Stanford student senate approves anti-Semitism bill

After a contentious first round two weeks earlier, the Stanford University student senate on April 19 unanimously approved a resolution defining and condemning anti-Semitism.

The measure, sponsored by a spectrum of Jewish student organizations, was initially discussed at the April 5 undergraduate student senate meeting and was challenged by senators concerned that it conflated criticism of Israel with criticism of Jews.

After multiple amendments were made during that evening’s debate — including deleting any mention of “anti-Zionism” from the bill — sponsors asked that the measure be tabled so they could have more time to study the bill to see if they could support it.

Student senators view anti-Semitism measure on laptops photo/arno rosenfeld

David Kahn, president of the Jewish Student Association at Stanford, then helped mediate between the Jewish organizations sponsoring the bill: Cardinal for Israel, J Street U Stanford, Chabad at Stanford, the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi and the Jewish Student Association.

Only one reference to Zionism remained in the final version submitted for this past week’s meeting: a statement that “many Jewish students worry that implicit anti-Jewish biases may give rise to disproportionate criticism of the State of Israel or Zionism as an ideology.”

Kahn said the “Resolution to Recognize and to Reaffirm the Fight Against Anti-Semitism” approved April 19 included a narrow definition of anti-Semitism on which all could agree.

“Any non-anti-Semite could look at this and say this is reasonable … and when I say that, people who identify with the pro-Palestine movement are included,” Kahn said. “There must be a line between valid criticism and hate speech and this is a really good line to draw.”

He added that the bill’s language was changed to better delineate the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism and to make it clear that speech on campus would not be censored. It reads: “This legislation is not intended to create restrictions on anyone’s right to free speech, academic freedom and participation in social activism. It solely represents the ASSU Senate modeling the type of speech it wishes to see on campus.”

The measure condemns “delegitimization of Israel based explicitly on the state’s Jewish nature” and recognizes that “the collective rights to self-determination of the Jewish people are no different than any other people.”

Said Kahn, “You can be anti-Zionist, you can be a harsh critic of the State of Israel and even focus on that. I don’t want you to feel like the Jewish community thinks you’re an anti-Semite without further investigation.”

Discussion took less than an hour and was far less contentious than at the April 5 meeting, when senator Gabriel Knight argued that debating supposed Jewish control of “the media, economy, government and other social institutions” was “a very valid discussion.” He later apologized and ended his campaign for re-election. He did not attend the April 19 session (the new senate will be seated in the fall).

Before addressing the bill, senator Hattie Gawande brought a motion to censor Knight that was approved without discussion.

Kahn and J Street U co-chair Julia Daniel took pains to clarify that anti-Semitism was not a major concern for them on campus.

“I very much feel safe on campus, I feel welcome on campus, I feel good talking about my Jewish identity on campus,” Daniel said, adding she hoped the bill would lead to more education and discussion about unconscious bias.

“It’s important to both not be fatalistic or panic every time anything bad happens,” she said, “but it’s also really important to be aware of the fact that we need to get rid of anti-Semitism completely.”

Arno Rosenfeld
Arno Rosenfeld

Arno Rosenfeld is a reporter at the Forward. He is a former J. intern and has worked as a correspondent for JTA and The Times of Israel.