Stanford student Molly Horwitz says she was the target of anti-Semitism during an interview with a coalition of students of color who endorse student candidates. Horwitz, who recently won a senate seat, says she was asked how her Jewishness would impact a vote on divestment–a charge that has been met with denials.
She quickly became a cause celebre. The New York Times covered her allegations. The Anti-Defamation League called foul. The Stanford administration promised to get to the bottom of the story. But the students who Horwitz says asked her that question have released a strongly worded statement denying the charges.
The result is two diametrically opposed, and unresolvable, narratives that have become the latest fodder for a nationwide debate on anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel at American colleges.
Horwitz, who opposes divestment and is a strong supporter of Israel, wants a public apology from the student who allegedly asked her the question. The student who Horwitz says asked the question, Tianay Pulphus, is a member of the Stanford University Students of Color Coalition (SOCC), the group Horwitz sought the endorsement of. SOCC consists of six groups that advocate for Black, Latino, Muslim, Asian and Native American students. Pulphus said she was not available for an interview.
“There’s no way to prove whether what I’m saying is true or what they’re saying is true,” Horwitz said in a phone interview. “What I want to come from this is increased education for what is anti-Semitic and what is not anti-Semitic, because I think there’s not really a good understanding of that on campus.”
But SOCC strongly denies Horwitz’s version of events, though they say they did ask candidates general questions about how they would vote on divestment. They also dispute other claims, aired in the conservative publication Stanford Review, that student candidates were asked to sign a contract forbidding her and other candidates from partnering with Jewish groups on campus. They have turned over their meeting notes to Stanford administrators to bolster their assertions, they say.
“We did not ask that question,” Maria Victoria Diaz-Gonzalez, a member of SOCC, said in a phone interview. Instead, she said, they asked Horwitz two divestment related question. The first was how she would handle divestment if it came up in the student senate. Diaz-Gonzalez says a follow up question was how, if she was endorsed by two groups with different views on divestment, she would handle that situation–a question Horwitz handled “well,” she said.
Diaz-Gonzalez says they also asked Horwitz and other candidates about other issues on campus, like mental health.
Horwitz’s views on Israel have been made public in the past. During the senate campaign, Horwitz removed pro-Israel Facebook posts because “the campus climate has been pretty hostile, and it would not be politically expedient to take a public stance,“ her friend told the New York Times. (Mondoweiss obtained copies of two of the posts she removed, right.)
Other students have also responded to the dispute. In an Op-Ed for the Stanford Daily, Jewish student Emma Hartung said Horwitz had aired “unsubstantiated allegations” with a “a lack of concrete evidence.” Hartung added: “The subtext is clear: We cannot discuss divestment from the Occupation of Palestine on campus without eventual accusations of anti-Semitism, whether that discussion is in an endorsement interview, in a dormitory or in the Undergraduate Senate.”
The dispute has its roots in the Stanford senate’s decision to endorse divestment from corporations that do business with the Israeli military this year. SOCC member groups endorsed the divestment call, and so SOCC was interested in how future candidates would respond to a similar resolution. Horwitz gave her story to the Stanford Review, a right-leaning publication with a history of going after SOCC.
The pro-divestment decision was the latest example of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement’s growth on college campus, which has lead to increasing accusations of anti-Semitism directed at students working for Palestinian rights. Student activists say it’s a tactic designed to silence their work for boycotts, divestments and sanctions targeting Israel over human rights violations.
Omar Shakir, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights who is supporting the coalition, told me that the accusation of anti-Semitism “reflects an agenda driven by pro-Israel groups to make this kind of false linkage [between anti-Semitism and divestment.] It’s part of a pattern.”
The issue of anti-Semitism on U.S. college campuses garnered widespread attention earlier this year when members of the UCLA student judicial board asked Rachel Beyda, a candidate, how her Jewish identity would impact her views. That exchange, caught on video, garnered national attention and sparked widespread outrage. The UCLA students who asked her the question apologized.
The Stanford incident is different because there is no video of the alleged exchange. SOCC denies it happened at all. It got widespread pickup because the New York Times ran an article on the dispute.
“It’s very shoddy journalism. At the end of the day you have a single student’s unfounded accusations that have been given so much attention,” said Shakir. Shakir says SOCC members are worried about repercussions from the administration over the charges.
Diaz-Gonzalez told me that she sees the controversy as part of “an attempt to perhaps silence Palestinian solidarity efforts on campus.” She added: “Anti-Semitism is an extremely serious concern, and at SOCC we do it take it very seriously. These allegations are false. But that doesn’t effect our commitment to fighting anti-Semitism. But I do see this as part of this larger movement to equate divestment movements with an attempt to harm the Jewish community.”
In the face of the categorical denials from SOCC and their supporters, Horwitz is sticking to her story.
“I think that there’s no motivation for them to tell the truth, like at all. So if you admit you messed up, there’s nothing good that can come from that for them,” said Horwitz. “I know what happened to me.”