Pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups face off at Stanford University on May 12, 2024. (Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups face off at Stanford University on May 12, 2024. (Aaron Levy-Wolins)

At Stanford, two differing reports detail antisemitism, Islamophobia since Oct. 7

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At the end of May, Stanford professors Jeffrey Koseff and Larry Diamond thought they’d seen it all when it came to the university’s problems with antisemitism and anti-Israel hate.

They’d just completed a major report investigating these subjects after co-chairing a committee that gathered information and testimonies from hundreds of Stanford students, alumni, faculty and staff in the months since Oct. 7.

But they were in for a rude awakening.

On June 5, the last day of classes, pro-Palestinian protesters broke in and barricaded themselves inside the Stanford president’s office. They spray-painted hateful anti-Israel and anti-police graffiti onto the stone buildings and columns of Stanford’s main quad and “caused extensive damage,” according to the university. Stanford’s administrators called in police, who arrested 13 people. 

Later that day, employees removed the weekslong pro-Palestinian tent encampment on White Plaza “in the interest of public safety,” a university spokesperson said.

The students who were arrested were immediately suspended, and diplomas are still on hold for any seniors who were involved “while their conduct case is pending with the university’s Office of Community Standards,” a university spokesperson told J. on Monday in an email.

Stanford on June 5 (Photo/Andrew Esensten)

The events of June 5 — the protest, the vandalism, the arrests and the removal of the encampment — represented an ugly capstone on a tumultuous school year, where the discourse about Israel and Gaza had been toxic for months.

Those incidents also came just two weeks ahead of the release of two investigative reports: one about anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli bias on campus since Oct. 7, and the other about anti-Muslim, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian bias during the same period. 

Each report is 148 pages and aims to take stock of what has transpired since the fall, with recommended steps that Stanford’s administration can take to promote mutual respect, understanding and a safer campus for everyone.

‘Not a Muslim-Jewish Issue’

The report that focused on the Muslim, Arab and Palestinian community is called “Rupture and Repair.” In an introduction, it states that members of these communities at Stanford “have felt afraid for their safety, unseen and unheard by university leadership” during the 2023-2024 academic year.

The report identified what Abiya Ahmed, a Stanford administrator who co-chaired the committee, described to J. as a “collapsing of identities,” where false and harmful statements were made about students’ political and religious beliefs simply because they identify as Muslim, Arab or Palestinian.

In November, Stanford announced the creation of two groups — one focused on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias and the other on Islamophobia and anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian bias — as a response to the ugliness on campus that interim president Richard Saller saw following the Oct. 7 massacre and the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

The two parallel committees worked in tandem, according to Ahmed, who disagreed with the New York Times’ characterization of the reports as “dueling.”

“It’s not a Muslim-Jewish issue,” said Ahmed, who is associate dean and director of the Markaz Resource Center, which supports students with ties to the Muslim faith and community. She said her six-person committee interviewed a broad range of students, alumni, faculty and staff, including Jewish students who were involved in pro-Palestinian activism.

“The two pieces of work I don’t see as in opposition at all,” added Alexander Key, her committee co-chair. He is a Stanford associate professor of comparative literature who focuses on classical Arabic literature. Key noted that he and Ahmed have been in regular contact with Koseff and Diamond.

Koseff, a professor of environmental engineering and oceanography, previously served on the board of Hillel at Stanford. “This was very new for me,” he said of his role as co-chair of the 12-member committee.

The report that focused on the Jewish and Israeli community, titled “‘It’s in the Air’: Antisemitism and Anti-Israeli Bias at Stanford, and How to Address It,” expressed concerns about Jewish students being lumped together and intimidated on campus by pro-Palestinian activists. 

Jewish student Aaron Schimmel walks past a pro-Israel display at Stanford on June 5. (Photo/Andrew Esensten)

“​​We were struck by the fact that many of the Jewish and Israeli students who were subjected to these patterns of intimidation were well to the left of center in relation to the Israeli political spectrum. They were critical of the current government and many of its policies and actions,” according to the report. 

