Riot-equipped police came to the defense of academic freedom at the University of Michigan March 12, pushing pro-Palestinian demonstrators out of the Rackham Auditorium where they were disrupting a speech by the President of Israel, Ephraim Katzir.
In what may be a first for the University, the arrival of the twelve burly, helmeted and billyclub-wielding Ann Arbor police and Washtenaw County Sheriff's deputies was applauded by the audience. During the police charge which followed, one man was arrested.
The purpose of the convocation was to award Katzir an honorary doctor of law degree. A noted biophysicist in his own right, Kazir taught at the University in 1969 as a visiting scholar. Guarded yesterday by U.S. Secret Service and Israeli plainclothes police, Katzir is in the country on a private tour.
The riot police arrived after repeated warnings from University President Robben Fleming that demonstrators had to let Katzir speak or be removed from the building.
While the protestors shouted "Free Palestine" and "Down With Zionism," the audience broke into gales of clapping to indicate their disapproval of the disruption, then sang the Israel National Anthem.
Don Alexander, a member of the Revolutionary Student Brigade, was wrestled to the ground and arrested when police pressed into the departing crowd. The three officers who jumped on Alexander had to be restrained by a plainclothes Sheriffs Deputy, who told them to "cool it." Alexander was later charged with resisting a lawful order by police and released on $25 bond.
The protestors were called together by the Middle East Liberation Committee on the Diag. They then marched to Rackham where they were confronted by approximately 75 pro-Israeli demonstrators massed on the steps.
As the audience came out of the building following the convocation, scuffles broke out between Palestinian and Israeli sympathizers. After the incident, spokespersons for both Palestinian and Israeli groups compared each other to Nazis.