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Op-Ed: Stanford Jewish Voice for Peace’s statement on Eli Valley art exhibition

In light of recent events, Stanford Jewish Voice for Peace joins Students for Justice in Palestine in apologizing for fliers that were put up around campus advertising our art exhibition with Eli Valley without due discussion and delicacy. We recognize that they were ill-planned/designed and did not accurately represent either Eli’s art or what we hope to accomplish with this event. We made members of our community feel offended and unsafe, and for that, we take full responsibility and have since removed these fliers.

However, in the subsequent discussion of these fliers, some important facts and considerations about the flyering, and about Eli Valley’s art and exhibition generally, have been neglected or altogether misrepresented. We hope that providing our perspective on these issues can clarify our decision to hold the event. We also hope that our perspective can initiate a conversation with the Stanford community that can continue with Mr. Valley himself.

First, although we recognize and apologize for the tactless flyering on campus, we maintain that it is absurd to call Eli Valley’s art, or Eli Valley himself, antisemitic. Mr. Valley is a Jewish American artist who has worked for well over a decade creating comic art exploring the most pressing issues facing the Jewish community today — from the Israel-Diaspora relationship to interdenominational tensions to the moral obligation to fight white supremacism and Neo-Nazism. Published in a wide range of Jewish and secular publications, his art engages deeply with Jewish texts, history, culture, and experience. To call that antisemitic denudes the term of its meaning.

Through his art, Eli has helped give voice to a burgeoning Jewish left community informed by Jewish tradition, culture and values. If his art provokes and challenges some in the Jewish community, it energizes others — many of whose voices have been disregarded, invalidated or even erased by communal institutions.  That is precisely why we want to hold this event and invite attendees to engage graciously and civilly, to see, hear from, and experience Eli’s Jewish art and narrative, and when necessary to disagree, unpack, question, and collaborate.

Second, we urge the Jewish community at Stanford, the university administration, and the campus as a whole, to see how the conversations surrounding Mr. Valley’s artistic approach and political philosophy are relevant not only to Jewish students in the mainstream Jewish community but others as well. Many people have a stake in this discourse: students who are involved at Hillel, yes, but also those of us who exist outside of the predominant pro-Israel norm and thus have never been invited to participate in conversations about Jewishness at Stanford. Furthermore, Palestinian students, students of color, student political leaders, concerned American citizens, and others all have a place and a right to participate. We must invite those people in, to learn about and discuss alongside us to achieve greater dialogue and understanding surrounding Jews, Judaism, Zionism, and Israel-Palestine, even if that makes us uncomfortable.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, we must not forget or ignore that Nazi propaganda was posted around campus in response to our fliers. Literal Nazi material was pulled straight from Der Stürmer’s archives and put up in our common spaces, including in freshman dorms, devoid of the context of the event itself. That someone thought this could ever be an appropriate political statement is so obscene that it is a wonder to us how no one on Hillel’s staff or in Stanford’s administration has come out frankly and directly to condemn this action. Besides violating Stanford’s residential flyering policy, as the posters themselves had no signatory or date, these fliers are also responsible for rejecting the nuance of Jewish political culture and normalizing flagrant displays of historical antisemitism. The posting of Nazi propaganda, in disregard of the historical trauma associated with its imagery, in order to score cheap political points against a Jewish artist, is unconscionable. We cannot understand the lack of outrage about this.

That a member of the Stanford College Republicans, a non-Jewish organization, leapt at the opportunity to traumatize Jewish students with literal Nazi imagery — with little to no response from either Hillel or the Stanford administration — is part of a larger trend of conflating anti-Zionism, even from Jews, with antisemitism, while overlooking actual displays of antisemitism when politically expedient. Furthermore, it shows us that a great amount of the current outrage directed toward SJP and JVP is really about capitalizing on all available opportunities to delegitimize dissenting speech. 

We take accountability and apologize for the ways we have disrespected or hurt people, and quickly removed the offending fliers once we heard from the rest of the Jewish community. However, we also hope that people take these events as an opportunity to critically examine the ways that certain speech and people are surveilled, censored, and punished, while others are empowered and prioritized. After all, while some at Stanford exploited this intra-community disagreement to hang up Nazi art around campus and condemn us online, others — particularly those of us who have already been doxxed by our fellow students and put on blacklisting surveillance websites like Canary Mission — will be made continually vulnerable to threats, harassment, and violence. These are the very political realities Eli Valley’s art is commenting on.

(To listen to Eli’s story and find out more about his recent work: https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/grotesque-antisemitism-comics-on-the-media)

— Emily Wilder ’20 and Esther Tsvayg ’20

Contact Emily Wilder at ewilder2 ‘at’ stanford.edu and Esther Tsvayg at etsvayg ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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