After making encampment deal that outraged Jewish Milwaukee, UWM chancellor apologized – for weighing in | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

After making encampment deal that outraged Jewish Milwaukee, UWM chancellor apologized – for weighing in

When Chancellor Mark Mone of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee released the text of an agreement with encampment protesters, it immediately angered and disturbed much of the Milwaukee Jewish community. 

Nine days later, on May 21, Mone apologized for discussing geopolitical issues but not for the agreement’s content. The agreement was not withdrawn. 

Then, Hillel Milwaukee and Milwaukee Jewish Federation issued a statement in response (see page 7), expressing disappointment that there was no retraction. 

How it unfolded 

The May 12 “agreement” with anti-Israel encampment protesters was rapidly met with furor. Many saw it as capitulating to encampment protesters and welcoming anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiment. 

Written as a letter to the UWM Popular University for Palestine Coalition, the agreement’s issues were manifold for the Jewish community. Examples can be found in the subheads of the agreement. Among them, “Condemn Genocide,” even though there is no genocide in Gaza; and “Denounce Scholasticide,” without a mention of tunnels or terrorists at schools, or any reference to Israeli leaflets, calls or texts to try to warn civilians. 

Mone’s apology did not address such details. It was not an apology for the agreement’s content but for the choice to weigh in on the issues. 

“It is clear to me that UWM should not have weighed in on deeply complex geopolitical and historical issues. And for that, I apologize,” said Mone, in the May 21 statement. “I acknowledge that it is an increasingly difficult time for many Jewish students at UWM and across America. I’ve also heard that some students have not felt comfortable reporting their concerns or experiences. This distresses me. The expressions of grief and frustration over the conflict in the Middle East must not destabilize our shared sense of humanity or be twisted into a platform to spread hatred.” 

Mone’s statement of apology also condemned antisemitism and stated that the campus must be welcoming and inclusive. 

Jay Rothman, president of the University of Wisconsin System, had been critical of Mone’s agreement when it was first publicized. He said on X, the social media platform, that he was “disappointed in the course taken by UW-Milwaukee.” Rothman said that “maintaining viewpoint neutrality is critically important, especially in situations where students and other university stakeholders on multiple sides of an issue are in vehement disagreement.” Days later, Mone issued his apology for weighing in on issues. 

After Mone’s apology, Rothman issued a statement: “I appreciate that the chancellor reassessed his approach at UW-Milwaukee regarding the illegal encampments and issued a statement reflecting his apology. Chancellor Mone has dedicated his career to UWM, and I know he is committed to ensuring that all students feel equally welcome, safe, and supported as members of one UWM campus community.” 

Before the apology 

Before the apology was issued, a joint statement from Jewish organizations was highly critical of Mone’s agreement with encampment protesters.  

“The agreement is among the most offensive and dangerous of any university agreement reached with encampment protesters over the last two weeks,” according to a joint statement issued on May 14 by Hillel Milwaukee, Milwaukee Jewish Federation, and ADL-Midwest. “Chancellor Mone’s agreement with protesters comes after seven-plus months of him refusing to meet with Jewish students and failing to adequately respond to antisemitic incidents on campus since October 7.”   

More than two dozen Wisconsin rabbis and cantors added their names to the statement as co-signers, including leaders of some of the largest synagogues and Jewish organizations in the state. After Mone published the agreement, protesters cleared the two-week encampment from UWM property in mid-May.  

The May 14 joint statement said that the agreement “provides no meaningful support to UWM’s Jewish community and fails to acknowledge the fear and pain Jewish community members have endured due to the actions of protesters during the encampment and before. In contrast, 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 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.” 

Community outrage 

When the agreement was first forged, local media recognized the alarm in the Jewish community. WTMJ4 noted that “people in the local Jewish community expressed outrage.”  

A local Jewish mother of a UWM student wrote that she was “disgusted” and accused the school’s leadership of “antisemitism” on Facebook. Rabbi Noah Chertkoff, who leads Congregation Shalom in Fox Point, wrote on Facebook: “I cannot understate the damage that UWM Chancellor Mark A. Mone has caused by capitulating to unjust demands in response to unjust behavior.” 

Individuals in the local Jewish community fired off letters. Lloyd Levin wrote a letter to Mone, also sending it for publication in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It made the case that if you’re going to boycott Israeli technology, as Mone seemed willing to support in the agreement, you’re going to find yourself boycotting much of the technology we all use every day.  

Andrew Mishlove wrote to the leadership of the University of Wisconsin System. He argued that the number of deaths in Gaza quoted in the agreement cannot be trusted, because they came from Hamas, a terrorist organization. Discussion in the agreement of a “humanitarian crisis” leaves out Hamas itself making a crisis, diverting supplies for its own use, he added. 

The Mone agreement calls for the release of both Hamas and Israeli “hostages,” which also produced ire. 

Ann Jacobs, who is active in the Jewish community, wrote on Facebook: “The outrageousness of UWM’s response to the protesters cannot be overstated. Equating babies held hostage to murderers held in custody is grotesque.” 

Andy Palec wrote in his letter to Mone: “This gives credence to a false moral equivalence between hostages forced from their homes and dragged into Gaza, and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel for acts of terror and violent crimes.” 

The Water Council controversy 

The Mone agreement also targeted Israeli water organizations: “At the Chancellor’s urging, The Water Council no longer has relationships with these entities, and they have been removed from the global listing on the Water Council’s website.”  

Mone is treasurer of The Water Council, a Milwaukee nonprofit that seeks to drive freshwater innovation. In an unusual move, the Water Council issued a statement that appeared to contradict its own treasurer.  

The Water Council statement asserted that its “open dialogue has included Israeli water technology organizations, including Mekorot, Israel Innovation Authority and Ben-Gurion University, in the interest of sharing innovations and discovering new water technologies.” But it added: “The Water Council disagrees with the characterization that it has recently ended relationships with Mekorot and Israel Innovation Authority as there has been no activity with these organizations since 2019 and they were never members of The Water Council. Additionally, 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.” 

The Chronicle asked The Water Council communications office for comment on Mone’s assertion that Israel entities have been removed from “the global listing on the Water Council’s website.” 

Stacy Vogel Davis, a spokeswoman, responded: “After talking to the chancellor, we realized our Global Directory had become outdated, so we removed several organizations that are not active partners of ours. This included Mekorot, Israel Innovation Authority and Ben-Gurion University, along with the city of Daegu, South Korea, and a few Chinese water organizations we have worked with in the past. If you search our website in general, you can still find many references to our past work with Israeli organizations.”   

Palec’s letter took issue with Mone on The Water Council: “You have thrown The Water Council and its partners under the bus, all to appease the pro-Hamas crowd. Israel is a global leader in desalination, water recycling, drip irrigation, wastewater management, and much more. In his acclaimed book, ‘Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World,’ Seth M. Siegel addresses the efforts Israel has made to provide a better life for Gazans, only to have Hamas repeatedly reject expansion of Mekorot water for Gaza because it would require working with the ‘Zionist Entity’.” 

The Milwaukee Jewish Federation May 14 statement put it this way: “Chancellor Mone appears to have used his public university position to compel a private company to submit to demands of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.” 

The May 14 statement added: “Chancellor Mone has been negligent in his duty to ensure all students feel and are safe on campus. We call on the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System to immediately negate this agreement and take the aggressive steps necessary to ensure Jewish – and all – students are able to attend UWM and all UW campuses without the threats of harassment, intimidation and hate just because of their identity.” 

* * *