Each semester, Michigan State University students pay a tax to the Associated Students of Michigan State University (ASMSU). Few students know that they pay this tax, and even fewer know what it pays for. ASMSU provides several important services to students, but how the rest of the money is spent is often a mystery.
We do know that hundreds of thousands of student tax dollars are given to groups designated as part of the Council of Racial and Ethnic Students (CORES) and the Council of Progressive Students (COPS), which represent minorities at MSU. These groups receive special status both from the university through its Department of Student Life and Engagement and from ASMSU.
Not all CORES/COPS groups conduct themselves as one would hope university-funded groups would. The Arab Cultural Society, one such group, has engaged in explicit apologetics for Hamas’s horrific Oct. 7 massacre. Following the slaughter, the Arab Cultural Society stated on Instagram, “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people being oppressed and loving those doing the oppressing.” Another post claimed the massacre was Palestinian resistance to “how oppressive the material conditions” are in Gaza.
The Society also released a statement that said, “We witness history as Palestinians retaliate and decolonize their land” and added that it “stands with the Palestinian people and Gaza in this unprecedented attempt of decolonization.” This appeared to be an explicit endorsement of genocide.
It bears repeating that the Society is financed by student tax dollars and receives privileged support from the university.
As CORES/COPS groups, the Arab Cultural Society and the Muslim Students Association each get a seat on the General Assembly, ASMSU’s legislative body. As a result, while the Jewish Student Union also gets a seat—being a CORES/COPS group as well—on issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Palestinian side is advocated by two permanent representatives against the Jewish students’ one.
A week after the Oct. 7 massacre, the Arab Cultural Society and Muslim Students Association representatives put forward a bill to “support Palestinian students.” This was disingenuous at best. In fact, the bill labeled Israel as a colonial power in “occupied Palestine,” accused Israel of “mass murder” and labeled the attacks of Oct. 7 a “mass movement of decolonization”—again an apparent endorsement of genocide.
The General Assembly meeting at which the bill was considered was a nightmare for Jewish students. The room self-segregated into pro-Israel and anti-Israel sides. Students on the anti-Israel side wore keffiyehs, a symbol of Palestinian nationalism that has been adopted by terrorist organizations like Hamas. Many wore tape over their mouths and/or held up Palestinian flags and signs. This violently hostile environment for Jewish students was facilitated by ASMSU and members of the MSU administration. For example, an ASMSU vice president who was facilitating the meeting showed up wearing a keffiyeh and tape over her mouth. This blatant display of bias was not criticized, let alone condemned.
Public statements at the meeting were subject to very strict rules, but these rules were enforced with deliberate bias, effectively silencing and segregating Jewish students. Though the entire issue at hand was about acts of violence, specific acts of violence could not be discussed—supposedly. In reality, only Jewish students were prevented from discussing them. Anti-Israel students were allowed to pontificate on the tragic stabbing of a six-year-old Palestinian-American and conjure up colorful descriptions of Israeli airstrikes. In a clearly racist double standard, pro-Israel students were not allowed to talk about the over 1,400 Israelis who were brutally slaughtered, raped and kidnapped on Oct. 7.
In an equally egregious act of censorship, anti-Israel students were allowed to falsely label Israel’s actions as “genocide,” while pro-Israel students were not permitted to describe the actions of Hamas as “terrorism,” even though the U.S. government has officially designated Hamas a terrorist organization.
Moreover, referring to antisemitic incidents fueled by anti-Israel rhetoric was deemed “not germane” and banned. This was, perhaps, not surprising, given that both the Arab Cultural Society and Muslim Students Association have engaged in precisely this kind of incitement.
It was also unsurprising that the rigged discussion did not prevent the bill from passing over the objections of more than 50 Jewish students who called the bill a personal attack. Some minorities, it seems, are more equal than others.
The ASMSU then released a statement that claimed to support Palestinian students. In reality, it was a torrent of disinformation and antisemitism. It caved in to Palestinian propaganda by referring to the “nakba,” a Palestinian ultra-nationalist term referring to the supposed “catastrophe” of the Palestinians’ failure to commit genocide against Israel in 1948. The statement also absurdly claimed that Palestinian stories are not represented in the global media despite the global media’s obsession with broadcasting these stories as loudly as possible. Note, for example, the media’s obsession with Israel’s military operation in Gaza and effective erasure of the Hamas attacks that necessitated the operation in the first place.
Finally, and worst of all, the statement linked to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an organization with known ties to Hamas and redolent with antisemitism, as a resource. One CAIR leader has notably referred to campus Hillel organizations and synagogues in general as “enemies.”
All of this forces us to ask: Should student tax dollars, let alone university support, be given to organizations that promote racism and hate? Free speech is a fundamental right, but the enjoyment of coerced university funds is not. When students are forced to finance antisemitism or risk being excluded from ASMSU services by refusing to pay the tax, we have gone beyond the issue of free speech.
Michigan State University can and should ensure that, by promoting free speech, it does not promote hate.