Starkman: Entitled Cranbrook Art Students Protest Removal of Palestinian Flags

November 10, 2023, 5:30 PM

The writer, a Los Angeles freelancer and former Detroit News business reporter. He blogs at

By Eric Starkman

Cranbrook Academy of Art

When I was a fresh-faced reporter at the Toronto Star, I complained to my father that my editor was an idiot, an assessment that was widely shared by my colleagues. I didn’t get the sympathetic response I expected.

“How long have you been a reporter at the Toronto Star?” my father asked.

“Two months,” I replied.

“And how long has your editor worked at the Toronto Star?” my father asked.

“About ten years,” I replied.

“Your editor may be an idiot,” my father said. “But with ten years’ experience, he still knows a lot more than you. Learn what you can from him.”

Although I’ve never stepped foot on Cranbrook’s bucolic campus, its readily apparent that many of the fine arts students attending the elite school weren’t raised to respect authority and the judgments of those with considerably more life experience than they have. “In solidarity with Palestine,” dozens of students submitted “an open letter” to the school’s administration protesting the “reprehensible” removal of the Palestinian flags “from the windows of our personal studios.”

“We, the undersigned, representing a majority of the 2024-2025 student body at Cranbrook Academy of Art, with the support from alumni, write to establish our unwavering solidarity with the Palestinian people in their eight decades of impassioned and fervent resistance for liberation against the settle colonial ideology of Zionism and the occupation of their land by the Israeli apartheid ethnostate,” declares the undated letter students submitted to the school’s administration.

Administration's Decision

The letter was in response to a decision by Cranbrook’s administration to remove the Palestinian flags the students plastered on the windows of the school’s art studio last Saturday. Cranbrook is the rare southeastern Michigan institution of stature refusing to be bullied into allowing the unquestionable promotion of Jew hatred.

In a Nov. 6 letter addressed to “The Cranbrook Community” and signed by President Aimeclaire Roche and Jeff Suzik, Director of Schools, Cranbrook’s administration explained its position.

As some are aware, on Saturday, we discovered in several commonly shared educational spaces at the Cranbrook Academy of Art displays of flags representing Palestine. Given the collective size, scope, and positioning of the flags along a main thoroughfare on campus, these displays had a threatening and unwelcoming impact on members of our community.

On Saturday, the Director of the Academy and I communicated with our Academy graduate students about messaging in our common spaces and the impact of these outwardly facing displays on our community, and they were removed from these common spaces.

The decision to remove the displays is one that is aligned with our past practices and our respect for the many constituents of our community.  Institutionally, we do not take a public position on political causes or conflicts. Our long-standing practice has been to keep the common, shared areas of our campus free of political messaging or activities. Moreover, political messages could be interpreted as political statements made on behalf of Cranbrook.

Cranbrook is a pluralistic, widely diverse, and unique community, one that every day must welcome and ensure the well-being and sense of safety and belonging of diverse audiences, children and adult students, as well as residential faculty, staff, and their families - all with myriad national, religious, or personal affiliations. 

We will continue to work across our Cranbrook campus to ensure that all displays are consistent with our commitment to building a community where all members feel valued, respected, and welcome. 

Vijay Iyer, a spokesman for Cranbrook, confirmed that Cranbrook Art Director has Paul Sacaridiz has resigned, saying it was for “personal reasons.”  

What About Jewish Students?

Spare me the argument that Cranbrook students aren’t motivated by Jew hatred. Their open letter reads like a Hamas manifesto, dripping with venom and betraying the students’ ignorance and naivete about Mideast politics.

“Supporting marginalized communities and standing in solidarity with liberation movements are fundamental to our rights to speech, expression and creativity,” the student body letter states. “The current stance taken by the Academy infringes on these rights, which are pivotal to academic freedom and resonate with the broader global community.

“This campus is home to Black, Indigenous, and Brown students, people from the global South, diasporic students, and queer students whose liberation and freedom is contingent on decolonial struggle. Censoring our dissent against colonialism and genocide as artists, makers, and people, is a heinous act that disparages the relationships we’ve built here within our community. We have a vested interest in supporting Palestinian liberation because it liberates us too.”

Cranbrook is also home to many Jewish students, some no doubt who are descendants of Holocaust survivors. Some of the disparate students the letter speaks of likely are attending Cranbrook under one of the 20 full-tuition fellowships for underrepresented groups made possible by a $30 million gift from Jennifer and Dan Gilbert, who are Jewish. As for Cranbrook’s queer students, in Gaza homosexual relations between men is outlawed and open queerness violates social and religious mores.

I’d encourage Cranbrook students to visit Gaza and feature an exhibition of their artwork and then report back about the “liberation” they experienced.

Cranbrook students aren’t alone in thinking they know best how to run their school. Over at Bloomfield Hills High School, Students Organized for Palestine, Muslim Student Association, Young Students Organize 4 Syria, and the Student Equity Council, recently made a series of demands including, “conducting a district-wide revision of humanities courses to accurately present an impartial, unbiased portrayal of the history of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.”

A few weeks ago, dozens of students walked out of class as part of a nationwide walkout for Palestine.

Cranbrook is to be applauded for its moral courage, something lacking at other Detroit area institutions. At Corewell Health, the hospital waited weeks before firing Majd Aruarabia, a Dearborn surgeon who celebrated Hamas’ massacre of 1,400 persons in Israel, including dozens of Americans. Corewell still hasn’t publicly confirmed Aruarabia’s termination.

Corewell also declined to publicly disassociate itself from a demonstration organized by the Arab American Medical Association in front of its Royal Oak hospital where protesters in white coats and scrubs chanted, “Intifada, Intifada! Long live the Intifada,” which is a Palestinian war cry for the violent overthrow of Israel. One protestor, wearing a Henry Ford Health sweatshirt, carried a placard saying, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free.”

Protest outside Corewell in Royal Oak

“From the River to the Sea,” is a war cry for a Palestinian state extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, meaning that Israel would no longer exist. Henry Ford Health declined to comment, an indication that the hospital system is comfortable with its brand being associated with a message calling for the murder of all Israelis.

Cranbrook students looking for a venue to hold a demonstration expressing their support for Palestine might consider holding a protest in front of Corewell Royal Oak and ask Henry Ford Health to donate some sweatshirts. Seems like an opportunity both healthcare outfits would welcome and support.

Psst. Don’t tell any of this to the Detroit Free Press or the News. The publications don’t consider any of this newsworthy.

Reach the writer at Confidentiality is assured.

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