Controversy Erupts at Stanford Over Student Claim That Issue of ‘Jews Controlling Media, Economy’ Is ‘Valid Debate’
A Stanford University student government debate on Tuesday over a resolution against antisemitism generated controversy after a participant made a statement many deemed antisemitic.
According to the student newspaper, The Stanford Daily, student Senator Gabriel Knight said:
[The resolution] says: “Jews controlling the media, economy, government and other societal institutions” [is] a feature of antisemitism that we theoretically shouldn’t challenge. I think that that’s kind of irresponsible foraying into another politically contentious conversation. Questioning those potential power dynamics, I think, is not antisemitism. I think it’s a very valid discussion.
Though, according to The Stanford Review, an independent political student newspaper, Knight “apologetically clarified twenty minutes later,” saying he understood how the “Jewish community could be offended by [his remark],” he also said that declaring assertions about Jews controlling the media to be unambiguously antisemitic remained a “political statement” of which the Senate should be wary.
Student attendee Miriam Pollock described the incident on her Facebook page, posted immediately after the meeting:
I should not need to explain that claiming — or insinuating, as [Knight] did — that Jews control such institutions is incredibly antisemitic …. Only I and a few other Jewish students spoke out. A number of the members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) in attendance snapped [their fingers] to indicate their support for this antisemitic statement. None of the other members of the Stanford Senate (except Molly Horwitz, who is Jewish) spoke out.
After the meeting, Pollock also launched a Stanford-wide petition calling on Knight to resign immediately and to remove himself as a candidate for next year’s Senate. Two prospective Senate candidates echoed her call, according to The Stanford Review, which also reported that The Stanford Daily had retracted its earlier endorsement of Knight.
On Thursday, Knight published a statement in which he said he had not meant to trivialize the offense some Jewish students may have taken to his remark, adding that, as someone who is not Jewish, he is not in a position to determine what is offensive to Jews. He continued:
I do not intend to support or employ any language or tools that have historically been used to elicit hate and violence against a people, and do not support conflating harmful words about a people with questions about societal institutions. I recognize that the specific words and rhetoric with which we are dealing carry with them histories and significance and can ultimately be triggering for students.
Late Thursday, a “Rally Against Antisemitism” was held on campus, according to Rabbi Serena Eisenberg, executive director of the Stanford Hillel, who also released a statement reading, in part:
While civil and productive campus discussions are the essence of a strong education, there are times when speech crosses over into hate speech. That line was clearly crossed in a student senate discussion earlier this week.
Hillel@Stanford unequivocally condemns these antisemitic comments. As the Hillel at a premier university, we stand on the front lines against the promulgation of antisemitic tropes intermingled with political attacks that demonize Israel.
According to The Stanford Review, student Senator Molly Horwitz had sponsored the resolution in question as a means to find common ground, after last year’s heated campus debates about divestment from Israel. (The Senate endorsed a divestment resolution last February, as reported by The Algemeiner.)
Her original version of the resolution explicitly adopted the US State Department definition of antisemitism, which recognizes as antisemitic those actions or speech that delegitimize, demonize, or apply double standards to Israel.
The Senate discussion did not proceed smoothly, however, as a number of Senators, including many of those affiliated with the Students of Color Coalition, The Stanford Review said, “began an effort to remove clauses, including direct reference to [the ‘delegitimization’ clause].”
In the end, seven amendments to the resolution were passed, resulting in the elimination of a preamble stating that “Zionism is defined as the belief in Israel’s right to exist and the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in their ancestral homeland,” and in the elimination of the State Department definition.
The resolution was tabled so that its original supporters could reassess their position. Cardinal for Israel, a pro-Israel group at Stanford and one of the co-sponsors of the resolution, announced it would withdraw support if the State Department definition were not reinstated. Other sponsors of the original resolution included the Jewish Students Association, Alpha Epsilon Pi and J Street U Stanford.
Horwitz was in the news last year, after members of the Students of Color Coalition, interviewing her as part of her campaign for the Senate, questioned her about how her Jewish identity would affect her student government attitude toward divestment, as reported by The Algemeiner.