From the Community | Antisemitism is alive and well at Stanford

Dec. 8, 2023, 5:28 a.m.

While this letter is mostly about antisemitism at Stanford, my heart breaks for students like Abdulwahab Omira, who was targeted in a heinous hit and run attack on Nov. 3, and for all students who are targeted by hate, regardless of their race, gender, country of origin, religion or other protected status. We are all the worse for these unprovoked and destructive acts, and I send him my prayers for healing.

Ever since I tore open my acceptance letter to Stanford over 40 years ago, I had felt nothing but pride in my identity as a Stanford student and alumnus. But since the brutal Hamas attacks on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 innocent Israeli men, women and children; took over 200 hostages and wounded thousands more, I no longer feel that way. Ironically, Hamas has relatively little to do with my change of heart. It’s what has been happening at Stanford that has left me feeling heartbroken and ashamed. 

In 2005, I had just arrived in Israel to begin my cantorial studies following the Gaza disengagement that left millions of dollars worth of productive infrastructure in place for the Palestinians and thousands of Israelis uprooted — many of them forcefully removed by the IDF — with no place to live. Though compensated by the state for their losses, many Israelis camped for months in protest outside the Prime Minister’s residence, which I passed each morning on my way to class. Most people that I knew, however, felt it was a necessary step toward peace with the Palestinians.

In return, Palestinian mobs destroyed most of what Israel left behind and began a relentless terror campaign consisting of tens of thousands of indiscriminately fired rockets from civilian areas toward non-combatants and non-military structures. Every single rocket — an ingeniously designed cluster bomb of war crimes — was carefully packed with thousands of ball bearings, nails and shrapnel to do one thing: terrorize as many innocent people as possible.

And so, to protect its citizens from this real and present threat on its border with Gaza, Israel instituted a blockade that continues to this day. To be clear: Palestinian terror preceded the blockade and has continued almost unabated ever since. 

For the most part, while the United Nations and most NGOs have endlessly decried the blockade as “illegal,” it has always been, in fact, wholly defensive (read: not illegal), and kept the southern border relatively safe. Until Oct. 7. 

When the ASSU voted to divest from Israeli companies but the University did not, I still felt pride. I didn’t like how misguided those students were who supported Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), but I felt like Stanford would still be a great place to send my children one day.

Even when Stanford admitted to using admissions quotas for Jews, I felt pride that the University was willing to shed self-critical light on its own dark past, make amends and take action to address its flaws.

Fast forward to today. Life experience taught me that the support Israel experienced immediately following the Oct. 7 massacre would only last a few days, and I was right. 

What I did not expect, though, was that Stanford students would side with terrorists who savagely butchered adults, women, children and babies. 

I did not expect Jewish Stanford associate professor of history, Mikael Wolfe, to expound upon common antisemitic, anti-Israel tropes — disparaging Zionism as a “settler-colonial project” and referring to Israel’s “indiscriminate bombing,” “collective punishment” and “illegal … blockade,” among others — in his Oct. 31 opinion.

Specifically, “The major element of Zionism that made possible the founding of Israel,” he asserts, “was the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes during the first major Arab-Israeli War in 1948.” While there are legitimate criticisms against Israel that are not considered antisemitic, Wolfe’s claims place the entire blame for the displacement of the Palestinian Arabs in 1948 on Israel. This is so devoid of context that the best that can be said about it is that it was woefully irresponsible. 

I did not expect that The Daily would publish that opinion without fact-checking an “expert” who should know the history of his own people better. I also didn’t expect that The Daily would blithely publish student demonstrators’ propaganda about the 75-year “occupation” of Palestine without bothering to note that 75 years encompasses Israel’s entire existence. 

But most of all, I didn’t expect the University administration, led for the first time in its history by a Jew, to allow unbridled antisemitism in the form of anti-Israel propaganda (see 3 Ds Test below) to stampede its way through Stanford’s classrooms and public spaces. 

