Letter of Solidarity from Alumni of Michigan State University

We, the undersigned alumni of Michigan State University (MSU), demand that MSU protect its students, academic freedom, and the legitimacy of international law by divesting from ties to Israel and creating best practices for institutional relationships. Michigan State University’s normalization of Zionism has harmed students, alumni, stakeholders, and both domestic and international populations by its complicity in the rise of white supremacy and ultimate genocide of Palestinians. By refusing to have meaningful conversations with students, avoiding the implementation of safer policies towards affected students and allies, and through the normalization of relationships with the apartheid state of Israel, MSU has endorsed ethnic cleansing and genocide– whether it be explicit or de facto.

As of the date of this letter, roughly 27,365 Palestinians have been murdered, over 66,630 injured, and roughly 1.9 million displaced, which is nearly 85% of Gaza’s population.1 115 journalists, at least 339 healthcare workers, and 154 United Nations staff have all been killed due to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. Additionally, the Israeli regime have used terror and humiliation as weapons through the indiscriminate  kidnapping, torture, and sexual violence against  of men and children. No Palestinian in Gaza is safe. These figures do not include Palestinians located in the West Bank, where roughly 360 Palestinians have been murdered across Occupied West Bank since October 7th. Since October 7th, Israel has arrested over 6,300 Palestinians in the West Bank, which includes 45 journalists and roughly 255 children

Due to illegal and intentional targeting by the Israeli Occupation Forces, 26 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are no longer operational, with the remaining hospitals far over capacity, barely operating, and severely limited in the ability to aid. To justify bombing and besieging these hospitals, the IOF made false claims about Hamas’ presence in the buildings.

The crimes against humanity perpetuated by Israel have reached such unbearable levels that South Africa has instituted proceedings against Israel in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), charging Israel with genocide. In its 84-page application and request for provisional measures, South Africa has detailed utterly horrifying and depraved human rights violations and collective punishment strategies inflicted by Israel on the Palestinian people. Despite Israel’s deliberate and intentional severance of telecommunications, South Africa was able to provide evidence of Palestinians recounting their last moments alongside seven pages of outwardly genocidal statements by the highest ranking members of Israeli government and military. On January 26, 2024, the ICJ issued a provisional ruling agreeing with South Africa that the acts of Israel are “capable of falling within the provisions of the [genocide] Convention.” 

Student Concerns

This university’s refusal to address student concerns over Israel’s genocidal campaign  against the Palestinian people has been alarming. MSU students have reported feeling berated, ignored, unsafe, and dehumanized. MSU’s response has been lackluster, offering nothing but one-sided, watered-down statements that refuse to acknowledge Palestinians and erase Israeli crimes in Palestine, unbalanced speaker series that include more pro-Israeli voices than Palestinians, and a webinar on the “complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” To be clear, there is nothing complex about genocide.

MSU’s Relationships with Israel

By maintaining and normalizing relationships with Israeli universities through study abroad and scholarship programs, investing in weapons manufacturers supplying arms/surveillance technology to Israel, directly investing “aid” into Israel, and those who profit off of genocide and displacement, Michigan State University has rubber stamped its approval of Israel’s practices of apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. These actions are shameful for any university, not only as a leader in education, but especially as one located in a state with such a uniquely high Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) population. Though there are no numbers on MSU’s MENA population due to the erasure of MENA identities, MSU recognizes fourteen distinctly MENA-based student organizations.2 In addition, MSU’s own Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion website states that it believes that it “fosters a community that respects and values a broad range of backgrounds, viewpoints and experiences and encourages and creates opportunities so all Spartans can reach their full potential educationally and professionally.” Yet, MSU’s continued investment in and normalization of a genocidal regime does exactly the opposite – it assures MSU students that if they are marginalized, indigenous, or targeted for state violence, their university will do nothing to protect them, uplift their histories and cultures, or safeguard the value of human life and instead choose to follow in the footsteps of our country’s imperialist legacy. MSU must stand by its principles and include, acknowledge, and respect the voices of all persons who make up this campus, not just some.

