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Michigan moves

University of Michigan president vows ‘zero tolerance’ for further campus encampments

President Santa Ono said he’d allowed the encampment to stay up for weeks at the advice of Jewish students hoping to avoid disruptions to school activities

Adam J. Dewey/Anadolu via Getty Images

A protestor creates a pro-Palestine chalk mural on the ground as anti-Israel protestors continue protesting at the encampment of the University of Michigan on May 13, 2024.

University of Michigan President Santa Ono vowed that the university will have “zero tolerance” for any efforts to re-establish an anti-Israel protest encampment on campus in the coming fall semester.

Michigan’s campus played host to an encampment that lasted for nearly four weeks and was ultimately broken up by police. Ono, speaking at the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum in Washington, D.C., said that he spoke to Jewish students from Hillel and Facts on the Ground, a pro-Israel group on campus, who raised concerns that efforts to break up the encampment might interrupt the end of the semester.

“I asked them, ‘Should we intervene right now?’ because already it was clear that it had resulted in escalation and violence,” Ono said. “I got the clear advice from the students that they said, first, ‘We are the COVID class that didn’t have a graduation from high school. Please don’t do anything to escalate things in the last few days of class and exams, and please give us the graduation we didn’t have for high school.’”

Michigan Hillel and FOG could not be immediately reached for comment.

Ono described the encampment as initially mostly peaceful. He said that the school had repeatedly asked the encampment to disband voluntarily, and that the encampment ultimately became dangerous, including to those living in it.

“If it weren’t for the request that we not escalate matters because of the desire to finish the semester and have graduation, it’s very likely that we would have taken them down earlier,” Ono continued. “The reason why I was really interested in perhaps taking it down earlier is because every day that tents were there were painful for Jewish students. And I knew that and it was wrong. And I wanted to step in earlier.”

In retrospect, he added that he should have engaged with Hillel and FOG earlier in the semester. He also said that he had planned to attend Shabbat at Hillel, but ultimately stayed away because he was afraid of disruptions to the event. Ono said that he would be going in the fall, “no matter what happens.”

Going forward, Ono said that the school “will hold individuals accountable for any violations of civil or criminal statute.”

He said that he had not considered brokering a deal with the encampment because he’s long believed that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel is antisemitic. Divestment from Israel and academic boycotts have been key demands from encampment leaders.

Ono said that, in preparation for the fall semester, the school is working on new methods for fostering dialogue, democracy and civic engagement, and will also “double down on our connections with universities and institutes in Israel” and engage with Jewish groups to fight antisemitism.

“I have been to Israel, I love Israel and I can’t wait to go back,” he added.

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