Stanford University (Photo/File)
Stanford University (Photo/File)

Stanford Jewish students feel ‘unsafe,’ Hillel director says

Pro-Hamas slogans displayed across campus this week and a classroom incident where Jews allegedly were targeted have left Stanford University’s Jewish students “feeling unsafe,” the head of Hillel said Thursday.

Students are wondering, “‘Can I trust the people who live in the room next to me because they put something up on the wall that negates my existence?’” Rabbi Jessica Kirschner, executive director of Stanford Hillel, told J.

The incidents, including pro-Hamas banners hung on the student union and clock tower and messages scrawled on Meyer Green where students earlier held a vigil for Israeli victims, have taken place since Hamas terrorists from Gaza invaded Israel on Saturday. They killed more than 1,200 Israelis, injured thousands and kidnapped at least 100.

Kirschner said the classroom incident took place in a freshman seminar. According to the university, the instructor has been removed from the classroom pending an investigation.

Rabbi Dov Greenberg, director of the Chabad Stanford Jewish Center, told the Forward that three students who were in the “Civil, Liberal and Global Education” class said the instructor asked Jews and Israelis to identify themselves.

The instructor told those students to take their belongings and stand in a corner and said, “This is what Israel does to the Palestinians,” Greenberg said. The instructor then asked, “How many people died in the Holocaust?” When a student answered, “Six million,” the instructor said, “Colonizers killed more than 6 million. Israel is a colonizer.”

The incident in the course was mentioned in an open letter released Wednesday by Stanford President Richard Saller and Provost Jenny Martinez. The letter noted the instructor’s removal but didn’t include the details of what took place.

Saller and Martinez said the instructor was “reported to have addressed the Middle East conflict in a manner that called out individual students in class based on their backgrounds and identities.”

Their Wednesday letter was a followup to a general statement released Monday about the campus climate following the Hamas invasion. Monday’s tepid response to the situation left people feeling dismayed, Kirschner said.

“There was initially real frustration about silence from the university,” she said.

That frustration was felt both on campus and thousands of miles away.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem sent an open letter early Wednesday to Stanford in response to what it called the “shockingly feeble condemnations” of the massacre in Monday statement. Hebrew University wrote a similar letter to Harvard University.

The world “needs you to show some moral courage, even if some members of your community hold immoral positions about these atrocities,” Hebrew University’s letter to Stanford stated.

In Stanford’s Wednesday “update” to its original statement, Saller and Martinez denounced the massacre.

“As a moral matter, we condemn all terrorism and mass atrocities. This includes the deliberate attack on civilians this weekend by Hamas,” they said.

The Stanford administrators also addressed the pro-Hamas banners, saying some had been removed.

“It is important to remember that controversial and even offensive speech is allowed except when it crosses the line into certain illegal categories such as threats or harassment for which the threshold is quite high,” they said.

However, they added, some banners were removed because they violated Stanford’s “content- and viewpoint-neutral time, place, and manner rules that limit locations for banners and signs.”

Kirschner said she has welcomed increased support from university administrators, who have also met with students and will visit Hillel for Shabbat.

“The president and the provost are going to be coming to dinner on Friday, which I appreciate,” she said.

Still, she emphasized that students are “feeling invisible” and a real sense of uncertainty and fear. She encouraged students to come to Hillel for support.

“Everyone feels terrible,” she said, “but it feels a little bit better to be among other people.”

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.