Stanford rally participants told signs and flags
Demonstrators in support of Jewish students and Israel march across Stanford University in Palo Alto on Sunday, May 12, 2024. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

At heated Stanford rally, opposing sides are kept apart by law enforcement

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On the steps of Stanford University’s White Plaza, Israeli and American flags waved above a crowd of some 2,000 people on Sunday as they sang “Am Yisrael Chai!” Just yards away, at an unauthorized pro-Palestinian tent encampment that’s been in place since late April, several hundred people chanted “From the river to the sea!” Some waved Palestinian flags to the beat of drums.

Billed as an interfaith rally against terrorism, with speakers from Hindu, Muslim, Zoroastrian, Chinese, Iranian, Armenian and Israeli backgrounds, the event was organized by the Stanford Jewish student group L’Chayim Club in partnership with Stanford’s Chabad. Its stated goals were to support Jewish student safety on campus and to call on university administrators to enforce school policy by removing the encampment that has been on White Plaza for weeks.

“We have come to respectfully ask Stanford University to live up to its highest ideals,” Rabbi Dov Greenberg of the Rohr Chabad Center told the crowd, and “to create communities of love where no member walks around in fear and intimidation.”

Alerted to the planned interfaith rally, supporters of the pro-Palestinian encampment mobilized a counter rally to occur simultaneously. Stanford Against Apartheid in Palestine, a student group, said in an Instagram post that the interfaith rally was meant to “intimidate” the encampment.

Setting up a boundary to separate the two groups were Stanford police officers and Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputies, who stood in a row between the dueling sides. Students acting as unofficial safety monitors sought to de-escalate any arguments that flared up.

While most attendees on opposing sides did not engage with each other, some did. At one point, students with Israeli flags in hand shouted at masked pro-Palestinian protesters, “Show your faces!” and “Rapists!” Pro-Palestinian activists were heard chanting “Free Palestine!” “and “Intifada, intifada!”

Noah Maltzman, a co-organizer of the interfaith rally and a Stanford junior, tried to assist law enforcement in maintaining a peaceful event.

“Obviously tempers are flaring. It was a hot day.” Maltzman said, noting that Stanford police told members of the pro-Israel crowd to “back up,” but didn’t appear to ask the pro-Palestinian crowd to do the same.

“These guys are encroaching, and they keep coming up, keep chanting and kind of egging us on, and I was telling [Stanford’s Department of Public Safety], ‘Look, we’re backing up. I’m helping you guys to make sure that we’re in order. No one on that side is actually doing it.’”

More than an hour in, the interfaith rally abruptly relocated, with organizers telling the crowd to march about 15 minutes to the Stanford Oval where the event had begun.

Chabad’s Greenberg later told J. that Stanford police officers had instructed him to relocate the rally from White Plaza due to an unexplained safety concern.

“Things are heating up,” he was told by a Santa Clara County deputy. “I said, we reserved this space. We have another 45 minutes,” Greenberg recalled to J.

Stanford’s Department of Public Safety, which also oversees the management of the sheriff’s deputies on campus, did not immediately respond to J.’s request for comment.

At the Oval, the program of speakers continued, with a speech from 21-year-old Nova music festival massacre survivor Ofri Reiner, whose stepbrother Staff Sgt. Shalev Dagan was killed just miles away on Oct. 7 when he and other soldiers were patrolling the Gaza border and encountered Hamas terrorists.

Woman speaks
Ofri Reiner, 21, a survivor of the Nova music festival massacre on Oct. 7, speaks at a rally at Stanford University in Palo Alto on Sunday, May 12. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Joshua Jankelow, president of L’Chayim Club and a Stanford senior, spoke about how in the wake of Oct. 7, students he knows have been afraid to wear a kippah on campus or even walk to synagogue.

“Right now we see no winds of freedom blowing,” Jankelow said, referring to Stanford’s original seal motto. Rather, he said, there’s a “hurricane of hatred.”

Maltzman, a friend of Jankelow’s, said those words rang true for him, recalling when he passed by the tent encampment last month, shortly after it was set up on White Plaza, on his way to the Hillel.

“I started sobbing, and one of my friends who’s Catholic, he calmed me down. In fact, we walked to Hillel together,” he said.

Eleven leaders across Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Zoroastrian and Hindu faiths spoke on Sunday.

“We do not want to turn these colleges into graveyards. Stanford, stop the silence and support your students,” Sangeetha Shankar, the California regional director of the Hindu American Foundation, told rally attendees.

Soraya Deen, a Muslim feminist activist and community organizer, announced into the microphone, “I’m here to free Palestine.” Pausing momentarily, she continued, “Free Palestine from Hamas.” The crowd cheered, raising their Israeli and American flags.

Jew,  Jewish,  J. The Jewish News of Northern California
Emma Goss.(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Emma Goss

Emma Goss is a J. staff writer. She is a Bay Area native and an alum of Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School and Kehillah Jewish High School. Emma also reports for NBC Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaAudreyGoss.