Last week, a white supremacist gunman opened fire at a synagogue in Poway, California, killing Lori Gilbert-Kaye.
In response to this event, GOP leaders have somehow managed to spin the gunman’s white supremacist motives to be a result of “left-wing antisemitism” they attribute to people like Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar. They have capitalized off of this event to forward their hate and harassment of Omar, who has been the target of dangerous, anti-democratic, and islamophobic bullying for her uncensored criticism of the Israeli government and the power of the Israel lobby in US politics.
However, this kind of targeted attack and censorship is not unique to Omar. Similar claims have been made in our community, largely championed by the Stanford College Republicans, who throw around accusations of antisemitism and target student leaders of color for comments critical of Israel and their human rights violations against Palestinians, while ignoring actual acts of antisemitic violence like the Pittsburgh and Poway massacres.
In the wake of these recent events, it seems urgently important that we, as members Stanford Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization comprised of Jewish students, activists, and allies, make some unequivocal statements:
First, criticizing Israel is not antisemitic. We are sensitive to, and do not take lightly, antisemitic stereotypes that are often employed in political discourse. However, pointing out the outsized power and influence of the Israel lobby is not a reiteration of antisemitic tropes — it’s a statement of fact.
Second, the assumption that Jews are represented by the Israel lobby obscures some important considerations about Zionism in American politics: Namely, that Christian Evangelical Zionists are largely responsible for driving American pro-Israel policy, not Jews; that Jewish people are by no means all Zionist; and that often Jewish students and activists who defect from more mainstream Zionist perspectives, which have become less popular amongst young Jews, are themselves targets of the Israel lobby and associated forces. These facts show that equating Jewish people and Zionism, and by extension, antisemitism and criticism of Israel, is at best misguided, and at worst, guilty itself of a perverse form of antisemitism. With these considerations in mind, couldn’t it very well be that accusations of antisemitism aren’t actually about Jewish people’s safety but American interests?
Third, it is exactly the rhetoric that assumes the above and the relentless lambasting of Muslim women that brings violence unto Muslim communities and all our communities targeted by white supremacy. Islamophobia and antisemitism are breeds of a larger transnational white supremacist project: look for proof of this not only in the words of the terrorists shooting up our holy places, but at the alliances coalescing among Trump, Netanyahu, and rising neo-Nazi, fascist, xenophobic, antisemitic, and islamophobic figures across the world.
So where are the supposed “protectors” of the Jewish community on campus when we are really threatened by the hate that they have helped propagate?
This is an important conversation to have now more than ever as Israel lobby money grows, as does its influence over politics. Even at Stanford, the likes of Sheldon Adelson’s Maccabee Task Force, for example, allow immensely wealthy pro-Israel figures to intervene in student politics and pump money into “combatting” certain political views deemed unpermitted on our campus. Similarly, the recent re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu and his far right coalition, many components of which reject even a two state solution or equality for Palestinians, have dissolved all hope for a democratic state in favor of backing settlements and annexation of the West Bank. All approved by Trump, of course, who has participated in the crusade against Omar while declaring unwavering support for Israeli annexation policy.
We implore the greater Stanford community to pay attention to opportunistic accusations of antisemitism against students of color – specifically progressive women of color who are constantly being put on the proverbial hot seat. We reject the idea that the historical suffering of our communities be leveraged to defend an ethnostate that murders human rights journalists, detains Palestinian children, and deflects these conversations at all costs with perilously false accusations of antisemitism.
—Emily Wilder 20′ and Esther Tsvayg ’20, Co-presidents of Stanford Jewish Voice for Peace
Contact Emily Wilder at ewilder2 ‘at’ stanford.edu and Esther Tsvayg at etsvayg ‘at’ stanford.edu.