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Antisemitism ‘in the air’ at Stanford, university committee finds

The university released a report on discrimination faced by Muslim students on the same day. The two documents did not always align

Stephen Lam/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

A group of prospective students walk by a tent encampment in White Plaza in support of Palestine during a campus tour at Stanford University, in Stanford, Calif., Tuesday, April 30, 2024.

A new report from a Stanford committee focused on addressing antisemitism and anti-Israel bias determined that antisemitism is “widespread and pernicious” at the elite Palo Alto, Calif., university, capturing the atmosphere on campus in its eye-catching title: “It’s in the air.” The 148-page document is the first official account to be released publicly by the committee, which was created by Stanford President Richard Saller in November weeks after the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks in Israel set off a wave of antisemitism on American campuses. 

Comprising Stanford faculty, staff, students and alumni, the 12 members of the committee detailed the hostile conditions faced by Jewish and Israeli students on campus since October. They described an environment of intimidation and fear, with students and Jewish faculty facing a complex mixture of exclusion and harassment. The report’s authors outlined instances of antisemitism across campus — in the classroom, on social media, in residential life and at campus protests. 

“Some of this bias is expressed in overt and occasionally shocking ways,” the committee found, “but often it is wrapped in layers of subtlety and implication, one or two steps away from blatant hate speech.”

Occasionally, the level of antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment “reached a level of social injury that deeply affected people’s lives,” the report’s authors found. Students moved out of dorm rooms because of antisemitic incidents, such as mezuzot being torn down from their doors; some students were “ostracized, canceled or intimidated” for identifying openly as Jewish “or for simply being Israeli”; other Jewish students feared displaying Jewish symbols “for fear of losing friendships or group acceptance.”

One incident of particular concern, which was reported widely in the fall, happened days after Oct. 7, when the instructor of an undergraduate seminar asked Jewish students to raise their hands, saying “he was simulating what Jews were doing to Palestinians” by taking a Jewish student’s personal belongings while the student was “turned around and looking out the window,” according to the report. The instructor also minimized the deaths of Jews in the Holocaust. The instructor was suspended, and his contract expired at the end of last year. But more than 1,700 students signed a petition supporting him; Stanford has an undergraduate population of roughly 7,800. 

The report’s authors singled out the incident because it reflects the “current predicament” Stanford faces in addressing “incidents in which Jewish students feel singled out, intimidated, and harmed solely because of their identities as Jews, [and] are trivialized or dismissed by their peers and community in ways that never would be tolerated if done to students with other identities that have historically been subject to bigotry.”

The outright, direct targeting of Jewish students that happened in this freshman seminar was not a common occurrence, the report found. 

“The most common manifestation of antisemitism in student life,” according to the report, was “the imposition of a unique social burden on Jewish students to openly denounce Israel and renounce any ties to it.” 

Although antisemitism manifested itself in classrooms, campus protests and among friend groups, “no venue has provided a wider and more uninhibited berth for the expression of hostility toward Jews and Israelis than social media,” the committee found. On Fizz, a social media platform for Stanford students where all posts are anonymous, antisemitism is rampant. Posts call out “Zios,” using a derogatory slur for Zionists. Others mock Jewish students who expressed concerns about antisemitism or their safety on campus. 

The committee issued detailed recommendations for the university, such as applying disciplinary standards equally and meaningfully, enforcing content moderation on Fizz, improving training on antisemitism for resident assistants and including Jews and Israelis in the categories recognized in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs on campus. 

Most important, the committee argued, is for the university to prioritize civil discourse and aim to restore important norms that the report’s authors allege have declined precipitously since the fall.

“The core problem, we concluded, is not simply the failure to punish rule violations in a concrete way. It is the broader deterioration of norms that once stigmatized antisemitism,” the report said. “The best way for Stanford to respond to antisemitism and anti-Israeli bias is for it to recommit to core university principles that should be promoted and defended equally for all groups, irrespective of race, religion, nationality or other forms of identity.”

The antisemitism-focused committee pledged to work closely with a similar committee examining Islamophobia and anti-Arab discrimination on campus. The leaders of both groups met as they prepared reports, which were released on the same day. “Our concern and recommendations to counter bias on campus were written with concern for the broader Stanford community and not simply Jewish students, faculty and staff,” the antisemitism committee wrote. 

The university also released a report on Thursday from the committee formed to support the school’s Muslim, Arab and Palestinian communities. Muslim and Jewish students shared concern on some issues, including a fear shared by religiously identifiable students, like Muslim women who wear a hijab or Jewish men who wear a kippah.

Still, the reports diverged — for instance, in the “Rupture and Repair” report, a statement from the Muslim, Arab and Palestinian committee took issue with “calls for ‘civil discourse,’” alleging that the term “reflect[s] a suspicion of student activism, a distrust of speech outside the boundaries of institutional orthodoxy and opposition to [DEI].” The report called for broader protection of free speech and condemned disciplinary action taken against some anti-Israel protesters who interrupted a family weekend event, the university’s handling of which drew praise in the antisemitism report. 

The Muslim, Arab and Palestinian committee’s report also took a stance in support of anti-Zionist Jewish students who felt at times more aligned with the Muslim community than the Jewish community in recent months, the report’s authors found.

“​​We support these community members’ conceptual separation between antisemitism and anti-Zionism,” the report said. “We also think that the identification of ‘good Jews’ is an antisemitic trope, and we believe our recommendations on speech, safety and academic programming will serve Jewish members of the Stanford community as much as they serve anyone else.”

Saller said in a statement that the reports indicate “additional areas for attention” beyond what work the university is already doing to address hate. 

“The reports will contribute to the essential ongoing work of building a campus community in which everyone can truly thrive, and in which acts of bias and discrimination have no place,” Saller said. 

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