Palestinian activist denies claims she made antisemitic speech at Bloomfield Hills High School

Bloomfield Hills High School is apologizing for what it is calling an anti-Israel speech from a Palestinian speaker at a diversity assembly.

"For my remarks to be called antisemitic, it’s absolutely outrageous," said Huwaida Araff.

Huwaida Araff is a Palestinian rights activist who gave a controversial speech at the school this week. 

Her remarks were critical of the Israeli government. An audience member recorded this part where she talked about the Gaza Strip.

"Nobody can enter or exit Gaza without permission of the Israeli military. Not even the United Nations, not even a Palestinian needing urgent live-saving medical treatment."

Bloomfield Hills School District administrators and many parents called her statements antisemitic.

"We have a problem with too many people conflating legitimate criticism of a state, the state of Israel which is occupying and oppressing the Palestinian people which is committing crimes against humanity and these are documented facts," she said. "That is very different from antisemitic comments that targets the Jewish people.

"I said nothing in my presentation to any of the students of Bloomfield Hills High School that in any way could be taken as antisemitic except by those who deliberately want to conflate."

Rabbi Asher Lopatin disagrees.

"I was upset. I was sad for the students that were there, that heard it, that were hurt," said Rabbi Lopatin.

Lopatin is with the Jewish Community Relations Council - and says he met with the principal…superintendent and many teachers after the remarks were made.

"I’m also sad ... because I’m a believer also in Palestinian rights and I wish that there was a leader that brought Jews, Muslims, Arab-Americans together, rather than doing it in a divisive way."

The district sent a letter home to parents saying in part:

"In a school of "No Place for Hate," antisemitic rhetoric was shared with our students and we recognize its devastating impact. For this, we are very sorry.

"We also recognize that in the aftermath, many others were hurt as well. We apologize for failing to guide our student organizers properly. We regret that we allowed the speaker to continue their presentation.

"As the adults responsible for the safety, success, and well-being of our entire student body, we have failed in demonstrating how to highlight diversity in a positive way and how to address sensitive topics appropriately."

"First of all an apology these days - isn’t it rare to see that?" said Lopatin. "To take responsibility and the school definitely took responsibility for the issue. Also really explaining the issue, that this was supposed to be a wonderful gathering, DEI inclusion and instead, it became a divisive speech, a political speech."

The school said it actually had five speakers set to talk about diversity including an African-American person and a transgender person. The district said it told of them to focus on their lived experiences talking about moments where they felt oppressed and how people could help make it better. And they say this speaker went beyond those parameters going into politics, going beyond her lived experience.

Huwaida Araff

Huwaida Araff