Further, MSU’s relationship with Israeli schools and the promotion of “Modern Day Israel” through the Serling Institute sets a dangerous example as a university, sending a message that the lives/dignity of Palestinians and their allies are less valuable and should not hold a right to spaces for education and political engagement. Since 2000, MSU has approved a number of grants and scholarships for non-Palestinian students and academic professionals alike to fund trips to historically recognized Palestinian land. Palestinians are not equally welcome to participate in these programs due to the realities of Israel’s racist restrictions on travel, the dehumanization and surveillance Palestinians have to endure in traveling to their homeland, and a lack of partnership with Palestinian academic institutions. Some of these programs include visits to areas that the United Nations has explicitly cited as areas ripe with settler colonial violence. For example, from 2014 – 2022, MSU’s study abroad program hosted seven programs in collaboration with Hebrew University, an institution with a history of discrimination against Palestinians and an active role in furthering Israel’s violent displacement of and militarization against Palestinians. These facts are especially concerning, considering that Palestinian students have had no access to education since October 7th due to the disruption of daily life and Israel’s deliberate destruction of Palestinian schools/universities, killing of  Palestinian students/educators, destruction of Palestinian heritage/history, and destruction of  entire neighborhoods. Instituting a best practices program for engagement with Israeli institutions would help ensure that MSU partakes in relationships that respect Palestinian humanity, equity in educational opportunities, and academic freedom. 

Institutional efforts must also address the University’s personnel and relationships domestically. Faculty of The Serling Institute have perpetuated the violent and illegitimate claims that Israel has used to justify the extermination of over 27,000 Palestinians in Gaza. Again, this violence includes the illegal usage of field executions, carpet bombing, white phosphorus, and the clearing of cities and refugee camps within the West Bank. For example, in one interview, Dr. Yael Aronoff, the Elaine Serling and Friends endowed chair in Israeli Studies, stated that “Hamas has created the [current] situation through its massacres of hundreds of people on October 7th” and “stores its weapons and fires its rockets from civilian areas and uses them as human shields.” The facts paint quite the opposite picture, where Israel has historically used Palestinians, even children, as human shields for their military raids on Palestinian towns and homes. To date, the infamous “beheaded babies” have yet to be verified, while the IOF has repeatedly used snipers to execute Palestinians in cold blood, some of which were waving white flags. Michigan State University’s affiliation as a partner organization to the Israel Institute, of which Dr. Aronoff is also an advisory board member, is highly troubling. Executive Director of the Israel Institute, Ariel Ilan Roth, has previously written opinion pieces vehemently against Palestine establishing statehood, stating that “admitting Palestine [as a full member state under the United Nations] would be a nightmare for Israel and a serious problem for the United States.” The racism embedded in this claim and complete denial of Palestinian sovereignty is frankly disturbing for any university to endorse. 

Let us be clear that we, as alumni, fully support courses on Jewish identity and education, which are entirely unrelated to the settler colonial project of Israel. These types of courses are imperative in understanding and protecting the rich identities of our neighbors. However, MSU’s Jewish Studies program has actively sought to create a monolith for Jewish thought and identity that is conflated with Israeli ethnonationalism as indicated by its name change in 2018 to the Jewish and Modern Israeli Studies Department. In doing this, MSU alienates and erases the identities of Jewish students who do not support the Zionist project, due to the harm it has caused and continues to cause to the Palestinian people. Anti-Zionist Jewish advocacy has manifested on campus for years, culminating in the recent establishment of a MSU Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) chapter. By erasing the historical and modern-day existence of anti-Zionist Jewish people, MSU is actively perpetuating anti-semitism. University practices that equate all forms of Zionism with Judaism and discourage discourse, thus placing Jewish lives in actual danger both here and abroad when “insisting that the state of Israel… is synonymous with Jews and Judaism.

MSU’s Investments in Genocide

MSU Investments also reveal disturbing ties with organizations complicit in genocide. For example, MSU has invested in BlackRock in different capacities just as recently as 2023. Another investment, Camber, whose director, Fred S. Zeidman, is on the National Board of Directors for Israel Bonds, allows individuals to purchase bonds that directly assist Israel in its genocidal campaign against Palestinians. Israeli Bonds has come under scrutiny for being “an unregistered foreign agent in violation of the Foreign Agent Registration Act.” Israeli Bonds has also come under scrutiny for hosting Israeli Finance Minister, Bezalel Smotrich, who previously remarked that “[the Palestinian town] Huwara needs to be wiped out.” MSU should not be profiting from the clear violation of human rights and international law.