“The hostility directed toward them appeared to have little or nothing to do with their political views but rather with their Jewish or Israeli identities — or at least with their unwillingness to qualify or reject those identities through abject apology for having any connection, however ancestral, to the State of Israel. The imposition of a unique social burden on Jewish students to openly denounce Israel and renounce any ties to it was, we found, the most common manifestation of antisemitism in student life,” the report continued.

Hiding identities and self-censoring

The report also revealed that Jewish and Israeli students began to hide their identities and chose to “self-censor their beliefs due to concern about being ostracized or condemned” — confirming J.’s prior coverage of the campus climate.

A similar phenomenon was described in Ahmed and Key’s report, which used the phrase “self-censorship” to describe the experience of Muslim and Arab students.

“Because there is a well-established climate of fear, self-censorship, and silence when it comes to discussion of Palestine on campus, few people outside the faculty can speak to the issue with both credibility and security,” the report stated.

Both reports support Stanford’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion programs and policies, yet the antisemitism report noted that those with Jewish and Israeli identities feel excluded from such programs and communities.

“That is a very big part of the new antisemitism,” said Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, where he leads its program on Arab reform and democracy.

Diamond told J. that a dangerous narrative across college campuses portrays all Jews and Israelis as white, privileged and powerful, and therefore ineligible to join DEI spaces.

The report recommends Stanford create more academic offerings in Jewish studies and Israel studies to better understand these identities and to include them in the DEI framework.

“If you have a program of diversity, equity and inclusion that aims for inclusion and aims for equity across all different identity groups, it has to be truly inclusive,” Diamond said.

The report highlighted Fizz, the anonymous social media platform popular with Stanford students, where many posters frequently attack their peers with antisemitic and hate speech. The report recommended that Stanford administrators “engage the leadership” of Fizz, which was co-founded by Stanford dropouts in 2021, to “strengthen content moderation and the reporting system for violations.”

A call for discourse

The two reports each offer more than 50 pages of recommendations to support campus safety, free speech, mental health and education around the Middle East. While the co-chairs of both committees agree there are many aspects where they align, the reports also differ on their recommendations to achieve respectful yet free discourse.

Ahmed and Key’s report considers “vibrant discourse” the goal, not “civil discourse,” which has “blind spots,” Ahmed said, adding that she believes the campus should be more permissive of different forms of protest, including encampments.

A pro-Palestinian tent encampment sits in the middle of White Plaza at Stanford University on April 30. (Aaron Levy-Wolins)

“We want there to be more robust engagement and understanding and acceptance and tolerance for a wider variety and a diversity of viewpoints,” she said.

To that end, her committee’s report recommends Stanford revise its “time, place, and manner” restrictions that have been used to “restrict or minimize student activism and expression.” The report also recommends Stanford invest in new tenured faculty to teach Palestine and Arab studies and create exchange programs to bring greater scholarship focused on these topics to Stanford.

“It’s actually quite embarrassing for Stanford in relation to its peer institutions, where it is on Middle East and Arab studies,” Ahmed said. “We’re not at par with Harvard or Columbia or other universities in so far as the academic offering goes.”

According to her committee’s report, the encampment on White Plaza was viewed by the Muslim, Arab and Palestinian community as an educational resource for students who felt the university hadn’t done enough to teach students about Palestine and its history.

Diamond and Koseff’s report, by contrast, found that the encampment “hosted increasingly militant and antisemitic activity the longer it has gone on” and urged the university to take swift action to remove it. It also strongly endorses civil discourse as a core principle in its recommendations.

“There is a lot that we need to discuss,” Koseff said of the conflicting recommendations in the two reports and the commitment on both sides to talk things through. “But at least we have a sense that we can talk and we can work together, and hopefully, it’ll be a positive outcome.”

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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.