President Richard Saller and Provost Jenny Martinez spoke to the importance of free speech and addressed the University’s response to antisemitism on campus during a panel hosted by pro-Israel student organizers Wednesday evening. Saller and Martinez were joined by Michal Cotler-Wunsh, Israel’s special envoy for combating antisemitism.
The fireside chat, titled “Combating Antisemitism at Stanford,” took place in the Tresidder Oak Lounge and was attended by around 200 students, alumni and administrators. The Blue and White Tent organized the panel. Set up across from the “Sit-In to Stop Genocide” in November, the tent aimed to create peaceful discourse on the Israel-Gaza war, its organizers said. The tent is surrounded by pro-Israel posters and Israeli flags.
Tuesday night, before the event, the anti-Zionist student group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) posted a statement on Instagram condemning Saller and Martinez for sharing the stage with Cotler-Wunsh. They argued that the special envoy represents “a government actively committing genocide, … one who personally expresses explicitly genocidal rhetoric.”
Annabelle Davis ’24, a JVP member and sit-in participant, said Saller “should not have been participating in an event hosted by the Blue and White Tent.”
The event was moderated by Larry Diamond ’75 M.A. ’78 Ph.D. ’80, a political science professor, who co-chairs the Subcommittee on Antisemitism and Anti-Israeli Bias. The group was formed by the University in November alongside the Muslim, Arab and Palestinian Communities Committee in response to rising reports of hate crimes on campus.
Kevin Feigelis, a seventh-year physics Ph.D. student and a Blue and White Tent organizer, and Jafi Lipson, a clinical associate professor at the School of Medicine, were also panelists.
“The president’s participation in a portion of last evening’s events does not reflect an endorsement of any particular participant, group or viewpoint,” wrote University spokesperson Dee Mostofi in a statement to The Daily.
The JVP post was accompanied by a screenshot of a statement made by Cotler-Wunsh on X, formerly Twitter, in which she wrote “Israel opened up the casket for the world to see what happened on 10/7. A war of barbarism vs civilization.”
Around 30 protesters stood outside the event and held up signs including tweets from Cotler-Wunsh. According to Draper Dayton ’25, the signs were confiscated before students were admitted. Dayton, a Jewish student who identifies as anti-Zionist, is active in pro-Palestine campus organizing.
Wednesday’s panel and protests occurred amid Global Strike Week, events promoted by the sit-in including daily demonstrations and advocacy for a ceasefire at a Palo Alto City Council meeting. The protest was not included in scheduled events.
Dayton, who attended the panel, said the protesters submitted around 30 questions through the RSVP form, none of which were asked in the Q&A portion.
As a result, Dayton interrupted Cotler-Wunsh’s response to the last question in the panel and asked why questions from anti-Zionist students were not addressed.
“Am I antisemitic because I am not a Zionist?” Dayton said, according to an audio transcript reviewed by The Daily.
Saller said during the panel that he would not define antisemitism as University president. Rather, he hopes “all of the communities on campus get the respect that they deserve,” Saller said.
Mostofi wrote that “Stanford’s leadership recognizes and respects the wide diversity of viewpoints in our community related to the Israel-Hamas war, and they remain focused on supporting civil discourse.”
Another unidentified student disrupted the event, repeatedly shouting “Ceasefire now!” A video with the chant was posted by the sit-in on Instagram.
“Hamas murders babies [and] children,” an audience member said in response.
Dayton and the other disruptor were escorted out of the event. The disruption was spontaneous and “not a JVP action,” Dayton said.
There are no structured spaces on campus for Jewish students who are anti-Zionist and non-Zionist, Dayton said. “This is why the only option is to stand up and yell.”
JVP’s post hoped to emphasize the distinction between antisemitism and anti-Zionism, Davis said. Davis, and other organizers affiliated with the sit-in, interpreted a prior email from Saller as concurrence with this view.
“I am glad that you and others are insisting on the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism,” Saller wrote in a Dec. 9 email to sit-in members.
JVP and sit-in organizers criticized Saller’s decision to participate in the panel, saying it contradicted his previous statement. The panelists are “weaponizing the very real reality of antisemitism,” Davis said. “For Saller to implicitly condone this framework that is just not true — and that he has expressed that he knows is not true — is just ridiculous.”
When asked about free speech on the panel, Martinez pointed to controversies arising from conservative judge Kyle Duncan’s visit to the law school last March, which was protested by law students.
“I’ve been a defender of free speech on this campus on multiple fronts in the past,” Martinez said. “I stood up for the right of that speaker to be in the Law School, for the importance of trying to hear voices that you disagree with.”
In California, the Leonard Law prohibits private universities, like Stanford, from disciplining students for speech that is protected by the First Amendment.
Martinez expressed support for the Leonard Law and the First Amendment: “I don’t think that administrators like me should get to decide to censor or cancel speech they don’t like, and I’ve said that many times in defense of a lot of different kinds of speech.”
However, Martinez said she hoped Stanford community members would “aspire to … real and substantive engagement that can inform [on topics] in which there’s very heated disagreement.”
“Just because you have the right to say something doesn’t mean it’s a good idea,” Martinez said. “We want to aim for something higher.”
Davis called on Saller and other leadership to move beyond ambiguous statements. By supporting both sides, “and by attending events hosted by organizations like the Blue and White Tent, he’s actually doing harm,” Davis said.
The Daily has reached out to Feigelis and Lipson for comment.