“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.”— Associated Students of Stanford University Senator Gabriel Knight
Stanford students sometimes seem to think their intelligence is a bubble protecting them from idiocy. But as they learned again at an Associated Students of Stanford University senate meeting earlier this month, anti-Semitism — though stupid — is not the sole provenance of stupid people.
For Jews, anti-Semitism is terrifyingly real. And it came to a head at Stanford on that night.
Even in the middle of an election year, Gabriel 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’s 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 Knight did. Perhaps Knight is not an anti-Semite. But at best he was extraordinarily insensitive to raise such a question. 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 dealt with this garbage.
I cannot phrase this strongly enough: What Knight described as “a very valid discussion” are words that have launched pogroms and a genocide, destroyed communities for generations and left a tragic stain on the human conscience. Whether he intends to incite actual violence, he is responsible for his words. It is profoundly unbecoming of an ASSU senator, who is supposed to represent me and my fellow students, to help perpetuate this myth. It is a statement dredged from the depths of the very worst kind of race-baiting. Ignorance is not an excuse.
Though the Stanford administration has a Jewish-inclusive attitude, the student senate tried to cut the Jewish Student Association’s budget by two-thirds last year, giving the JSA just 24 hours to appeal. After JSA leaders took them to task, the appropriations committee claimed it had made a mistake, and eventually reduced the group’s funding by a much smaller amount. I wouldn’t say the student senate is a hive of anti-Semitism, but I also don’t think the senate has done much in recent years to put the Jewish community at ease.
This is not a question of free speech. Even if the question of whether Jews run society’s institutions was open for discussion, there is no way to debate it 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. 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 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.
And are we supposed to complain now that Chinese and Indian Americans find lots of jobs in Silicon Valley? Why are Jews singled out?
Stanford students shouldn’t be anti-racist simply because Knight will hurt our university’s good name. Frankly, he isn’t important enough to hurt Stanford’s image.
We have to be anti-racist because it’s the right thing to do. This is my university, and my fellow students and I have to make sure it embodies the very best of American academia. Is this really what we want our home to be? A place where it’s OK to make anti-Semitic arguments?
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. n
On April 8, Gabriel Knight withdrew his name from this month’s student senate elections.
Winston Shi is a senior BA/MA student in U.S. history and foreign policy at Stanford University. He is a staff writter for the Stanford Daily and serves on the editorial board.