Israel isn’t perfect and deserves to be criticized. But if the U.N.-accepted working definition of antisemitism put forth by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance is silent on whether criticism of Israel is antisemitic, how do we know when we’ve crossed the line from legitimate criticism to antisemitism? How do we know there even is a line at all?

Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident, human rights activist and one-time Chairman of the Jewish Agency, after a lifetime of observing modern day antisemitism around the world, proposed a very simple formula for recognizing when otherwise legitimate criticism of Israel devolves into antisemitism. He calls it the Three Ds Test

The first D stands for double-standards. 

Let’s start with one of the favorite canards of Israel’s detractors: genocide. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, genocide is defined primarily as including “violent attacks with the specific intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” Guided by this internationally-accepted definition, can we build a case that Israel has been committing genocide against the Palestinians or not? 

The Palestinian population in 1950 stood at 944,087. As of today, Palestinians number more than 5.4 million. While the suffering and devastation from the current conflict in Gaza are heart-rending, based on this stunning statistic alone, the charge that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians is completely counterfactual and patently absurd.

But real-world facts that challenge their hallowed narrative haven’t prevented the U.N., most NGOs, media outlets, governments around the world, academics, social justice activists of all stripes, celebrities and, yes, even our own Stanford students from incessantly declaring that Israel is committing genocide while they simultaneously ignore the very real genocides that have taken millions of innocent Ethiopian, Syrian, Sudanese, Rwandan, Yemenite lives and thousands more in recent years. Such charges are intellectually lazy, downright ignorant and evidence of an obvious and pernicious double standard toward Israel.   

The second D is for delegitimization. 

Israel has fought multiple defensive wars against existential threats and has been in a constant state of war with most of its neighbors since the day it was founded. In every case — 1948, 1967, 1973, 2023 —Israel was attacked first and responded in self-defense, winning each of those wars and gaining territory in the process. Yet Israel is expected to just give it all up, whether it be Gaza and the West Bank, the Golan or, indeed, the entire land of Israel. When you label Israel, a U.N. member nation, a settler colonial state and question Israel’s right to exist (whether on legal or moral grounds), you are guilty of delegitimization.

The final D is demonization. 

When Stanford students adopt terrorist slogans by chanting “long live the Intifada” and relentlessly accuse Israel of imperialism, settler colonialism, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, genocide and apartheid, they not only don’t know what those terms actually mean, they are demonizing Israel.

Double-standards, delegitimization and demonization: These are the three hallmarks of modern-day antisemitism masquerading as anti-Israel criticism. I honestly believe that many people who chant “from the river to the sea” are not antisemitic. They just really want peace. I would simply remind them that what happened on Oct. 7 is but a small taste of how their dream would devolve into an unimaginable nightmare if Israel were to lay down its arms.

It would be a real genocide, but not of the Palestinians. Of millions of Jews. Again.

To paraphrase the late Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks from a keynote speech he delivered to the European Parliament in 2016 entitled “Understanding Antisemitism: The Mutating Virus,” it is not antisemitic to not like Jews. Nor is it antisemitic to not like Israel. But when anti-Zionists categorically deny the legitimate right of Jews to live as Jews in their own land, and lend their voices to those who actively seek the destruction of the Jewish state — especially when claiming to defend human rights — then they are, indeed, guilty of antisemitism. 

And so, for the first time in my life, rather than the unabashed pride I have always felt as a member of the Stanford family, I feel ashamed. I am ashamed of students who would threaten their fellow students and advocate for the destruction of the Jewish homeland and all its people, and I am ashamed of the University for allowing such blatant hate to proliferate on campus under the guise of legitimate public discourse and by hiding behind the Leonard Law. Most of all, though, I am ashamed of myself for not advocating on behalf of Stanford’s Jewish students sooner.

Stanford students deserve better than this.

Stanford students should be better than this.

Stanford University needs to do much better than this.

Cantor Michael Weis graduated from Stanford in 1986, and currently lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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