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Addressing differences within and without: An open letter from the JSA Board

The issue of divestment has caused serious discord amongst Stanford students, and the events of the last few weeks have demonstrated that divisions between campus communities will not mend themselves without intentional intervention. In order to gauge the feelings of members of our own community, the Executive Board of the Jewish Student Association (JSA) conducted a survey of Jewish students last week via the Jewish community email list.

We were happy to learn that many Jewish students feel comfortable expressing their Jewish identity on campus, but we were troubled that many students believe the larger Stanford student body is no longer accepting of all aspects of their Jewish identity. We wish to call on all campus communities, including our own, to recognize the wide range of views within the Jewish community and challenge all students to be critical of the assumptions we make about those with whom we disagree.

The Jewish community at Stanford comprises students with a wide variety of beliefs, and we are proud of our diversity. The JSA, a VSO whose mission is to provide social, cultural, religious, and educational programming to the Stanford Jewish community and the greater campus community, strives to make our community inclusive of all students, regardless of their political views. We could not possibly offer a statement on divestment that would represent the beliefs of all Jewish students. Still, JSA Executives believe it is necessary to address the consequences of the divestment debate.

We are concerned about recent trends in campus discussion that have illuminated a variety of assumptions about the Jewish community. Our survey indicated that many Jewish students, even those not engaged in the debate over divestment, have felt excluded solely due to their Jewish identities. For instance, some reported being silenced in conversations due to their peers’ perception that their Jewish identity relegates them to a place of naïve bias. Others expressed pain because they feel the need to hide their connection to the larger Jewish community. Many described that they do not feel comfortable expressing their love of Israel, an integral aspect of their personal Jewish identity.

Many Jews on campus feel that the assumed connection between opposition to divestment and white supremacy reflects a high level of misunderstanding. This assumption ignores the complex historical and contemporary factors that contribute to opposition to divestment or support for Zionism. It also alienates Jewish students who identify as people of color and as allies of other minority groups. We call on Stanford students to consider these concerns in light of Jewish history and resist the urge to make assumptions about Jewish students’ views.

We also call on Jewish students who oppose divestment to consider that many students in support of divestment are motivated by a genuine desire to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. We must understand that, for many Stanford students, support for divestment comes from a place of lived experiences dealing with systems of oppression.

As Jewish students, we can work to mend the divisions between our communities by addressing our collective privilege and the power dynamics within campus conversations. We do not surrender our right to defend ourselves against discrimination by doing so. We oppose anti-Semitism, and we must simultaneously oppose all forms of prejudice within the Jewish community and on the Stanford campus. We commit to fighting racism, classism, sexism, Islamophobia, transphobia, homophobia, and xenophobia within our community and beyond it and hold ourselves responsible to work with communities on campus towards these aims.

Our concern for Jewish students does not reflect a belief that our pain is greater or more important than the pain of any other group. Everyone should be alarmed by the discomfort and alienation of any group of Stanford students. As we look towards the rest of our term, JSA Board members are eager to create partnerships that address the concerns of all Stanford students.

We do not ask that anyone change their political beliefs, nor do we wish to impose an artificial unity on campus politics. We implore our peers to remain compassionate as these campus conversations evolve. We encourage all students to make an effort to be critical of our assumptions and to understand the context of the beliefs of those with whom we disagree.

The diversity of our campus is most valuable when we engage with perspectives that challenge our own. We look forward to collaborating with our peers in order to foster inclusion and reconciliation in our Stanford community.

Emma Neiman, ‘16

Joseph Shayani, 16

Asher Kaye, ‘16

Simone Hudson, ‘16

David Kahn, ‘17

Zoe Goldblum, ‘18

On behalf of the JSA Board

Contact the authors of this article through Emma Neiman at eneiman ‘at’ stanford.edu and Joseph Shayani at jshayani ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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