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Cartoons spark controversy over ‘anti-Semitic’ depictions in flyering campaign

Amid Palestine Awareness Week, the cartoons of incoming speaker and political artist Eli Valley — posted last week in dorms and common spaces — have elicited widespread debate about community standards and the presence of anti-Semitism on campus.

The flyers were posted and later voluntarily removed by Stanford Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace at Stanford (JVP), co-sponsors of the Valley event.

They included cartoons deemed anti-Semitic and offensive by various community members. Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole and Dean for Religious Life Tiffany Steinwert, who wrote about the matter in a Sunday blog post, noted students from different groups met on Friday before the decision to remove the flyers was made.

The flyers were intended to publicize Valley’s upcoming talk on campus, which will be held on Friday to cap off a week of events and showcases related to ongoing conflict between Palestine and Israel.

“Some of the posters invoked anti-Semitic stereotypes and tropes and undermined values we seek to foster at Stanford University,” Brubaker-Cole and Steinwert wrote, though they did not specify which of the flyers they deemed anti-Semitic.

SJP sent an email apologizing for the flyers on Sunday, noting Valley’s work could be considered controversial if taken out of context. JVP released a statement Monday in a Daily op-ed and on Facebook, in which it joined SJP in apologizing for posting the flyers without “due discussion and delicacy” and for making members of the Stanford community feel offended or unsafe.

“We now recognize that in order to engage critically with Eli’s work, the audience needs to have a certain understanding of the complexities of Jewish life and the Israel-Palestine conflict that the general audience does not necessarily have,” SJP wrote. “It was inappropriate for us to distribute the comics around campus without Eli’s knowledge or guidance and without providing the reader with any background.”

JVP also criticized flyers posted in opposition to the Valley event. These flyers juxtaposed a cartoon by Valley and a caricature from Der Stürmer — a weekly Nazi-era German newspaper — along with the statement, “Spot the Difference.”

The flyers containing the Der Stürmer cartoon were posted by a member of Stanford College Republicans (SCR), though a source close to SCR leadership told The Daily that the student did not consult SCR leadership before disseminating the flyers.

Brubaker-Cole and Steinwert condemned “anti-Semitism, racism, bigotry, and all forms of intolerance” in their blog post. They noted the context of recent global tragedies affecting a wide range of ethnic and religious communities.

“Many of our Jewish students expressed how shocking it was to return to their residence halls to discover inflammatory depictions of the Jewish community in their own homes,” they wrote. “We continue to be disheartened and deeply disturbed by the recent presence of anti-Semitic images on our campus.”

Both sets of flyers violated the University’s policies on flyering. Students are not allowed to post flyers on top of one another — many of the flyers advertising Valley’s talk were positioned as such, with some covering flyers advertising an upcoming SCR-sponsored talk by writer Adam Klavan. The flyers with the Der Stürmer caricature lacked a signature and a date, also a violation of residential policy.

Student Affairs spokesperson Pat Harris said student and professional staff from the residences have a conversation with students whenever they violate flyering policies. She added that in speaking with Residential Education, they cannot remember a time when violations have required more than a conversation for conflicts to be discussed and resolved.

Despite controversy surrounding the flyers, JVP stood by its invitation of Valley to campus, remaining steadfast in its belief in the importance of Valley’s work and the dialogue his cartoons elicit.

“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,” the group wrote. “Through his art, Eli has helped give voice to a burgeoning Jewish left community informed by Jewish tradition, culture and values.”

JVP acknowledged in its statement the polarizing nature of Valley’s art within the Jewish community, and explained that the challenges his work presents are fundamental to his invitation to campus. It hopes attendees will hear from and experience his Jewish art and narrative, and critically engage with the ideas he presents.

SCR condemned the Valley cartoons in posts made to the group’s Facebook page on Friday night. The group criticized members of SJP for covering up SCR’s Klaven flyers, in addition to referring to Valley’s cartoons as “vile anti-Semitic caricatures.”

In an email to The Daily, Valley explained the meaning of the two comics chosen by SJP and JVP for the event flyers.

