ASSU Senate Erupts In Anti-Semitism Debate

“[The resolution] says: ‘Jews controlling the media, economy, government, and other societal institutions’ [is] a fixture of anti-semitism that we [inaudible] theoretically shouldn’t challenge. I think that that’s kind of irresponsibly 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.” [snaps] – Gabriel Knight ‘17, ASSU Senator

During Tuesday Night’s ASSU Senate meeting, a Stanford senator running for reelection argued that it is not anti-semitic to question whether Jewish people control the media and banks. He apologetically clarified twenty minutes later that he understood how the “Jewish community could be offended by that”. However, he added that declaring this statement – which has been used to persecute Jews for centuries – to be unambiguously anti-semitic remained a “political statement” of which the Senate should be wary.

Two prospective Senate candidates, Elliot Kaufman and Matthew Wigler, have since called for Senator Knight’s stepping down as a candidate for next year’s Senate. Miriam Pollock has launched a Stanford-wide petition requesting the same. The Stanford Daily retracted their endorsement of Senator Knight Thursday morning, with one columnist calling the decision to endorse him “the single worst decision of my career”.

Senator Molly Horwitz proposed the bill discussed this evening to “reaffirm the fight against anti-semitism”, and to find common ground after the heated divestment debates of last year. It condemns “mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews […] or the power of Jews as a collective”, and calls on the ASSU to commit to participating in an annual training session and on Senators to support fights against anti-semitism.

Despite expressing “hope” at the start of the meeting that the bill would pass, a number of Senators, including many of those affiliated with the Students of Color Coalition (SOCC), immediately began an effort to remove a number of clauses, including direct reference to one of the “Three Ds” (“Delegitimization” was removed, but not “Demonization” or “Double standards”) – criteria adopted by institutions like the US State Department and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from anti-semitism. The revision was voted against by the bill’s author, and three others. It was supported by seven Senators – all of whom were endorsed by SOCC, which supports divestment – for either last year’s or Thursday’s ASSU election.

Tensions ran so high that at a number of points during the session the Jewish groups that helped pioneer the bill threatened to remove their support. After Senator Knight’s statement, Senator Horwitz called his comment “frankly […] an offensive statement”. Others questioned whether the ADL was sufficiently equipped to educate the Senate on anti-semitism, to which Senator Horwitz responded that “saying that you don’t like the ADL, which is probably the only organization that specifically works on [issues of anti-semitism] is like saying that the NAACP is unfit to talk about racism”.

Some stressed the importance of understanding the intersection of “white power” and “Jewish power” before voting on the resolution. That said, at least one group discussing this argued that white privilege often ends up conflated with anti-semitic claims of Jewish power. Others, including Senator Knight, suggested that the bill would be incomplete without “some language to acknowledge Palestinians’ rights to self-determination” as well as the rights of the Jewish people. Senator Horwitz replied that “this is a bill on anti-semitism […] I don’t think that in order to recognize the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, you need to also recognize the Palestinians’ right to self-determination”. She added that “attempting to tell a certain community what discrimination means to them is not something that would occur with other races, ethnicities, or identities”. Such debates reverse the roles played by both sides in last year’s divestment resolution, where pro-Palestinian groups repeatedly criticized anti-divestment advocates for arguing about the bill’s scope and need for reciprocity.

In the end, seven amendments passed, including Senator Gawande’s proposal to strike a preamble stating that “Zionism is defined as the belief in Israel’s right to exist and the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in their ancestral homeland”, and a specific exclusion of behavior or rhetoric “delegitimizing Israel” and displaying “double standards towards Israel” as forms of anti-semitism, counter to the State Department’s definition.

The bill was tabled so that Horwitz and other supporters could reassess their support for it. Cardinal for Israel closed the meeting by announcing they would withdraw support unless the “Three Ds” were restored.

This is a rapidly developing story. We will update this article with more information as it arrives.

Update 1: We initially incorrectly claimed that a current Senator had said they would withdraw support unless the “Three Ds” were restored. Cardinal for Israel, the cosponsors of the bill, in fact made this statement.

Update 2: We have amended this article to include reference to other Senate candidates’ calls for Senator Knight to resign.

Update 3: We have updated the reference to discussion on “white power” and “Jewish power” after communication with Stanford J Street U.

Update 4: We have clarified the specific “Ds” that the resolution no longer addresses.

Update 5: We have added reference to Miriam Pollock’s petition calling for Senator Knight to withdraw his bid for re-election.

Update 6: We have added reference to the Daily’s retraction of their endorsement of Senator Knight.

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