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Don’t tell us how to feel

As a Stanford freshman, I decided to run for the undergraduate senate. Naturally, I sought endorsements from major students groups on campus including the JSA, Queer Students Coalition and SOCC. I was well aware of the differences in opinions on divestment between SOCC and JSA and how strongly these differences were debated during a previous divestment vote. Coming into my interview with SOCC and the JSA, I was prepared to answer questions on divestment even though, having lived in Ujamaa my freshman year, my views on divestment were quite well known by some SOCC members with whom I was well acquainted.

During my interview with SOCC, I did not necessarily feel targeted as a Jew when asked about my relationship to the Jewish community and my views on divestment. For me, my views on Israel were largely influenced by my Jewish identity, and I found it a valid question to be asked by members of a community that had supported divestment in the past. It had been almost two years since I had thought back to my interview with SOCC, when Molly Horwitz recently accused the coalition of anti-Semitism.

Molly Horwitz’s accusations stemmed from feeling personally targeted because of her religion by members of SOCC when they apparently asked her about divestment and her relationship to the issue considering her Jewish identity. I am not sure what exactly happened during that interview, whether the question was framed in the context of religion, nor do I know who to trust here—SOCC or Molly. Frankly, I do not care.

The goal of this article is not to diagnose what is or isn’t anti-Semitic. There is no clear line of what makes something anti-Semitic or not. From person to person, within the community, that line changes. There are certain things that I find extremely offensive that may not be hurtful for a Jewish relative or friend, and vice versa. The definition of anti-Semitism is not decided by an individual. It is especially not declared by those that have never been Jewish; it is something that is never fully agreed upon unless there is unanimous agreement within the community regarding a specific case, whether that community be the Jewish community of Stanford or the Jewish community in the United States.

I have no idea where this issue between Molly Horwitz and SOCC is headed. I am not sure about what transpired between them nor am I sure if it was anti-Semitic. However, this is not the first time that Jews on campus have been told that something is not anti-Semitic by those who are not a part of the Jewish community. During divestment debates recently, members of SOOP repeatedly told the senate that the bill was not anti-Semitic. Though I personally did not feel the bill was anti-Semitic or targeting Jews as a whole, I am not the sole arbiter of what is and isn’t anti-Semitic–only the Jewish community is and many felt the bill was anti-Semitic.

Just as it would be reprehensible for the JSA to tell members of other minority communities what is and is not racist, sexist or homophobic, I find it personally atrocious that members who are not participants in the Jewish community at Stanford would clearly state for the campus as a whole that their own actions were not anti-Semitic. Sometimes, people make mistakes. Sometimes, there are hurtful actions that offend people or groups on campus. Instead of telling individuals and other communities that they are being too sensitive or that they have misinterpreted certain intentions, it is sometimes just better to apologize even if you think you did nothing wrong. Don’t get me wrong, the intentions behind all actions are important during any encounter. Intentions are what separate implicit racist, sexist, anti-semitic or homophobic remarks from explicit ones. However, harm can still occur no matter how noble the intentions are. We should try to repair harm, not explain our reasoning behind our actions to avoid saying sorry.

Apologies resolve issues. Refutations are the beginnings to arguments that are most likely only going to cause a further divide in the Stanford community. Perhaps no harm was intended, but the fact that a member of the Stanford community was hurt by the actions of another means that an apology should be warranted. We should not get in the habit of telling others how to feel or interpret our actions. Rather, we should learn from past actions and try to push ourselves to understand what we did that may have caused harm in order to avoid future altercations.

Zane Hellmann ’16

Former ASSU Senator

Contact Zane Hellmann at zaneh ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

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