“Ben Shapiro at Seder is a reclamation of Jewish religion, culture, and narrative after years of Shapiro’s hateful invective directed towards American Jews,” Valley wrote. “Shapiro has denounced the majority of American Jews as ‘Jews In Name Only’ because we express our traditions outside the Orthodox mold and because our progressive politics are reflections and extensions of our Jewish commitments. Critics call it ‘anti-Semitic’ not because of the art but because to them it is an outrage that a non-Zionist Jew on the left has the chutzpah to say: This is my tradition, this is my culture, and I will not let you distort it in favor of your white supremacist agenda.”

“My art exposed the absurdity of an Alt-Right figurehead such as Shapiro, who has built a career attacking the vulnerable, laying exclusive claim to Jewish tradition, values, and ethics,” Valley added.

Valley continued that the second comic used, Code Name: Evangelator, “lambast[s] the seething contempt shown by Benjamin Netanyahu towards Diaspora Jews and our communities — and his simultaneous embrace of Evangelical Zionists, whose virulently anti-Semitic agenda on Israel is downright horrifying and whose values are anathema to the values of the vast majority of American Jews.”

“It’s time we started calling the contempt shown by the Jewish right towards the American Jewish majority, its tacit and active alliances with white supremacists, and its repeated calls for our very erasure as Jews, what it is: anti-Semitism,” he wrote. “And we should not tolerate it.”

The Jewish Student Association of Stanford University (JSA) released a statement on Facebook on Wednesday night expressing their concern about both sets of flyers and reminding students who attend Valley’s event on Friday to be mindful of the “distressing impact” that his work has caused some members of the Jewish community.

“While we appreciate SJP and JVP’s recognition of error and readiness to take down their flyers, no amount of context can assuage our consternation about the content of Valley’s work,” JSA wrote. “Although Valley’s intent may be to produce scathing political commentary, his work extends beyond politics and into outright hostility toward the Jewish community. Valley readily employs age-old anti-Semitic tropes to criticize Jewish public figures—including Ben Shapiro, Senator Chuck Schumer and Abraham Foxman, the former director of the Anti-Defamation League.”

 “While we respect Valley’s freedom of expression, however repugnant his images may be, we believe much of his work is antithetical to thoughtful reflection on Jewish identity and normalizes damaging stereotypes about the Jewish people, the Jewish culture, and the Jewish religion,” JSA added.

Brubaker-Cole and Steinwart also conveyed their hope for meaningful dialogue about not only the flyers but also the week’s events more broadly. They called for community members to remain cognizant of implications of statements regarding complex and divisive issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The impact of our speech may not reflect the intent, and we find we have created harm in the fervor of our advocacy,” Brubaker-Cole and Steinwert wrote. “We will disagree, on this and many other issues. Finding a way to do so that upholds the dignity and humanity of all is difficult, but not impossible.”

Flyering issues have caused many debates regarding free speech and community standards on campus in recent years. Interim Associate Vice Provost and Dean of Student Affairs Koren Bakkegard emailed all Resident Assistants (RAs) in response to the recent flyers, acknowledging the hurt that the flyers incurred and reminding RAs of the flyering guidelines.

“As many of you are aware, flyering issues have caused pain and discord in several residences in the last two years, particularly for historically marginalized communities,” Bakkegard wrote. “ I wanted you to be aware both of the impact the flyers and the fact that these fliers are being voluntarily removed.”

Brubaker-Cole and Steinwert conveyed their optimism about the future of respectful dialogue following a conversation held at Hillel on Friday, in which students met to share their experiences and reactions to the flyers and listen to those of others.

A post on Hillel’s Facebook page noted that 30 Jewish student leaders came together to discuss the flyers and express the steps they hoped to see to “ensure that Jewish students do not feel vulnerable or targeted as they go about their lives on campus.” The post emphasized that it was clear all of the flyers would be taken down voluntarily by the end of the conversation.

“Other steps may follow in coming days, but for now, we really appreciate how quickly Jewish students came together, and that Stanford University is taking our concerns so seriously,” wrote representatives of Hillel.

This article has been updated to include comment from the Jewish Student Association of Stanford University.

Contact Emma Smith at esmith11 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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