilson next week.

"We will decide how to proceed after that," Cole said Wednesday.

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