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Divestment doesn’t foster discrimination — Hillel and the ADL do

Recent unsubstantiated allegations by a candidate for Undergraduate Senate against the Students of Color Coalition (SOCC) have caused a media storm. Despite a lack of concrete evidence from the candidate and a complete rebuttal from SOCC, her claims that SOCC questioned her about her Jewish faith in relation to her position on divestment from the Occupation of Palestine (she opposes it) have garnered international media attention. SOCC has refuted these claims, saying that they asked all SOCC candidates the same standard question about divestment. However, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has further alleged that the incident was a result of the campus-wide debate over divestment itself.

The subtext is clear: We cannot discuss divestment from the Occupation of Palestine on campus without eventual accusations of anti-Semitism, whether that discussion is in an endorsement interview, in a dormitory or in the Undergraduate Senate. As Jews supportive of divestment, we challenge the notion that the discussion of divestment is inherently anti-Semitic or necessarily leads to anti-Semitic acts. It is the silencing of open discussion on Israel/Palestine within and outside of the Jewish community by mainstream Israel advocacy organizations such as Hillel and the ADL, as well as by individual students, that is truly discriminatory.

Stanford is not the first campus to face ADL allegations that efforts to divest from the Occupation of Palestine are anti-Semitic or cause a “hostile campus climate” that fosters anti-Semitism. At UC Davis earlier this year, swastikas were painted on a Jewish fraternity a few days after a divestment resolution passed in the student senate, and the ADL was quick to infer a connection without an iota of evidence. And similarly, when a Jewish UCLA student was inappropriately questioned about her Jewish faith, the ADL took it upon themselves to make a connection between the divestment resolution that passed at UCLA last November and this completely unrelated incident. The ADL is seemingly unable to separate criticism of Israel, a nation-state, from hatred of Jews. As Jews who heartily criticize Israel, we reject this false equivalency.

Hillel is supposed to be an organization for all Jewish college students, but in fact in recent years many campus Hillels have become organizations for Jewish college students who are opposed to divestment. In fact, Hillel International publishes “Hillel Guidelines for Campus Israel Activities” to prohibit any speakers who hold supportive views of divestment from speaking at campus Hillels. There is little to no support for Jewish students at Stanford Hillel who may be supportive of divestment; the director of Stanford Hillel regularly sends out emails to students, alumni, and “Friends of Hillel” assuming uniform opposition to divestment. Hillel International CEO Eric Fingerhut recently refused to speak at a conference because the head Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, was also speaking. It is clear that a primary goal of Israel advocacy institutions on college campuses is to silence and erase Jewish and non-Jewish voices that support divestment.

That erasure is evident when the head of Stanford Israel Alliance states in The Daily that she is “speaking on behalf of the majority of Israeli and Jewish students” in opposing divestment. It is evident when Hillel International threatens to sue Swarthmore Open Hillel for putting on an event featuring leftist civil rights veterans, because some of those veterans have dissident views on Israel/Palestine. And it is evident when Hillel and the ADL jump to a senate candidate’s defense over unsubstantiated allegations while Hillel bans speakers supportive of divestment and makes Jewish students supportive of divestment feel unwelcome.

Discussing divestment is not anti-Semitic, no matter what the ADL would have you believe. Advocating for the fundamental human rights of Palestinians should not be seen as a problem on Stanford’s campus, or on any campus. But the intolerance perpetuated by individuals and institutions alike against all students, Jews and non-Jews alike, who support divestment is a problem. These institutions need to start rethinking their policies and their purposes if they don’t want to alienate the new generation of thinkers and activists and find themselves on the wrong side of history.

Emma Hartung ‘17
Melanie Malinas, Biophysics PhD student

Contact Emma Hartung at ehartung ‘at’ stanford.edu and Melanie Malinas at mmalinas ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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