By Winston Shi
“‘Jews controlling the media, economy, government and other societal institutions’ [is] a fixture of anti-Semitism that we [inaudible] theoretically shouldn’t challenge. I think that that’s kind of irresponsibly foraying into another politically contentious conversation. Questioning these potential power dynamics, I think, is not anti-Semitism. I think it’s a very valid discussion.”
– ASSU Senator Gabriel Knight ’17
Stanford students sometimes seem to think that their intelligence is a bubble protecting them from idiocy. But as we learned again at the ASSU Senate meeting on Tuesday night, anti-Semitism, though stupid, is not the sole provenance of stupid people.
Many of today’s college students may feel confident that anti-Semitism died with Hitler. But the Oxford University Labour Club’s co-chair recently resigned to protest raging anti-Semitism on campus, and Stanford is not immune from stupid statements and prejudiced words. For Jews, anti-Semitism is terrifyingly real. And it came to a head at Stanford on Wednesday night.
Even in the midst of an election year, Mr. Knight’s statement is bigger than party politics. Any American politician who argued that we should even pay lip service to “Jew-truthers” would be drummed out of party politics in a nanosecond. This is not about partisanship: It is about condemning the condemnable.
For liberals and conservatives alike, it’s patently idiotic to ignore the historical context of the “Jews control the media” narrative, and moreover, to phrase it as Mr. Knight did. Perhaps Gabriel Knight is not anti-Semitic. But at best, he was extraordinarily insensitive to raise such a question — and then to double down on it later in the Senate meeting. People who have faced death for the crime of being Jewish will be more than happy to tell you that “Jews run the world” is the oldest trick in the book. It predates the rise of Hitler. It predates the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. As long as Jews have been minorities in the world around them, they have been dealing with this garbage.
I cannot phrase this strongly enough: What Mr. Knight described as “a very valid discussion” are words that have launched pogroms and genocides, destroyed communities for generations and left a tragic stain on the human conscience. Do I think that Mr. Knight intends to recreate the Holocaust? No. Do I think Mr. Knight is responsible for the words he says? Absolutely. It is profoundly unbecoming of an ASSU senator, who is supposed to represent people like you and me, to help perpetuate this myth. It is a statement dredged from the depths of the very worst kind of race-baiting. As a half-Palestinian, it would not be terribly surprising if Mr. Knight had a low opinion of the State of Israel; but to go from the quarrel over the Palestine crisis to “Jews control the media” makes a mockery of logic. Ignorance is not an excuse. Apparently, Mr. Knight did not get the memo.
Nor should we forget the world we, as college students, live in today. At Stanford, despite our administration’s Jewish-inclusive attitude, just last year, the ASSU Senate tried to cut the Jewish Student Association’s budget by two-thirds, giving the JSA just 24 hours to appeal. After JSA leaders took them to task, the Appropriations Committee claimed it had made a mistake — but its “correction” still amounted to a one-third budget cut. The Senate claimed that the cut was made because JSA maintains a cash reserve for exactly this sort of scenario, but the proposed cut was clearly larger than those eventually mandated for groups with similar emergency funds. The ASSU eventually backed down, but throughout the JSA crisis, it was painfully clear that the Senate had demanded cutbacks from JSA which, so far as the final budget proposals indicated, had not been required from any of the other identity groups on campus. I wouldn’t say the ASSU is a hive of anti-Semites, but I also don’t think the Senate has done very much in recent years to put the Jewish community at ease.
Moreover, this is not a question of free speech. Even if the question of whether Jews run society’s institutions were open for discussion, there is no way that it could be debated seriously without devolving into hate speech. To ask the question implies that Jews are a uniform, monolithic entity — one that transcends borders and cultures, becoming a threat to nation-states everywhere. Asking it also implies that it is possible to conceive of an insidious Jewish agenda to dominate the world at others’ expense. And the very premise of the argument sees success and smears it as conspiracy. Of course Jews are highly represented in the American media, economy and government. They are America’s most successful model minority — a group that has managed to keep its cultural traditions and yet assimilate into American society. In my view, they are the American Dream personified.
But on the topic of so-called Jewish domination, I fail to see how any of these points cannot also be raised about any demographic group that is financially and culturally successful. The Jewish domination argument ports almost directly to the old Anglo-Saxon establishment. And are we supposed to complain now that Chinese- and Indian-Americans find lots of jobs in Silicon Valley? So why are Jews singled out? Anti-Semites feel that it’s OK to pin the charge of world domination on Jews because there are plenty of Anglo-Saxons and Asians, and not very many Jews. The Jew is an easy target. Jews always have been.
Few would disagree that there exists a large silent majority on Stanford’s campus. It does not vote, it does not follow what the Senate does and it does not care about the ASSU except when student budgets are involved. There’s no reason to criticize Mr. Knight in fear that he might actually do something. He can’t.
And I don’t think that we should be anti-racist because Mr. Knight will hurt our university’s good name. Frankly, he isn’t important enough to hurt Stanford’s image. Nobody has ever criticized me for attending Stanford because of our student government’s attitude towards Israel. There is an expectation these days that university campuses are havens for anti-Israel sentiment. And unless people kick up a fuss about it, nobody will care if Gabriel Knight tries to defend the most atavistic anti-Jewish argument known to man.
We have to be anti-racist because it is the right thing to do. Because this is our university, and as long as Stanford means something to us, we have to do our part to make sure it embodies the very best of American academic life. Is this really what we want our home to be? A place where it’s OK to make anti-Semitic arguments? A place where it’s OK to turn the clock back to 1903?
Mr. Knight has the right to respond — in The Daily, or through Facebook or any number of public spaces in the Stanford community. But it’s hard to see how exactly he’s going to walk this one back. I believe that the Editorial Board’s decision to rescind his endorsement speaks for itself. His apology at the Senate meeting essentially amounted to “I’m sorry this might hurt your feelings, but I stand by my point.” The man was six feet deep, and he kept on digging.
As for the rest of us — we have to be anti-racist because we’ve all met Jews.
We have to be anti-racist because Jews are no different from anybody else.
And as a minority, I have to be anti-racist because it could have been me.
I’ve worked at The Stanford Daily since my first week at Stanford. I’ve run the Opinions section. I’ve written nearly 180 columns for the paper. I’ve spent three years on the Editorial Board. I have, in other words, been around the Daily block.
The Editorial Board, with my agreement, endorsed Gabriel Knight for Senate on Monday. Gabriel had interviewed well, to be sure. Nothing in his endorsement interview indicated that he would say something like this. But his later actions still reflect badly on The Daily. That decision was probably the single worst decision of my career — and one I can only belatedly retract.
Contact Winston Shi at wshi94 ‘at’ stanford.edu.