By Fangzhou Liu
Last week’s debate over an ASSU Senate bill against anti-Semitism resulted in sitting Senator Gabriel Knight ’17 dropping out of the race for re-election, due to ostensibly anti-Semitic remarks that he made on the Senate floor. Yesterday, the 17th Undergraduate Senate proposed a bill to censure him for his actions amid campus-wide reactions, which range from calls for Knight’s immediate resignation to an op-ed written in his defense.
The current Senate reacts
The author of the bill, Senator Hattie Gawande ’18, explained at the meeting, “This is not meant as a punishment, but to articulate where the ASSU stands on [Knight’s] comments and on issues related to intolerance. This is especially since we didn’t have a chance to discuss his comments separately from the bill.”
She also said in an interview with The Daily that Knight’s withdrawal from the race was “a smart move for him personally” and that “the ASSU has a zero-tolerance policy towards intolerance.”
Gawande’s bill caused a stir among Senators at Tuesday’s meeting, although it will be voted upon next week. Although Senators Gawande and Matthew Cohen ’18 said that they have found a unified response toward Knight among the Senators they spoke to, Molly Horwitz ’16 was less optimistic.
“No, I don’t think [the Senate was unified].” Horwitz said. “Next week, we’ll find out how everyone feels when they’re voting on the bill to censure [Knight]. I think that there is a lot of disagreement, and only a few Senators condemned his statement after the fact — TG [Sido], Matt, me and Hattie, but that’s only four or five people.”
Endorsements and the next Senate
The divisions over Knight’s remarks also displayed themselves in Senate election endorsements. Three student groups – The Stanford Daily, the Women’s Coalition and Stanford + Mental Health – withdrew their endorsements for Knight’s candidacy, while the First-Generation Low-Income Partnership (FLIP) and the Students of Color Coalition (SOCC) did not.
Despite his public withdrawal, Knight won a total of 453 votes, coming in 21st out of 37 candidates.
“Students trust SOCC,” said Elliot Kaufman ’18, a fellow Senate candidate who had called on Knight to resign immediately. “Their word has credibility, and I think it comes with responsibility to use endorsements responsibly. I don’t think they did that with Gabe Knight.”
“Given that many of these organizations stand against forms of discrimination, it’s troubling to me that [Knight’s remarks were] not seen as a big enough incident to remove sponsorship of him,” Horwitz said.
This year, Gawande was the only Senate candidate endorsed by both SOCC and the Jewish Students’ Association.
Cohen, a current Senator who has won re-election, pointed to the different student organizations that endorsed candidates as a sign of the “political spectrum” on the Senate when he reflected on its response to Knight. However, he characterized the reaction as unified.
“I’ve spoken to several Senators from across the political spectrum, and the Senators I spoke to were equally upset with what [Knight] said,” Cohen said.
The Jewish community on intolerance and internal divides
Jewish Students Association (JSA) President David Kahn ’17 also stated that the JSA would report the incident to the Office of Community Standards, should Knight fail to apologize publicly and educate himself on anti-Semitism.
Horwitz characterized Kahn’s response as a “great balance” between the different courses of action suggested by JSA members and other Jewish Student Organizations. J Street U, for instance, is planning teach-ins that include other oppressed communities. Other individuals who identify with the Jewish community, such as Kaufman, have called for Knight’s immediate resignation.
Speaking at the rally on Thursday, J Street U co-chair Eva Borgwardt explained her emphasis on inclusivity.
“[Responses to] anti-Semitism have sometimes manifested in isolating Jews from other communities,” Borgwardt said.
At the same time, students who identified as Jewish and who are involved in activism for Palestine have spoken out against the bill against anti-Semitism on the grounds that it is not representative of all Jewish people.
Melanie Malinas, a Ph.D. student in biophysics, said at the introduction of the bill against anti-Semitism, “I’m a Jewish student, and I think this bill further promotes division within the Jewish community.”
However, Jewish community organizations representing a range of political views on the conflict, such as J Street U and Cardinal for Israel (CFI), ultimately came together at last Thursday’s rally against anti-Semitism. The same organizations were also co-sponsors of the bill against anti-Semitism.
“I think you would find a very united Jewish community against anti-Semitism – it’s a real problem,” said Matthew Wigler ’19, the main organizer of last Thursday’s rally. “[At the Senate meeting], even a Jewish member of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) said she had encountered anti-Semitism in the Palestinian movement, and Gabe Knight, unfortunately, is a manifestation of that fact.”
Speaking on the varying stances on the ongoing Israel conflict, which has been at the heart of student debate, Horwitz said, “It takes a lot of work to create a relationship, which may be even harder considering the various political views on Israel. But I don’t think that necessarily has to mean groups have to be separated, because, on the majority of things, the people in the JSA would agree with SOCC.
“I hope that in the future this can really motivate people to work together and to come together to condemn all forms of discrimination that exist,” she added.
Contact Fangzhou Liu at fzliu96 ‘at’ stanford.edu.