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Dear Stephen Jackson – educate yourself on anti-Semitism

On July 8, former NBA player Stephen Jackson, who has become an admirable leader in the Black community during the George Floyd protests, went on Instagram and turned on the camera. After he had already doubled down on NFL player DeSean Jackson’s misinformed Instagram post about a Jewish conspiracy theory, for which DeSean has since apologized, Stephen went a step further.

“You know the Rothschilds?” he asked. “They own all the banks.”

Even though he later added “I haven’t said one untrue thing yet,” he was wrong about that. The Rothschilds don’t own all the banks—frankly, that seems easy to fact-check—and it is disappointing to see Jackson trafficking in anti-Semitic stereotypes which date back centuries and were used in Nazi propaganda.

Many of these dangerous stereotypes begin in benign formats, in extremely teachable moments. For instance, in 2018, NBA superstar LeBron James boosted a 21 Savage lyric on his Instagram story—“Get that Jewish money/Everything is kosher”—only apologizing because he realized that, though he saw this as a compliment, many did not. That’s where education can come in: There’s a fine line between the misinformed anti-Semitism of James and posts like Jackson’s.

Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League sees six core tenets of what is called “economic anti-Semitism.” These include “All Jews are wealthy,” or “Jews are out to get non-Jews.” But, too often, the first, which many Jewish people I know see as an admirable trait, (even if Jews, like all groups, are not a monolith), turns into the second.

Professor Sander Gilman, known for his years of historic research and expertise in positive stereotypes, first looked into this kind of behaviour in a response to “The Bell Curve,” the 1994 book about intelligence. Black people found problems with the book’s stereotyping of inferior intelligence. The Jewish people, on the other hand, were portrayed in a positive light as people of higher intelligence. This stereotype, trumpeted recently by Jewish New York Times opinion writer Bret Stephens, remains part of the cultural consciousness.

Stephens cited a study, uncritically, about Ashkenazi Jewish people’s higher intelligence. And, as Gilman pointed out in the mid-1990s, “intelligence” for Jewish people transforms into “cunning,” a moniker we sometimes, take on willingly. What logically follows for many might be that the Jewish people are out to get you.

The origins of the Jewish banking stereotype date to the Middle Ages, and cultural depictions that follow show this clearly. With the Jewish people barred from working in many occupations, they took to tax-collecting and money-lending. The Bible saw usury as a sin, and though many interpretations of the Torah, too, frown upon the practice, it is not considered as sinful and, so, the Jewish people took many of the necessary jobs that most of society did not want. Resultingly, we get stereotyped depictions of the Jewish people in “The Merchant of Venice” with the infamous Shylock character, or, more recently, in the Harry Potter series in which a race of banking goblins have hook noses, using up all sorts of Jewish stereotypes along the way.

People across the political spectrum love blaming the Jewish person for problems. The Rothschild banking family does not run all the banks, just as George Soros does not fund every liberal political campaign. And this acts as an insistent way of keeping us as Other. Nazi propaganda regularly portrayed the Jewish people as masterminds, puppeteers of the rest of the population, out for themselves. In a recent Anti-Defamation League survey, 44% of Americans agreed with the statement that “Jews stick together more than other Americans,” and 24% believed American Jews to be more loyal to Israel than to America. Everyone wants to know what the Jewish people are doing; everyone wants to make sure the Jewish people cannot corrupt their society from within.

“Jews will become one more group which is incredibly diverse. I think it’s a great anxiety on the part of both the culture at large and of Jews themselves,” Professor Gilman told The New York Times. “The more Jews become like everybody else, the more invisible they are. If you think of different as dangerous, you want to know where they are. The great danger to do with Jewish identity has to do with normalization.”

Ultimately, Jackson went on to CNN in an interview with Don Lemon. He apologized for using the wrong words to make a point that he “loves all who love all.”

Defending the posting of a Hitler quote is not loving all. Defending your points about Jewish people by parroting harmful stereotypes is not loving all. Loving all starts with listening to all, and Jackson needs to do that. While it may feel benign to Jackson to throw out “facts” about the Rothschilds to a live audience hanging on his words, there’s the weight of history that shows it’s far more malignant than that.

Gabe Nisker is currently studying at McGill University and is the former Sports and Features Editor of The McGill Tribune. He can be reached at [email protected].

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