Stanford University is being criticized for failing to condemn the conduct of a student whose Facebook post threatened to “physically fight Zionists on campus next year” who support Israel’s new nation-state law, even as a new college study has found that Israel-related anti-Semitic incidents create a more hostile environment than classic anti-Semitism.
In a statement Aug. 3, the university said only that it had “conducted an extensive case assessment and concluded that the student does not pose a physical threat to other members of the community.… We will be meeting with students on all sides of the issue to hear ideas for additional steps that can be taken to assure their feeling of safety and comfort in our community.”
But the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) wrote to the university president, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, on Aug. 6 calling on him to expel the student, Hamzeh Daoud, and to “clearly and forcefully publicly condemn Daoud’s actions.”
Daoud, 20, is expected to be a junior next semester and was to work at the university as a residential assistant. He resigned from the position after his controversial post.
Daoud told the Stanford Daily, the university’s student-run newspaper, that four hours after his initial post, he edited it to change the word “physically” to “intellectually” because “I realize intellectually beating Zionists is the only way to go. Physical fighting is never an answer to when trying to prove people wrong.”
He said also that the new Israeli law “effectively made [Israel] an apartheid state and deemed Palestinian citizens of Israel second-class citizens. As a third-generation Palestinian refugee, I was appalled and took to Facebook to share my pain.”
But in its letter, the ZOA insisted that the new law “has no impact on the rights of Palestinians or anyone else in Israel.”
“Based on his Facebook post — including after he tried to tone it down — the post could reasonably be interpreted as Daoud intending to kill Jews or anyone supporting Israel,” said the ZOA letter, which was signed by Morton Klein, the group’s national president. “He has repeatedly engaged in threatening behavior toward Jews, Israelis and pro-Israel students. When faced with conduct that created a hostile environment for other targeted students, Stanford cracked down and held wrongdoers accountable. The university must take the threats to Jews, Israelis and pro-Israel students just as seriously.”
That view was echoed by researcher Tami Rossman-Benjamin, who said a new study by the group she co-founded, the AMCHA Initiative in Santa Cruz, Calif., has found that “anti-Zionist harassment is felt no less than anti-Semitism but sometimes even more because the university community is not sympathetic to anti-Zionist harassment. Members of the university community often collude in it, and the Jews feel nobody is sympathetic to their perspective.”
Rutgers Hillel executive director Andrew Getraer noted, “While there is clearly a more immediate and universal rejection when symbols of traditional anti-Semitism are used on campus, such as the swastika, these are no less disturbing to Jewish students than anti-Israel attacks. Both are symptomatic of the same hatred and ignorance and must be called out as such.”
Rossman-Benjamin told NJJN that she agrees the university needs to condemn the actions of Daoud.
“What the Jewish students are feeling is the inequity of the university in responding to anti-bias harassment,” Rossman-Benjamin said. “The key is the double standard. However the university would treat such behavior against any other group or person, that is how it has to treat those who are anti-Israel.”
Asked if Daoud could argue he has the right to free speech, she replied: “I can’t tell you when it crosses the line, but such behavior is totally unacceptable when it is from a university employee; he was to be an RA.”
The AMCHA Initiative found that although anti-Semitic incidents are given equal weight in an audit, Israel-related anti-Semitic incidents “were considerably more likely to contribute to a hostile environment for Jewish students than incidents involving classic anti-Semitism.” In addition, it found that “anti-Israel campus activities are no longer intent on harming Israel, but increasingly, and alarmingly, they are intent on harming pro-Israel members of the campus community.”
Rossman-Benjamin, a retired lecturer at the University of California-Santa Cruz, said there is a “difference between a swastika scrawled on a bathroom door and one on a kid’s door. You have to look at the context to determine the intent of the perpetrator. Close to 80 percent of swastikas are not directed at specific individuals and are seen as expressions of anger and hatred. You also have to look at how the university responds to it. Universities have to respond to clear anti-Jewish hatred.”
The report added: “Despite the fact that acts of Israel-related anti-Semitism appear to be the larger contributor to a hostile environment for Jewish students, university administrators have generally been far less likely to adequately address these Israel-related incidents than they have acts of classic anti-Semitism. In large part this is due to university administrators recognizing that classic anti-Semitism may violate state or federal anti-discrimination law and most schools’ peer-on-peer harassment policies which prohibit the harassment of students based on characteristics such as race, color and gender, as well as religion and ethnicity.
“However, university administrators rarely recognize anti-Zionist harassment as a form of unlawful discrimination, because they see it as motivated by political considerations rather than ethnic or religious ones. The reality, however, is that harassment is harassment. The effect of pervasive intolerant, exclusionary and harassing behavior on students is the same, regardless of the motivation of the perpetrator or the identity of the victim. And the abhorrent behavior that prevents students from an education free from harassment must be addressed, and addressed equitably.”
Stewart Ain is a staff writer at the New York Jewish Week, NJJN’s sister publication. NJJN Bureau Chief Debra Rubin contributed reporting.