Critics knocked Bret Stephens, the ultra-conservative New York Times columnist known for his controversial writings, for a recent op-ed titled “The Secret of Jewish Genius” in which they accuse him of promoting eugenics on Saturday.
In the column, Stephens makes the claim that Ashkenazi Jews (Jews with ancestry from Central Europe) are more intelligent than other people. His op-ed uses a photo of famed physicist Albert Einstein, an Ashkenazi Jew, as the main image accompanying his piece.
Stephens writes, “How is it that a people who never amounted even to one-third of one per cent of the world’s population contributed so seminally to so many of its most pathbreaking ideas and innovations?”
“The common answer is that Jews are, or tend to be, smart,” Stephens continued.
To prove his point, Stephens cited a 2005 scientific paper co-authored by Henry Harpending.
The Southern Poverty Law Center points out that Harpending was an anthropologist who possessed a white nationalist ideology and promoted eugenics, a practice steeped in racism that involves breeding humans to achieve specific racial traits. The study of eugenics also fueled the rise of Nazism.
On Sunday, The New York Times noted that it had edited Stephens’ piece to remove references to Harpending’s paper, claiming Stephens was unaware of Harpending’s racist views prior to citing his work.
The paper tweeted the editors’ note that was added to the column explaining the change:
Tim Marchman, Vice’s editorial director, saw the column as Stephens’ belief in “the genetic and cultural inferiority of non-Ashkenazi Jews.”
“It’s hard to tell if that’s intentional or due to appalling sloppiness, but either way it’s not the sort of thing the Times should be running,” Marchman said in a tweet.
Journalist Xeni Jardin said Stephens’ piece amounted to “eugenics propaganda.”
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said in a tweet that Stephens’ op-ed “crossed a very important line.”
Even some journalists who work or contribute to The New York Times called out Stephens’ column for citing a white supremacist and eugenicist.
Kara Swisher, a contributing opinion writer for the paper, described the op-ed as “deep awfulness” and noted that Stephens wrote misleadingly about racial superiority.
“[I] would be remiss not to comment on deep awfulness of the Bret Stephens column that cites white supremacist ‘research’ to make an already specious point about racial superiority,” she tweeted.
Swisher also noted how important it was to “speak out about such archaic and dangerous ideas especially when propagated in what I consider one of the finest media organizations in existence today.”
Times contributor Jody Rosen, an Ashkenazi Jew, said plainly: “I don’t think eugenicists should be op-ed columnists.”
Stephens often pushes the boundaries with offensive opinions. In August, he became enraged when a critic compared him to a bedbug on Twitter. In an op-ed Stephens compared the insect-inspired insult hurled at him to what the Jewish people experienced during the Holocaust.
That same month, Stephens deleted his Twitter account after he lashed out at the critic, a professor, and sent an email complaining to the professor’s supervisors.
Stereotypes about Jews using special “Jewish genius” to obtain power has long been a tool of anti-Semitic ideology to justify hatred of Jews. Stephens’ column comes at a time when anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise.
This article has been updated to note The New York Times removed references to Harpending’s paper from Stephens’ column.