An Anti-Semitism Controversy at Stanford

Molly Horwitz, a junior at Stanford University, is running for a spot in Stanford’s student senate. In the course of her campaign, Horwitz, a Latina and a Jew, sought the endorsement of Stanford’s Students of Color Coalition (SOCC) and was granted an interview. During the interview, Horwitz claims, she was asked this question: “Given your strong Jewish identity, how would you vote on divestment?” Although the senate has already passed a resolution urging Stanford to divest from companies alleged to profit from the oppression of Palestinians, divestment remains a live issue at Stanford.

The SOCC has denied Horwitz’s charge. Their denial acknowledges that the charge is serious: “Religious discrimination . . . starkly violates the values on which the Students of Color Coalition is based. Were these allegations true, they would not only merit a public apology but also constitute a betrayal of both the communities SOCC represents and the ideas the coalition members promise to uphold.”

Yet “several students” according to the New York Times piece linked above, “said they did not see it as problematic to connect a stance on divestment with Judaism.”

I don’t know if Horwitz’s story is true, but she explains very well what is “problematic” here. If “SOCC had wanted to know how I felt about divestment, they could have asked that.” What “made me so distressed was not that SOCC had asked me about divestment, but that they had thought my Jewishness might make me a poor Senator.” Would the Stanford students who don’t grasp Horwitz’s distress have trouble grasping why an African-American judicial candidate might object if a Senator were to ask her: “Given your African-American identity, how would you rule on affirmative action cases?”

Horwitz’s story reminds us of the case of Rachel Beyda, a UCLA undergraduate and candidate for the student government’s Judicial Board. This February, the student council refused to confirm her appointment because some members thought that her membership in campus Jewish organizations might constitute a conflict of interest were a case involving divestment to come before the board. They relented only after a faculty adviser insisted that the council couldn’t reject Beyda merely because she was affiliated with Jewish organizations.

The Beyda case followed last year’s attempt by pro-divestment students at UCLA to convince student government candidates to pledge not to travel to Israel on trips sponsored by “pro-Israel” organizations like the Anti-Defamation League. They also charged two senators who had voted against divestment with violating the “ethical code on conflicts of interest” because they “had gone to Israel on sponsored trips.” These actions drew sharp criticism from UCLA’s Chancellor Gene Block.

The already troubling effort to delegitimize supporters of Israel at UCLA transformed, in the Beyda case, into a suspicion and rejection of Jewish students. Whether Horwitz’s Stanford story turns out to be true or not, campus leaders need to be mindful that what happened at UCLA can happen almost anywhere.

One thought on “An Anti-Semitism Controversy at Stanford”

  1. Excluding someone from a position on a student senate because of their religion is discrimination, pure and simple. But phrases like “membership in campus Jewish organizations” might not mean quite what they seem. Organizations calling themselves simply “Jewish”, like Hillel, are often strongly pro-Zionist, in other words, for racial discrimination in Palestine. Excluding someone because they support discrimination is OK, surely.

    It’s the same with the hypothetical question “Given your African-American identity, how would you rule on affirmative action cases?”. It depends whether “identity” means “ethnicity” or “political affiliation”. If the latter, it would be quite reasonable for students who disagree with affirmative action to ask about African-American identity. Except a howling mob would drive them off campus.

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