Ya’ani: Week of Music, Culture, and Languages of the Middle East

Ya’ani: Week of Music, Culture, and Languages of the Middle East brings classroom-style conversations with a variety of Stanford faculty over lunch and dinner, on a variety of topics.
On Monday May 13th, Prof. Ramzi Salti will be having a conversation titled “Breaking with Tradition: An Examination of Alternative Arabic Music and Video Clips.”
On Tuesday May 14th, Prof. Vered Shemtov and Prof. Alexander Key will be discussing “Texts of Protest and Consequences,” looking at poetry and other media in social protests of the Middle East.
On Wednesday May 15th, Prof. Abbas Milani will be speaking about the “Cultural Renaissance in Islamic Iran.”
On Thursday May 16th, Prof. Aron Rodrigue will be talking about “Ladino (Judeo-Spanish): A Jewish Language of the Middle East.”
Finally, on Friday we will have a Mizrahi Shabbat (Friday night service themed around Jews of the Middle East).

Jeremy Ben Ami, Executive Director of J Street, opposes Stanford’s potential Divestment bill against Israel

Jeremy Ben Ami, Executive Director of J Street, has expressed his disapproval of the Divestment bill brought before the Stanford Senate:

To the Student Government of Stanford University,

J Street strongly opposes the views and positions such as those captured at the Palestinian BDS National Committee’s website, www.bdsmovement.net. As laid out in that site, the BDS movement fails to explicitly to recognize Israel’s right to exist and it ignores or rejects Israel’s role as a national home for the Jewish people. In addition, the promotion by some in the BDS movement of the return to Israel of Palestinian refugees from 1948 and their families indicates support for an outcome incompatible with a two-state solution to the conflict.

J Street recognizes the legitimate and urgent concerns related to peace, justice and human rights that have motivated calls on college campuses and beyond to boycott certain Israeli products or divest from U.S. companies that support continuing Israeli policies of occupation and settlement expansion, or for governments to impose sanctions on Israel. We recognize that the sluggish pace of diplomatic progress toward a two-state solution motivates some of these efforts. However, the urgent need for peace will not be reached through alienation. J Street believes that a peace resolution will be reached through international, and more specifically regional, cooperation. Long-term progress will be achieved through diplomatic means, not isolation.

We oppose the occupation of the West Bank and the expansion and entrenchment of settlements there. We also oppose encroachment on Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem, which must be part of a future Palestinian capital if a two-state outcome is to be achieved.

J Street believes, however, that these legitimate concerns are best addressed through urgent pursuit and implementation of a two-state resolution to the conflict. A two-state resolution is, in our view, the only way for Israel to guarantee long-term international recognition and security.

For these reasons, J Street urges that you vote against the BDS resolution under consideration.


Jeremy Ben-Ami

Professor Steven Weitzman opposes SPER’s proposed divestment from Israel

Dr. Steven Weitzman, Daniel E. Koshland Professor of Jewish Culture and Religion, has expressed his deep concern over the recent divestment movement at Stanford, and urges the ASSU to reject SPER’s bill.

Dear members of the ASSU Senate;

I am writing in my role as a professor, as a member of the Stanford

community, and as a human being with a deep desire for peace and justice in

the Middle East. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the pain that it has

caused have lasted far too long, and I respect the efforts of students who

seek to ease the suffering of others. I believe, however, that divestment is

not the right approach to this conflict, and it breaks my heart to think

that Stanford students might give up on resolving it through dialogue and

respect for the other. For me, hope lies not in divestment but in

engagement, in understanding the conflict in all its complexity, in empathy

with both Israelis and Palestinians, and in investment in those who are

working on both sides for peace, justice and economic opportunity on the

ground. I urge you to reject the one-sided approach that divestment

represents and instead to use the opportunity that this conversation affords

to cultivate respectful dialogue within our own community and to model an

open-hearted approach to conflict resolution.


Dr. Steven Weitzman

Daniel E. Koshland Professor of Jewish Culture and Religion, Stanford


Professor Jack Rakove eloquently voices his concern over the recent Divestment bill that has come before the ASSU

Professor Jack Rakove, the Pulitzer award-winning William Robertson Coe Professor of History and American Studies of Stanford University, expresses his concern and opposition to the SPER bill to divest from Israel.

March 4, 2013

Dear Members of the ASSU,

I write in opposition to the current proposal supporting divestment from companies ostensibly involved in activities in the West Bank and the Gaza strip. There are numerous statements in the resolutions submitted by SPER with which one could take issue, and numerous issues that would certainly benefit from more extensive discussion. It is the very fact that these issues demand such discussion that should make the ASSU wary of adopting a program of action that rests on so many oversimplified judgments. Simply put, the proposal asks the ASSU to pursue actions that grossly ignore the hard task of assigning responsibility for the miseries of the Palestinian condition and the dangerous way of life that Israelis simply refer to as ha-matzav (the situation). More to the point, adoption of this resolution would, I believe, do real damage to conditions at Stanford that the ASSU has a vested, conscientious interest in preserving. In the name of a goal that would accomplish little in the political realm it wishes to affect, the resolution would harm interests every member of the Stanford community should wish to maintain.

I will briefly make four arguments in support of this position.