When looking at MSU’s ties to ongoing actions of genocide and colonialism, it is also worth examining the University’s history. MSU was founded for the express purpose of land appropriation As the University states in its own Land Acknowledgment, its campus “occupies the ancestral, traditional, and contemporary Lands of the Anishinaabeg – Three Fires Confederacy of Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi peoples”. During the cold war, MSU collaborated extensively with the CIA to support the United States’ shameful actions of colonialism in Vietnam, with faculty and staff providing consultation, training, and other forms of support to the regime of Ngô Đình Diệm from 1955-1962. Years later, former MSU President M. Peter McPherson served as a consultant for Bush after the 2003 United States invasion of Iraq.

In contrast to this long history of supporting actions of genocide and colonialism, MSU helped lead the divestment campaign against apartheid South Africa. Today, the University is faced with a critical decision with regard to its investments and relationships to Israel. Michigan State University can continue funding and supporting violent armies perpetuating acts of colonialism for profit, as it did in Iraq, Vietnam, and the lands of the Anishinaabeg, or it can once again listen to the many activists associated with the University calling for divestment from genocidal actions and apartheid, as it did when it divested from South Africa in 1978.

As alumni of Michigan State University, we are deeply saddened and angered by the University’s current support of Israel’s genocidal actions in Palestine. As such, we have collectively acknowledged that, should this university take no meaningful action to implement long-term policies as outlined below, we will subsequently refuse to provide any donations and withhold any recommendations to Michigan State University until the below demands are met:

We are demanding the following:

  1. Meet with students who have been affected by this genocide, as well as those who have bravely advocated against apartheid and ethnic cleansing to take the time to listen to their concerns;
  2. Create a long-term policy that protects MENA students and those who bravely speak out against violence towards Palestinian lives, which includes (but is not limited to) a permanent rejection of The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-semitism that erases the notion that other semitic people exist and policies that safeguard criticism of Israel as free speech;
  3. Develop structural and long-term plans that address MSU’s complicity in genocide, which includes, but is not limited to divesting completely from investments towards  BlackRock, Camber, and any other companies and organizations that profit off of the genocide of Palestinians or any other groups of individuals;
  4. Divest completely from Israeli-based universities that are directly tied to the violent displacement of Palestinians;
  5. Restructure the Serling Institute around an amplification of all Jewish voices, which includes renaming of the Jewish Studies Program to remove “Modern Israel”; 
  6. Establish an Ad-Hoc Arab Studies group that includes MENA-based faculty and student voices.
  7. Honor former Spartan Tariq Thabet and his family, who were all murdered by Israeli bombs; and
  8. Release an additional and meaningful statement per Associated Students of Michigan State University’s Bill 60-30, acknowledging Palestinian lives that have been affected by this genocide in collaboration with Middle Eastern and Muslim groups.

It is time for MSU to abide by its own slogan of Spartans Will and implement meaningful policy changes that address the harms it has caused to students and the world. 

Signed,

Michigan State University Alumni

 1Please note that many of these numbers in this letter are increasing as the genocide still continues well past its 100th day. In addition, many of the below numbers and statistics are subject to severe underreporting. This is so because of a host of factors, including, but not limited to: outside press’ inability to enter, frequent power blackouts, indirect deaths as a result of illness and starvation, executions of Palestinian journalists and their families simply for reporting, and the inability to account for the Palestinians still under rubble. 

2https://msu.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/acs; https://msu.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/camsa; https://msu.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/spartanegyptians; https://msu.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/iranian; https://msu.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/iau; https://msu.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/lsa; https://msu.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/melsa; https://msu.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/msa; https://msu.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/saudi; https://msu.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/ssa; https://msu.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/sos; https://msu.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/supr; https://msu.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/turkishstudent; https://msu.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/ysa