Widgets Magazine


Do Stanford students have to replicate the animosity of the Middle East on campus?

There is a ceasefire in Israel, but not at Stanford University.

A few recent op-eds in The Daily practically accusing the United States and Israel of conspiracy to commit genocide — citing sources like Cognitive Liberty, a website that gives voice to those who accuse the U.S. of perpetrating 9/11 — have sparked a new cycle of “rhetorical violence” on campus. It is amazing how cyclical Stanford is, and how quickly people forget what things were like just a few years ago. Similar op-eds and divestment campaigns in 2006 led to an extremely fragmented and poisoned campus atmosphere. In my four years at Stanford, from 2007 to 2011, countless students and staff worked tirelessly to get the campus community to a place where we could disagree respectfully and work out our differences without resorting to rhetorical or political warfare, and use our collective energy to find creative solutions to make the world a better place. If there is a group of people anywhere in the world that can reject the tactics of the past, like divestment, and find creative ways to solve problems in the future, it is the students of Stanford University. We’re counting on you; don’t make the same mistakes.

The following is an op-ed I wrote in June 2011. I hope it can serve as a reminder of how things have been, and spark some ideas as to how Stanford students can move beyond the broken paradigms of the past.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

When I came to Stanford as a freshman in the fall of 2007, I was shocked to see the condition of the interfaith community. Fragmented and scared, students would whisper about the events of the previous year. Divestment, Muslims against Jews, Jews against Jews. The anti-Israel divestment campaign of the previous year had rocked the Stanford community. It drove people away from wanting to learn about or discuss Israel, drove Jewish students from wanting to befriend Muslim students and even drove Jews away from the Jewish community as a whole.

I was able to witness firsthand the devastating effects of the 2006-07 divestment campaign, because I was the only freshman to join the Stanford Israel Alliance. I joined because, after facing anti-Semitic abuse during high school, I found Israel was the one place where I knew I could be safe as a Jew, and I wanted a place like that to exist for all people. That’s why I wanted to try to improve the condition between Jews and Muslims on campus. I wanted to make things friendlier, so that people did not have to be afraid to express themselves, so that the discussion could be more positive. When I discussed co-sponsoring a charity drive for children in Israel and Gaza with the Muslim Students Awareness Network my freshman year, some of the Jewish/pro-Israel students looked at me like I was crazy.

Eventually we overcame the emotional scars of divestment, and the charity drive to send gift baskets to children in Israel and Gaza went forward. It was a major success because it was a positive way to deal with the conflict. Since then, the number of Jewish and Muslim interfaith events has increased. Political disagreements surrounding Israel have been handled in a more positive light. We repeated the charity drive my sophomore year and launched an even more successful microfinance campaign the year after. The past few years have been a huge step forward, but I fear that we are on the verge of taking two steps back.

This spring saw the initiation of a renewed divestment campaign. Divestment calls to the University not to do business with companies that do business in Israel. While the campaign purports to be about a few specific companies, in reality it is a campaign to delegitimize Israel, using literature from international movements that try to convince countries to boycott and sanction the Jewish state. This campaign is divisive because it places the blame for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a conflict that takes into account centuries of nuance, squarely on Israel’s shoulders. That’s not fair; both sides share responsibility.

Divestment aims to injure Israel economically, without actually directly helping the Palestinians. This should be upsetting to anyone who cares about Israel and also anyone who cares about the Palestinians. We should work toward change that helps both sides of the conflict, not simply injure one side or the other.

Regardless of our politics, the campaign of divisiveness that is in the process of being put forth can only have destructive outcomes. We do not need to replicate the animosity in the Middle East in order to make productive change. I have faith that if anywhere in the world there is a place where Muslims, Jews and people of all religious and political dispositions can come together to find constructive solutions to the Middle East conflict, it is Stanford University. I implore you, Stanford University: do not let this campus go back to the way things were. We have changed, and we are so much better than divestment.

Justin Hefter ’11

  • Sad too See

    Well put, Justin. No matter which side you fall on the issue, divestment does not help the situation in the Middle East in that it is of no help to the Palestinian people and is intended to place the blame, and harm on one side. Even worse, it creates divides in our Stanford community on campus. Its sad to see that this movement keeps appearing on campus by organizations like SPER.

  • Bob

    “Do Stanford students have to replicate the animosity of the Middle East on campus?” This question is silly on its face — in the Middle East the “animosity” is expressed with F-16s and AK-47s. Remind me when the last airstrike on Stanford was?

  • stanfordwatcher

    Class of ’11, when you’ve been around a bit longer, you’ll see there’s nothing special about Stanford when it comes to the kind of thing you’re talking about. Maybe, too, you’ll stop being so elitist.

  • RPopeil

    Exactly right! Thae next most ridiculous thing in the article is the use of the phrase “rhetorical violence”

  • You’re lucky to be so naive

    If you’ve never been verbally harassed for your political or religious beliefs, you should count yourselves lucky. Same with never having experience any form of racism. But many at Stanford University are currently feeling that rhetorical violence directed at them and those they care about, and as a recent alumnus, I can tell you that things could get a lot worse.

    Rhetorical violence is not a new concept. It’s real, and it sometimes leads to actual violence. Studies disagree as to the rate at which rhetorical violence directly leads to physical harm, but the correlation is there.

    A quick google search of the terms will yield the following:


  • Are you a Cal student?

    I disagree, and this article is proof.

    As the author noted, from 2007-2011, Jews, Muslims and people from myriad backgrounds WERE able to come together and work together to find creative solutions. It’s not elitist to believe that you have the power to make lasting change in the world. It’s defeatest to think you don’t.

    And who calls themself Stanfordwatcher? That’s just creepy, depressing and weird.

  • stanfordwatcher

    Lasting change? C’mon.

  • RPopeil

    I find your response to me quite harassing. In fact, I’m going to call it “rhetorical violence” so that I can justify silencing you. Now sit down and be quiet before the forces of order physically restrain you.

  • stanfordwatcher

    Creative solutions that did what in the end? It was pleasant to be in that environment, I suppose, warmed by the feeling of people from different backgrounds cooperating. Sometimes you have that, sometimes you have this. That’s how it is. People don’t have that much control over which one of these two things they have. One feels better than the other but they’re much the same. Inevitably things would go back to being “bad” again if people felt the “good” ended up changing nothing. see…?…

  • Lost yet hopeful

    I applaud your sentiments. I have been part of the multifaith initiatives on campus from the Muslim side and while its great for us to sort out the divisions/misconceptions between us on campus through co-sponsored events, it barely does any good or harm to the crisis in the middle-east. The situation requires urgent attention from students at an institution like Stanford; I doubt divestment efforts are likely to do any major difference (other than enrage an already desperate Israely authority) but it at least brings attention to the crisis and hence allows Stanford students to judge for themselves what they can do to contribute to a solution.

  • dalikmagnus

    Right, because SIA, Larry Diamond, and others certainly aren’t creating divisions within our Stanford community.