What’s your threshold, Stanford?

April 28, 2024, 11:10 p.m.

On Oct. 9, the same day Israel began carpet bombing Gaza, the then president of our university, Richard Saller, sent us a letter saying that he was deeply saddened and horrified by the death and human suffering, without going into much detail.

Just two days later, he seemed to change his mind on how much detail he could give, and wrote a second letter — this time condemning Hamas, the ruling political party in the Gaza Strip, for terrorism and mass atrocities, while saying nothing against the government or ruling political party in Israel.

I wondered: How many dead Palestinian children would it take for Saller to speak up? To just say one word in condemnation of Israel’s attacks? Surely one innocent child killed is one too many. 

Over the next few days, as Israel relentlessly bombed the northern half of the Gaza Strip, dozens more children were killed. Still, no word from Saller. I asked myself, what will his threshold be? 

Perhaps, I thought, Saller’s threshold would be on the order of hundreds of dead children. After all, Israel had killed 600 children in its 2021 attack on Gaza, so dozens was not unusual…

On Oct. 17, we reached over 1,000 children killed, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health. Still, nothing from Saller. 

If 1,000 American children had died, he surely would’ve said something, right? If it was 1,000 Ukrainian children or 1,000 Israeli children, he would have said something… I’m sure of it. What exactly is Saller’s threshold?

I thought, maybe we’re all just desensitized to Palestinian suffering. As recently as 2014, over 3,300 Gazan children were wounded by Israel in its Operation Protective Edge. Perhaps Saller’s threshold is actually on the order of thousands. 

Twelve days later, on Oct. 29, it was reported that 3,324 children had been killed in Gaza by Israeli airstrikes.

You know what, forget condemning Israel, maybe that would get him in trouble with the Board of Trustees. But how about just one word of support for Gaza? One word of sympathy or compassion?

On Nov. 6, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “Gaza is becoming a graveyard for children.” Fast forward to Nov. 22, and the child death toll has reached 5,500.

What is Saller waiting for? We have students from Gaza attending this university! Are we just going to pretend 5,000 Arab children weren’t just killed in the past month? What is his threshold?

On Dec. 4, the number of children Israel killed reached 6,600

Finally, Stanford posted something related to genocide on their Instagram page:

“In the context of the national discourse, Stanford unequivocally condemns calls for the genocide of Jews or any peoples. That statement would clearly violate Stanford’s Fundamental Standard, the code of conduct for all students at the university.”

It’s good to know that Stanford is against the genocide of Jews or any peoples. I hope Palestinians count as people. But how did they forget to explicitly name the Palestinians? The only genocide I see happening right now is in Gaza…

On Dec. 21, the number of Palestinian children killed by Israel reached 8,000 — more than the number of undergraduates enrolled at Stanford.

This is madness. How is the world watching this and not doing anything? Saller — say something. It won’t change the number of children dead but it’s better than staying silent.

I once again wondered, what is our president’s threshold? Is it 10,000 dead children? 20,000? 100,000? 

After the winter break, President Saller sent us a welcome back letter. The letter began:

“As classes resume, we know that many in our community continue to experience deep pain and concern about events related to the Israel-Hamas war.”

That’s a good start. Maybe he’ll mention the Palestinian lives lost this time!

He didn’t. Instead, he says, “In 2024, there will be differing views in our community on many issues – on the Israel-Hamas war; on the candidates in this year’s U.S. presidential election; and on numerous other matters.”

Oh. I wonder if there will be differing views in our community on the tragedy of 8,000 dead Arab children. 

On Jan. 10, the number of Palestinian children killed by Israel reached 10,000. Another 7,000 were reported to be under the rubble. Later that month, President Saller and Provost Jenny Martinez attended an event on antisemitism hosted by the Blue and White Tent and shared a stage with Michal Cotler-Wunsh, Israel’s special envoy for combating antisemitism. Cotler-Wunsh has called for Israel to let in less humanitarian aid to Gaza and for Zionism to be protected under DEI frameworks.

By the end of January, the number of children killed in Gaza reached 11,500. Stanford decided it was a good time to shut down the historic Sit-In To Stop Genocide. Hundreds of people mobilized to protest this decision. The sit-in students tried to negotiate with Saller. None of their demands were met, and the sit-in was eventually shut down, just in time for Family Weekend. As a response, students interrupted Saller and Martinez at the Family Weekend welcome session. Eighteen of them were detained and cited. Still, no comment from Saller on the dead children of Gaza, the number of whom has now reached 12,660.

At this point, one million children in Gaza are starving. Every child has either died, been injured, orphaned, traumatized, or is displaced and hungry. 

On April 4, the University announced that the new president of Stanford will be Jonathan Levin, who has the same position as Saller on institutional neutrality and silence toward “divisive political” events. 

But how are you neutral when you already condemned the government of Gaza? How are you neutral when you acquiesced to Zionists and explicitly condemned the genocide of Jews, even as genocide is ongoing in Gaza? How are you neutral when you share a stage with a government representative of the state that is currently committing a genocide? What does it mean to be silent when the University is currently investing in Israeli companies that directly contribute to Israeli apartheid and the genocide of Palestinians? 

I have no hope that Levin will speak about the 13,800 children who have been killed in Gaza and the over 12,000 injured.

Saller: I want you to know that it’s not too late. You can and should still speak out about what’s happening. Perhaps you have more latitude now that you’re not interim president anymore. Which leaves me with just one question for you … Do you even have a threshold?

Hamza El Boudali ’22 M.A. ’24 is a master’s student in computer science.

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