For those of you who bemoan the lack of leadership from Hillel on behalf of pro-Israel students, I present to you an email from Rabbi Serena Eisenberg, the Executive Director of Hillel at Stanford.
Dear Friend of Hillel at Stanford,
As many of you have heard, tomorrow, Tuesday, February 10th, the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Senate will consider a bill recommending university divestment from companies doing business in Israel. I write to provide some additional context and information in advance of the vote.
A two-thirds majority is needed for the non-binding bill to pass. Our students' work reaching out to the senators indicates that equal handfuls of student senators have made their decisions to vote one way or the other; the rest are undecided or may abstain. Jewish students have been advocating and lobbying in a variety of ways, including meeting with individual senators, utilizing social media, holding campus events, and developing collateral educational and PR materials. Student leaders developed a website (Coalition for Peace) and Facebook page, and launched a petition drive in conjunction with supportive alumni which to date has gathered over 3,000 signatures in just two weeks. A comprehensive binder was compiled and provided to each student senator, including counterpoints to the bill, collected letters (from Stanford Nobel Laureates and professors), and additional materials.
In addition to the student senate vote on Tuesday, there may be an effort to place a divestment referendum on the spring, campus-wide student election ballot. And students advocating for divestment have asked the university's Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility, which vets investment issues and makes recommendations to the Board of Trustees, to review their request for divestment and recommend it to the university trustees.
The "Stanford Out of Occupied Palestine" Coalition (SOOP) which proposed the bill has been extremely sophisticated and active in the past year. The coalition includes at least 18 campus organizations, and their efforts have included extensively posting flyers in all dorms and on a wide variety of Stanford list-serves; door- to- door solicitation of signatures for a pro-divestment petition; numerous op-eds; a sophisticated website and frequent events.
This year's campaign follows many years of significant divestment efforts, including student senate bills brought and defeated in 2007, 2010, and Spring, 2013. In Fall, 2013, the national conference for the Students for Justice in Palestine brought 300 pro-BDS Palestinian student activists to Stanford. Over time, the divestment movement has developed increasingly sophisticated messages and growing support even among Jewish students and community members. We no longer see periodic attempts, but rather a constant stream of programming engaging students as well as faculty. This year in particular, the climate has felt palpably intimidating and hostile for some Jewish students. There is a trend for students affiliated with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) to demur dialogue with students who identify as Zionist or pro-Israel (either Jews or gentiles), claiming to do so would "normalize the occupation." This stance erodes civil discourse and is at odds with the values of any university.
Hillel at Stanford is working with senior university administrators to address these concerns and advocate for an educational environment for all students to feel safe to clarify and express their diverse identities and opinions. In past weeks, Hillel at Stanford has presented many opportunities for civil discourse for both the Jewish and wider university communities with our Ask Big Questions initiative, as well as convening forums, town hall meetings, and panel discussions on Israel/Palestine issues. Next week we will host a Shabbat dinner for students to process after the vote with a range of Stanford professors.
Student mobilization these past weeks arose from a robust foundation of year-round Hillel at Stanford Israel strategies to empower our 1800 Jewish graduate and undergraduate students. Our Hillel staff includes a full-time Israel Fellow and a strong program team who benefits from regular and intensive professional development including staff trainings, leading Stanford Birthright trips, the Hillel International professional's trip, and the Hartman Hillel fellowship.
We are TREMENDOUSLY grateful for the support and partnership of so many people and organizations who are helping students to reframe and defeat this acute campus issue, which many believe is but one tactic in a much larger strategy of isolating Israel through Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). In just the past two weeks, our students have benefited from guidance and resources from the JCRC, Hillel International, the Israel on Campus Coalition, the Israeli Consulate, Ameinu, the American Jewish Committee, Stand with Us, BlueStar Media, and our long-term partnerships with Taglit-Birthright, AIPAC, Jstreet, and the David Project (plus others we are surely forgetting to mention!) Each of these partners contributes to a strong and pluralistic pro-Israel campus climate. While we continue to believe that our local Hillel team of student leaders, staff, faculty, board, and alumni is best positioned to coordinate and organize among the various organizations, we are grateful for the valuable input and diverse points of view that have significantly strengthened our impact. For example, one of the (non-Jewish) student senators went on a David Project Israel trip this winter break, and he could ultimately be one of the swing votes in Stanford's student senate vote this Tuesday.
We will update you following the ASSU Senate vote Tuesday night, and Hillel at Stanford will continue to work tirelessly to sustain and strengthen the impact of robust Israel educational, advocacy, and travel opportunities throughout the year, for Stanford students who are and will invariably become leaders at all levels of local, national and international life.
Your support is so very much appreciated. Donations can be made to the Coalition for Peace student mobilization fund, and please consider making a contribution to Hillel's ongoing and robust Jewish life programs. Many thanks to those who have already made gifts. We are so very grateful for your continued interest and ongoing support.
Rabbi Serena Eisenberg
Executive Director, Hillel at Stanford