I have four reactions to the recent anti-Semitism fracas set off by the Stanford Review’s report on the Students of Color Coalition’s interview of ASSU Senate Candidate Molly Horwitz:

  1. The specific question that SOCC leaders allegedly asked Horwitz — “given your strong Jewish identity, how would you vote on divestment?” — is not obviously anti-Semitic. Divestment from Israel is an important issue on SOCC’s political agenda, and Horwitz made her Judaism a central theme of her campaign. I don’t think it would be anti-Semitic for someone to ask me if my “Jewish identity” affects the way I feel about the world’s only Jewish state, and, by extension, the way I feel about worldwide efforts to single it out for demonization (it does). There may be extenuating circumstances regarding the tone and context of the SOCC question, but the words themselves are not offensive to me. The Reviews allegations that SOCC ordered candidates to refrain from associating with Jewish student groups are obviously an entirely different matter, but as far as I can tell, they have never been substantiated.
  2. That said, this story made it to the New York Times’ most-read list for a reason. Specifically, it touched on the well-founded perception that anti-Semitism on the global left — and the campus left, in particular — is on the rise. (SOCC is one of the critical institutions in Stanford’s activist left-wing community). Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent Atlantic cover story showed that while right-wing anti-Semitism is still extant in parts of Europe, Jews are increasingly being abandoned by left-wing, pro-Muslim political forces as well. More important, the Molly Horwitz incident came on the heels of an unambiguous case of anti-Semitic prejudice at another prestigious West Coast institution: In February, the UCLA student government embarked on an extended, videotaped discussion about whether a Jewish student was fit to serve on the student Judicial Council. These events are of a piece with the tendency of the far left to construct rigid hierarchies of oppression, in which Jews are presumed to be on the wealthy, white, and privileged end. That is the real story here, even if the question posed to Molly Horwitz is not a particularly good example.
  3. There is something ironic about the right-wing response to this episode. It’s ironic that the Stanford Review — the libertarian-leaning newspaper that has historically been the scourge of political correctness at Stanford — is the outlet that first reported this story and prompted university officials to commence an Orwellian “investigation” against SOCC for asking a supposedly inappropriate question. It’s ironic that conservative commentators at publications like Commentary and Minding the Campus — outlets that routinely denounce campus hysteria over “microaggressions” against racial and sexual minorities — find this alleged microaggression against a Jewish student so deeply problematic. Now, conservatives might argue (plausibly) that there is a double standard on the left when it comes to microaggressions. Microaggressions against women, gays and African Americans are punished severely, while microaggressions against Jews and other “unapproved” minorities are given a pass. Therefore, the argument goes, the outrage should be distributed evenly: If the left is going to police the right for microaggressions against people of color, the right should police the left for microaggressions against Jews.
  4. This brings me to my fourth point, which is that the model I just described — an escalating outrage olympics, with each side lashing out at the other side in response to minor perceived slights — strikes me as the wrong approach. Instead of jumping down the throats of people who make mildly offensive comments about some minority group, we should be charitable and extend them the benefit of the doubt. Instead of trying to make sure that the outrage is distributed equally, we should try to reduce the overall level of outrage. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be vigilant about fighting anti-Semitism, just as we should be vigilant about fighting racism and sexism. But it’s important that we don’t allow our politics to descend even further into competing claims of grievance and victimhood. Both sides would be well-served by a political climate that is more civil and forgiving.

Jason Willick, a senior studying history, is the editor in chief of Stanford Political Journal.