The Stanford Israel Alliance recently invited Reservists on Duty, an organization of Israeli Defense Forces reserve soldiers infamous for its virulent Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism, to present an event at Stanford Hillel last Monday, Oct. 16. This group of foreign soldiers tours U.S. college campuses with the explicit goal of opposing student activism for Palestinian rights.
Over the course of a week in May this year, members of Reservists on Duty engaged in a series of racist and Islamophobic attacks against Palestinian activists and allies at UC Irvine. These adult Israeli soldiers, in their verbal tirades against the group of students, repeatedly equated Islam with terrorism. They wore shirts that read, in Arabic, “Israel is the only candle in a region of darkness.” One soldier threatened a student in Arabic, saying, “You want me to stick it in you, don’t you?” They told a Jewish student demonstrating in solidarity with Palestinians to remove his kippah because he was not a real Jew. They recorded and videotaped students without permission and threatened to leak their personal information to Canary Mission, a website that aims to sabotage the careers of students and faculty who support Palestinian rights. One camera operator even physically assaulted multiple students, shoving one and knocking a protest sign into another’s face.
In the aftermath of these events, Reservists on Duty spearheaded a smear campaign against the brutalized students, claiming that they were the victims of anti-Semitic bigotry. Six organizations, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild and Palestine Legal, wrote a letter to the UC Irvine administration demanding that UC Irvine take action to protect Palestine-solidarity activists after these attacks.
It is deeply irresponsible for a Stanford student group to consider hosting a group of soldiers with this demonstrated history of violence on college campuses. Under pressure, the Stanford Israel Alliance canceled the original Reservists on Duty event last Sunday, Oct. 15. Yet, last Monday afternoon, Hillel released an email announcing that the event would be taking place at the Chabad House, another organization that serves the Jewish community at Stanford. Hillel endorsed the event in an email, referring to Chabad as Hillel’s “off-campus partner” and encouraging students to join Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Jessica Kirschner in attending the event.
Two of the Reservists from the UC Irvine delegation were present at the Chabad House. The speakers engaged in what has become normalized rhetoric in pro-Israel communities: lionizing Israel and its accomplishments and claiming that nonviolent movements to boycott Israel are anti-Semitic. Blatantly Islamophobic rhetoric prevailed without reproach. One of the reservist delegates, Dema Taya, claimed that Arab women who live in countries other than Israel “are afraid to talk, because maybe in this primitive ideology, her husband or her brother or her father doesn’t allow her to.” She described Israel, England, the United States and Canada as “the good civilization” with “the nice behavior” and claimed that the reason that majority-Arab countries do not have democracy is because “their government is also Arab.”
Hillel is a community center meant to serve the Jewish community at Stanford and be a welcoming space for all Stanford students. It is unacceptable for Hillel to promote and endorse a group known for its verbal and physical harassment of Arab and Muslim students and their allies. Hillel’s Rabbi Kirschner even admitted at the conclusion of the event that Hillel was aware of concerns for student safety around hosting Reservists on Duty. Still, she thought it was “wonderful” that the event happened and promised her support in hosting Reservists on Duty at Hillel in the future.
As Jews, it is particularly distressing that two major campus organizations that serve the Stanford Jewish community worked together to organize this event. We, Jewish Voice for Peace, demand that Stanford Hillel and Chabad issue a public apology to the Stanford community for actively endorsing a group that promotes Islamophobia, anti-Arab sentiment and hateful rhetoric that threatens and terrorizes our communities at Stanford and beyond.
— Jewish Voice for Peace