An open letter from the Jewish Student Association

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On Tuesday evening, the Stanford Undergraduate Senate debated the Resolution to Recognize and to Reaffirm the Fight Against Anti-Semitism. The Jewish Student Association (JSA) co-sponsored this resolution along with many other groups in the Jewish community. The legislation included the State Department Definition of Anti-Semitism for context. One portion gave this example of anti-Semitism:

“Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as a collective — especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.”

Based on the well-documented history of these pernicious stereotypes, JSA did not anticipate that this particular clause would be contentious enough for debate. The conspiracy theory that Jews collectively control the media, economy, or government and utilize that control in coordinated, nefarious ways, has done irreparable damage to Jewish communities around the world. For example, pogroms in Eastern Europe and Russia fueled by these stereotypes ravaged Jewish populations for hundreds of years; Jews were accused of causing economic instabilities in Argentina, sparking a series of hate crimes; and most dramatically, in Nazi Germany, this was a justification given for the systematic extermination of the Jews.

To our dismay, however, Senator Gabriel Knight stated the following in response:  

“[The clause] says: ‘Jews controlling the media, economy, government and other societal institutions’ [is] a feature of anti-Semitism that we theoretically shouldn’t challenge. I think that that’s kind of irresponsible foraying into another politically contentious conversation. Questioning these potential power dynamics, I think, is not anti-Semitism. I think it’s a very valid discussion.”

Whether out of ignorance or malicious intent, these statements legitimize anti-Semitic tropes that have been used to justify the murder and persecution of Jews throughout our history. Based on the history outlined above, many Jewish students were upset by these remarks. However, when Jewish students expressed their outrage at his remarks, he refused to repudiate his views in their entirety, leading us to believe that these statements were more than a momentary lapse on Knight’s part. Although he apologized in part during the meeting, Senator Knight continued to argue that the above language was too political for inclusion in the resolution. In Senator Knight’s statement in the Daily published early this morning, furthermore, he again failed to demonstrate an understanding of the ways in which accusations about institutions being controlled by Jews are deeply offensive, saying only that he does “not support conflating harmful words about a people with questions about societal institutions” — as though the latter questions, with respect to Jewish control, would be more legitimate. Indeed, Senator Knight failed to mention in his statement any reference to Jews or the Jewish community, and certainly failed to issue any sort of written apology for the harm he caused.

In claiming that we should challenge that those notions are anti-Semitic, Senator Knight implied that Jews exercise coordinated control over various societal institutions. With this remark, on the record in an ASSU meeting, he treated these dangerous stereotypes as though they were acceptable discourse among student leadership, and by extension the student body, which is extremely alarming to us in the JSA. We are concerned that this represents a larger problem on our campus, where anti-Jewish bias remains unconfronted and left to fester.

We find this rhetoric to be unacceptable for anyone at Stanford, let alone a representative of the undergraduate student body. Furthermore, we believe this conduct illuminates the urgent need to enact mechanisms to increase awareness of anti-Semitism on our campus. This is in fact the main objective of the Resolution to Recognize and to Reaffirm the Fight Against Anti-Semitism which was under debate when Knight made his remarks. While we appreciate Senator Knight’s acknowledgement of the history and significance of this rhetoric, his actions up to now do not indicate a clear understanding of the scope of these anti-Semitic tropes or the gravity of invoking them.

We call upon Senator Gabriel Knight to (1) repudiate the spirit and content of his  statements in a public apology specifically addressed to the Jewish community and (2) take concrete steps to educate himself on the history of anti-Semitism and its contemporary manifestations.

If Senator Knight fails to follow up on both of these demands, JSA will call upon the Office of Community Standards to investigate whether Senator Knight’s remarks are in violation of Stanford’s Fundamental Standard, which states in part:

Students are expected to respect and uphold the rights and dignity of others regardless of race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or socio-economic status.

Appropriate action should be taken if he is found to be in violation of these standards.

Furthermore, we call upon groups that have endorsed Knight to clarify their stance on these recent events. We do not feel at this time that Knight should serve as a representative of our student body.

We sincerely hope that these unfortunate events can open up the possibility for meaningful education on anti-Jewish bias, so that a deeper understanding of our community can be reached.

— Jewish Student Association

Contact the Jewish Student Association via David Kahn ([email protected]), Zoe Goldblum ([email protected]), and Julia Daniel ([email protected])

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