Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Swastika-wearing man at UF

 

Student's Star of David tattoo bared in protest beside Michael Dewitz's Nazi armband.

Michael Dewitz, 34, walked around on the University of Florida campus dressed in black and wearing a swastika armband. On Jan. 26, he stopped by the potato statue on Turlington Plaza and stood there for about three hours. He immediately received attention from angry and offended students, and by noon a crowd of about 100 people had gathered around him.

Emotions and opinions were mixed-while some students shouted expletives at Dewitz or held posters of protest, other defended his right to free speech and yet others, in an effort to diffuse the anger, sang "I love you" repeatedly. One student stood beside Dewitz and showed him her tattoo of the Star of David on her wrist.

University police and UF officials watched from the sidelines.

Dewitz told the campus newspaper, The Alligator, his presence was a "social experiment meant to prompt discussion."

"I am upset that (the protesters) are upset," he said, "because they don't understand my intentions."

However, earlier in the week, Dewitz saw a student wearing a kippah and gave the student a Nazi salute. Dewitz also intimidated a UF Jewish studies senior on his way to minyan. The student, Jacob Zieper, told The Alligator that he knew Dewitz meant to intimidate him. "You can't fight hate with hate," he said. "You just have got to drown it out with pride and love."

Rabbi Berl Goldman of Chabad told The Alligator that although Dewitz has a right to free speech, his actions incited hatred.

"He's antagonistic," Goldman told an Alligator reporter. "He's wearing a symbol of hate and intolerance. There should be thousands of people shouting him down."

Sid Dobrin, chair of the UF Department of English, agreed with Goldman, telling the Alligator that he doesn't believe the freedom of speech encompasses hate rhetoric. "By walking outside with that symbol, he is an aggression."

This was the fourth anti-Semitic incident at UF in the past two months. Rabbi Adam Grossman, CEO of UF Hillel, is concerned. "Now, more than ever, it is vital that we come together to stop this hate from affecting and infecting our students and community," he stated in an email sent to many UF alumni and Jewish newspapers in Florida.

Grossman is taking the initiative, in addition to working on campus to educate and activate the community against anti-Semitism, he plans to travel around Florida to educate and help arm Jewish communities "so that together we can guard against these abhorrent actions."

 

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