For some of the major players in the case of troublesome USF professor Sami Al-Arian, this weekend must have felt like a road game.
In the midst of three days of on-campus debate between Palestinian and Israeli supporters, the University of Michigan got a first-hand look at the predominant USF controversy.
The debate began in the middle of last week when two University of Michigan students filed suit against university officials in an attempt to keep Al-Arian and others from speaking at the Second National Student Conference on the Palestinian Solidarity Movement. The conference, hosted by Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, known as SAFE, was meant to discuss a form of non-violent resistance against Israel.
One of the students who filed the suit, Richard Dorfman, who is a member of the Michigan Student Zionists, said the reason he wanted Al-Arian off campus was because of anti-Semitic violence that occurred following an Al-Arian visit to the University of California-Berkeley.
That statement was refuted by an official from that university. Al-Arian claimed the lawsuit was a tactic to stifle debate surrounding the Palestinian issue.
On Friday, Washtenaw County Michigan Circuit Court Judge Melinda Morris ruled that the lawsuit had no merit. That decision paved the way for Al-Arian to speak at the conference.
Following the decision, Dorfman promised a “massive protest” outside of the conference. He said Sunday that about 25 people at a time stood outside of the conference, chanting and holding signs. In addition, his group planned a “counter-conference,” which was held on Sunday drawing about 700 he said.
Dorfman said speaking before the group was former Florida Holocaust Museum president John Loftus, who made headlines last spring after suing Al-Arian. Loftus has been widely quoted as calling Al-Arian a terrorist and claiming that secret evidence shows the professor contributed to the Sept. 11 attacks. Al-Arian has called Loftus “a lunatic.”
Dorfman said the Michigan Student Zionists contacted Loftus at the end of last week and paid for the trip to Ann Arbor from his St. Petersburg home.
Dorfman said Loftus spoke for about an hour. He said there was clashing between the Palestinian and Israeli supporters as events coincided.
Dorfman said he took an affidavit from a member of his group that claimed a Palestinian supporter walked by saying, “A good Zionist is a dead Zionist.”
Dorfman said despite the Friday decision, he plans to take the affidavit and continue the lawsuit. He said the university acted irresponsibly in allowing Al-Arian on campus.
“It’s a very delicate issue,” Dorfman said. “You have to prove that violence is imminent. In this case we believe it is.”
In addition to a verbal confrontation, Dorfman said two pro-Palestinian protesters at the counter-conference were involved in a shoving match. He said campus security arrested one of the protesters.
A University of Michigan campus security official, however, said there is no report of such an incident, and only minor crimes were reported over the weekend.
As for Al-Arian’s campus visit, Dorfman said some protesters stood nearby as the professor entered the conference. He said one of those protesters made a comment to Al-Arian.
“Somebody called him a murderer as he walked in,” Dorfman said.
Al-Arian said that he was not confronted by anybody. He said he addressed 400 people who were present at the conference.
Al-Arian said after his address he spoke with some Jewish students, engaging in an academic and historical discussion. He said he felt no ill will.
“I really enjoyed the discussions,” Al-Arian said. “A lot of people showed (me) support.”
Al-Arian, who last week said he supported pro-Israeli groups offering their opinions on the discussion, said he felt the conference was handled well.
“It was extremely well organized,” Al-Arian said.
Al-Arian traveled back to Tampa Sunday night, leaving behind a weekend of controversy. Following the three days of debate, both he and Dorfman called their respective conferences a success.