First, as already noted, the ASSU cannot simply accept on good faith a blanket set of resolutions without doing its own research and reaching its own judgments on their veracity. That in turn would only plunge it into the realm of claim and counter-claim that mark the analysis of complex issues, and force it to reach conclusive verdicts on issues that defy quick judgment. How, for example, would the ASSU be in a position to assess the vices and virtues of the “separation barrier” in the West Bank, which vastly disrupts the lives of Palestinians in countless ways, yet also provides Israel with the security that the Second Intifida (and the First) demanded they secure? One has only to walk along the Tel Aviv waterfront, as I in fact will do later this week on a Stanford-related trip, and look at the ruins of the Dolphinarium disco, the site of a June 2001 bombing, with its Hebrew and Russian memorial to twenty-one fatalities (twelve of whom were 17 or younger), to understand why any simplified statement of blame is wholly inadequate.

Second, the ASSU also needs to consider the logic of the position it is being asked to endorse. It would be nice, if true, that the resolution is carefully tailored to identify a limited number of corporate perpetrators who can be precisely blamed for some set of woes. Many observers of the divestment campaign understand that its real object is much broader. Corporate villains are incidental to the deeper purpose, which is essentially to vilify and isolate Israel as a pariah state within the world, to associate it with the concept and practice of apartheid, in short to move toward the usual round of innuendo that uniquely focuses on Israel while wholesale domestic slaughter is occurring among many of its neighbors. There is no point in blaming a small set of companies—a few well known, others deservedly obscure—when the latent yet manifest target of the entire campaign is Israel itself.

Third, the ASSU must recognize that the consequences of pursuing this resolution would be destructive of relationships within the University community in ways that similar campaigns in the past never were. No one on an American campus ever had a stake or reason to defend the apartheid regime of South Africa back in the 1980s. One could then ask whether universities should make divestment a matter of policy or not, but South Africa remained an easy case. No one’s feelings or loyalties on an American university campus would have been hurt by a decision adverse to apartheid, because no one would stand up for a racist regime grounded on a wholly undemocratic form of minority rule.

The situation with Israel is vastly different. Simply put, a decision that ultimately rested on disbelief in the legitimacy of the Israeli state would have a devastating effect within the campus. It would be perceived, rightly I believe, as an insult to all those members of the Jewish community who actively identify with the existence of Israel as a fundamental value. It would be divisive in a way that divestments aimed at regimes in South Africa or Sudan never could have been. It would place the ASSU in the strange position of adopting a resolution of doubtful value that would have an invidious effect on our own community—and by our own, I mean, not the Jewish community here, but Stanford itself.

Finally, you should care deeply about that risk because Stanford enjoys an unusually good situation when compared to other universities in the region. One has only to compare this state of affairs with, say, SF State, UC-Davis, or perhaps even UC-Berkeley to be wary of wanting to disrupt an atmosphere which has generally proven so favorable to open debate but inimical to the divisions and stigmatization other campuses have experienced. We are lucky to have avoided the confrontational styles that other universities have come to know all too well.

Having a campus reputation as the local Madisonian-Jeffersonian, I personally am all in favor of open debate on a wide array of issues. As a past board member of Hillel at Stanford, I have resented efforts coming from outside the university to limit campus debate on Israel-related issues. There is much to criticize about Israeli policies on the West Bank, and academic departments and student organizations should be free to debate these issues as vigorously as they wish. But a program advocating divestment requires judgments and incurs risks that the ASSU should be extremely cautious about taking. In my view, the adoption of these resolutions would potentially do great harm, while the only benefit to be attained would involve associating the ASSU with a campaign whose ultimate goal is to challenge the existence of a Jewish state.


Jack Rakove

A growing number of Stanford Faculty and Professors have written letters to the ASSU condemning the act of Divestment

The following Professors and Stanford Faculty members have expressed their strong disapproval of the Divestment bill put forth by SPER, to be voted on this Tuesday.  Click the links to read their eloquent statements.

Larry Diamond – Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute/Freeman Spogli Institute – Foreign Policy Expert

Alvin Roth – The Craig and Susan McCaw Professor of Economics – Nobel Laureate in Economics (2012)

Roger Kornberg – Winzer Professor in Medicine – Nobel Laureate in Chemistry (2006)

Dr. Steven Weitzman – Daniel E. Koshland Professor of Jewish Culture and Religion

Yoav Shoham – Professor of Computer Science

Terry Winograd – Stanford Prof. Emeritus of Computer Science

Carol Winograd, MD – Stanford Assoc. Prof. Emerita of Medicine

Jack Rakove – William Robertson Coe Professor of History and American Studies – Pulitzer award-winner

Two renown Nobel Laureates and Stanford Professors express their firm opposition to Stanford’s anti-Israel divestment measures.

Al Roth, recipient of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Economics, and Roger Kornberg, recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, express their strong opposition to Stanford’s divestment from Israel:

Professor Al Roth:

I firmly oppose divestment from Israel, or that Israel (of all places in the Middle East) should be singled out for human rights violations. Despite the long running low intensity war that persists, and the moral and practical complications of occupation, I think people at Stanford should question whether they believe that Israel has a worse human rights record than its neighbors, or that Palestine would become an island of liberal democracy on the Arab map if only peace could be achieved.  We must work for peace, and pray for it, and take risks for it. But peace, when it comes, will be between two peoples, and men and women of good will who wish for peace should refrain from demonizing one side.

Al Roth



Professor Roger Kornberg:

As a Stanford graduate (Ph.D. 1972) and faculty member (since 1978), I

strongly advise against the anti-Israel resolution under consideration by

the Stanford Student Senate.  Beyond the mistaken premise and misguided

intent of the resolution, its passage would be harmful to the purposes of

the university.  It would represent a profound insult to a large segment

of the Stanford community.  No organization that represents all members of

the community should advocate for one member group against another, and

thereby exacerbate rather than diminish divisions within the community.

Roger Kornberg

Winzer Professor in Medicine

Stanford University School of Medicine

Nobel Laureate in Chemistry (2006)