Opinion | How Stanford can do away with campus antisemitism (2024)

Larry Diamond is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. Jeffrey Koseff is professor of civil and environmental engineering and oceans at Stanford, and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

Stanford University has a serious antisemitism problem. It is not only Jews and Israelis who suffer. Many students now censor themselves for fear of crossing a demand for solidarity against “oppression.” This climate of bias threatens the university’s mission to champion critical inquiry and rational debate.

We have come to this unfortunate conclusion after six months of research involving more than 50 listening sessions and interviews with students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents. In a recently released report, Stanford’s Subcommittee on Antisemitism and Anti-Israeli Bias (which we chaired) found that antisemitism and its close cousin, bias against Israelis, have reached alarming levels on our campus.

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Restoring a climate in which ideas can flow freely and the dignity of all groups can be respected will require confronting painful realities.

In recent years, Stanford has had its share of blatantly antisemitic incidents. Swastikas have been drawn on Jewish students’ doors, and mezuzas, symbols of a Jewish home, have repeatedly been torn from door frames. Jewish students have heard “Go Back to Brooklyn” screamed at them. Signs at a pro-Palestinian encampment on campus promoted a modern-day “blood libel” by falsely claiming that Israel was harvesting the skin of Palestinians.

Anonymous antisemitic social media posts suggested a Jewish student cabal behind a Jewish student’s candidacy for the undergraduate senate. A direct message on social media told a Jewish student who had written an article about the antisemitic climate on campus that he should be waterboarded with gasoline and lit on fire.

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Many students now hide their Jewish identity to have a more normal social life on campus, while others immerse themselves in the Jewish community to avoid ostracism. One Jewish student told us that he had taken to revealing his identity immediately to any potential friend so that he wouldn’t invest in a relationship that would later be terminated by the disclosure.

Faculty members have not been spared. A spate of classroom disruptions at the start of the winter quarter appeared to target courses taught by Jewish professors. Later that term, students disrupted a class with a flier that stated, “You’re being taught by a Zionist. Drop this class.”

Today’s antisemitism can also be indirect. Take the unique burden, for example, placed on Jewish students to denounce Israel to be accepted. This animus claims to be a political position, but it encompasses a chronic, heated contempt for “Zionists” — or a more recent slang (she’s a “Zio”).

Underlying this hostility is an ideology that divides the world into “colonizer” and “colonized,” the powerful and the oppressed. Just three days after the Oct. 7 terrorist attack in Israel, a Stanford instructor made this division literally, separating his freshman students by ethnicity into these categories.

Such binary thinking easily slides into an antisemitic narrative: Jews are wealthy and powerful, exercising a “hidden hand” of domination that compels the United States to back Israel. Universities refuse to sever ties to Israel because they are controlled by Jews. Israel is killing Palestinians and crushing their national cause. And the Jews are to blame. This moral absolutism is antithetical to the university’s goal of advancing knowledge and critical inquiry.

These forms of bias are not unique to Stanford. But, as we propose in our report, it is possible to stop the spiral of polarization and discrimination: Universities must return to core principles and restore a culture of pluralism and tolerance.

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First, they must ensure that their students are safe. Not from divergent ideas — students should face those in abundance — but from bigotry. Schools have an obligation to protect students from identity-based harassment and to provide psychological counseling and moral support when needed.

They must carefully construct and enforce “time, place and manner” restrictions on expression — content-neutral policies that preserve the university’s ability to function. Stanford has free speech zones where protests can take place. But parts of the campus where essential business of teaching, research and administration would be disrupted are off-limits. The experience at Stanford over this past academic year — which culminated in early June with 11 students and two others being arrested for breaking into the offices of the president and provost — suggests the value of enforcing rules.

Students must be held accountable for violations of the rules, and university leaders must hold themselves accountable by establishing clear goals for addressing bigotry and reporting regularly on incidents of bias and the administration’s responses.

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Universities should be cautious in taking institutional positions on issues of the day, and they should confront and denounce antisemitism, anti-Israeli bias, Islamophobia and other forms of identity bias.

The paramount task at Stanford and elsewhere is to restore a culture of pluralism and tolerance. We endorse Harvard Professor Danielle Allen’s call for “a framework of confident pluralism — inclusion and belonging, academic freedom and mutual respect.” Also needed is improved education about the Middle East and about Jewish history. This must be coupled with classes to promote norms of critical inquiry and respectful dialogue. Faculty members need training in how to teach these skills.

Yet these efforts alone will not be enough. Students, faculty and staff must also work to create a culture of critical inquiry. This means weighing their arguments against evidence and competing values — and seeing their peers as human beings of equal worth and potential.

Opinion | How Stanford can do away with campus antisemitism (2024)
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