BDS activists (file)
BDS activists (file)Wikimedia Commons

Stanford University's Hillel "unequivocally condemned" an anti-Semitic debate at the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) earlier this week, releasing an updated statement Thursday and a call for an on-campus rally following an Arutz Sheva exposé

"While civil and productive campus discussions are the essence of a strong education, there are times when speech crosses over into hate speech," Hillel's Rabbi Serena Eisenberg said in a statement. "That line was clearly crossed in a student senate discussion earlier this week."

"[email protected] unequivocally condemns these anti-Semitic comments," she continued. "As the Hillel at a premier university, we stand on the front lines against the promulgation of anti-Semitic tropes intermingled with political attacks that demonize Israel."

"This is not an issue for the Jewish community alone. We are are proud of the Stanford students who are taking a leadership role in challenging the Stanford community to live up to our cherished ideals of respect for all."

"We are outraged by the anti-Semitic attitudes, comments, and actions expressed on Stanford's campus and across the country, including this most recent example at Stanford," she added. "At the same time, these episodes should not characterize nor overshadow the positive atmosphere most Jewish students experience at Stanford and on other American campuses today." 

The Jewish Student Association (JSA) and Hillel called for a rally against anti-Semitism Thursday night, following media coverage of the incident and a pledge from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to combat anti-Semitism on campus.

Legitimizing anti-Semitic stereotypes

During a hearing on renewing a resolution banning anti-Semitism Tuesday, Stanford senior Gabriel Knight insisted that a clause which defines negative Jewish stereotypes is "irresponsibly foraying into another politically contentious conversation."

"Questioning these potential power dynamics, I think, is not anti-Semitism," he said.

"I think it’s a very valid discussion." He also maintained that the bill should include “some language to acknowledge Palestinians’ rights to self-determination." 

Knight's statement was then followed by a group of pro-Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) students from the Students of Color Coalition (SOCC) moving to redefine "anti-Semitism" as excluding delegitimization of Israel and Zionism, as well as a lengthy debate over whether "Jewish power" intersected with "white power."

War of words

The incident has also opened a media war within Stanford itself - sparking several open letters between Knight and the JSA on the Stanford Daily Review

"Whether out of ignorance or malicious intent, these statements legitimize anti-Semitic tropes that have been used to justify the murder and persecution of Jews throughout our history," the JSA stated in an open letter Thursday morning. "Based on the history outlined above, many Jewish students were upset by these remarks."

"However, when Jewish students expressed their outrage at his remarks, he refused to repudiate his views in their entirety, leading us to believe that these statements were more than a momentary lapse on Knight’s part."

Moreover, the JSA stated, Knight's own open letter Thursday in the daily "failed to mention [...] any reference to Jews or the Jewish community, and certainly failed to issue any sort of written apology for the harm he caused." 

"In claiming that we should challenge that those notions are anti-Semitic, Senator Knight implied that Jews exercise coordinated control over various societal institutions," it added. "With this remark, on the record in an ASSU meeting, he treated these dangerous stereotypes as though they were acceptable discourse among student leadership, and by extension the student body, which is extremely alarming [...] We find this rhetoric to be unacceptable for anyone at Stanford, let alone a representative of the undergraduate student body." 

The JSA has pledged to appeal to the Office of Community Standards to take action again Knight in the event he refuses to make a specific apology to the Jewish community over the remarks.