Jewish groups, Rothman condemn UWM deal with pro-Palestinian protesters

The Water Council says it never had ties to Israeli groups

A black sign in the grass reads "Civil Rights Act (checkmark, End Vietnam War (checkmark), End apartheid in South Africa (checkmark), Free Palestine, almost there!" Behind the sign are tents and lawn chairs with people scattered about.
UW-Milwaukee students, staff and faculty protest in an encampment for a second day in support of Palestinian statehood on April 30, 2024. Evan Casey/WPR

Milwaukee-area Jewish groups and the Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman are criticizing the deal UW-Milwaukee struck with pro-Palestinian protesters over the weekend. 

Hillel Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, and ADL, or the Anti-Defamation League, Midwest issued a statement Tuesday afternoon calling UWM Chancellor Mark Mone’s agreement with protesters “among the most offensive and dangerous of any university agreement reached with encampment protesters over the last two weeks.” 

UWM’s agreement with pro-Palestinian students called for a ceasefire in Gaza. The school also agreed not to ticket students for violating a law banning camping on campus property.

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The Jewish groups said Mone’s agreement with protesters came after seven months of him “refusing to meet with Jewish students,” and failure to address antisemitic incidents on campus since the Oct. 7 war began when Hamas-led militant groups launched a surprise attack on Israel.

“Chancellor Mone gave protesters who fueled hate and violated school policies at UWM a seat at the table and even invited them to nominate individuals and faculty to serve on key university committees and working groups,” the statement says. “The chancellor’s decision to grant immunity to individuals who mocked and broke school rules and the law sets a dangerous precedent for future incidents on campus.”

Rothman called the UWM agreement “disappointing,” in a series of Tweets. 

“I am continuing to assess the decision-making process that led to this result,” Rothman said. 

In a statement, UWM said it is deeply concerned by the comments made by Hillel Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, and is taking time to understand concerns before “responding comprehensively.”

“Separately, UWM is aware of the statement made by Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman,” the statement says. “Chancellor Mone plans to address the process that led to the peaceful resolution of the encampment and other concerns in a broader statement soon.”

Water Council corrects false reports of Israeli involvement

The UWM agreement also said the nonprofit Water Council — Mone serves as organization’s board treasurer — has “officially ceased relationships and cut all ties with both Mekorot and Israel Innovation Authority, two Israeli-government-owned water companies.”

The university statement said those companies have been accused of “cutting off access to drinking water for thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, exacerbating water scarcity.”

But a statement from the Water Council on Tuesday said the group has not had any activity with Mekorot and Israel Innovation Authority since 2019 and they were never members of the Water Council. 

“The Water Council has had no formal ties, ongoing projects or financial interests with any company or organization in Israel or the Middle East in recent history,” according to the statement. “Any insinuation that The Water Council’s inactivity with Mekorot and Israel Innovation Authority pertains to these accusations is false.”

The Water Council went on to say it has tried for months to correct the media’s misinformed characterization of the “relationships” with Israeli organizations.