Understanding the danger of West’s antisemitic remarks

Understanding the danger of West’s antisemitic remarks

Ariella Frommer , Staff Writer

We all saw Kanye West’s horrifying tweet on October 9: “I’m a bit sleepy tonight but when I wake up I’m going death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.” While West is no stranger to antisemitism, his agenda has increased exponentially in recent months. Antisemitism has always existed, but, in the course of my lifetime, it has never presented itself at this lighting speed and magnitude. It would not be wrong to call this an antisemitism epidemic.

You might think, “It’s just one tweet. It can’t actually do harm to the Jewish community.” In reality, this could not be further from the truth. West had 18.4 million Instagram followers, a half-billion dollar shoe line, and a presidential bid. West has promoted stereotypes about ‘Jewish power’ in the music industry, business, and politics, a rhetoric that fuels doubt about Jewish people in power. In a recent Fox News interview with Tucker Harris, West stated that he wished his children learned about Hannukah instead of Kwanzaa because Hannukah would “come with some financial engineering,” perpetuating the antisemetic claim that Jewish people control the economy. On Revolt TV’s “Drink Champs” October 15 episode, he said “the Jewish community, especially in the music industry… they’ll take us and milk us till we die.” This dangerous statement sustains the conspiracy theory that Jewish people have an “in” with the music industry, and sets an unwarranted feud between Black and Jewish people.  

You may not understand the weight of West’s words if you never witnessed antisemitism in your community. Growing up in an environment with a large Jewish population, it wasn’t until I got on social media and made friends outside of New York City that I realized antisemitism is widespread. No matter how distant antisemites like West may seem to us, they exist in casual, hidden forms. More people will think it is OK to express antisemitism when they see a popular public figure — Kanye West — doing so.

In the second part of West’s tweet, he wrote, “The funny thing is I actually can’t be AntiSemitic because black people are actually Jew also.” Nothing is funny about this. 

West’s claim that all Black people are the true descendants of the biblical Israelites aligns with extremist sects of the Black Hebrew Israelite (BHI) movement and the Nation of Islam (NOI). BHI adherents refer to themselves as the “true Jews” and reject Judaism; they are not the same as Black Jews or Jews of Color. They promote antisemitism by claiming that Jewish people today stole the religious heritage of Black people and are engaged in a global conspiracy to oppress non-Jewish people.  

After West’s recent outbursts of anti-semitism, conspiracy groups and extremists have leveraged his words. NOI Executive Council Member and Student Minister Wesley Muhammad said on the Hip Hop News Uncensored podcast, “Kanye West is speaking a lot of truth right now and he’s triggering a very dangerous enemy… I see him — with good reason — threatening to go DEFCON 3 on Jewish execs of Hollywood.” Again, this craziness seems so distant to us that it is almost like a joke, but there are people out there that see West’s remarks and think “oh, that makes sense.” 

West’s words have sparked action across the country. Last month, a hate group hung banners over a Los Angeles freeway that read “Kanye is right about the Jews” and gave Nazi salutes. I even saw a TikTok recently where a woman went into a Hasidic neighborhood and took videos of Jewish men wearing a shtreimel, asking “why are so many people wearing these wigs?” The problem with this video, which received 3.5 million views, is that she decided to video people who were dressed differently without their consent. 

Casual antisemitism often goes under the radar. This is dangerous because it becomes part of mainstream culture. When the antisemitism is not overt enough to provoke cancelling someone, it simply exists as an unproblematic opinion.

Shortly after West’s tweet, Adidas ended their partnership with him, Instagram and Twitter suspended him (though he is now back on Twitter). Deplatforming is one of best tools at our disposal to stop the rise of antisemitism. By withdrawing support from celebrities, we can pressure companies to remove partnerships.

This is not the first example of West’s anti-semitic rhetoric, nor will it be the last. Apart from antisemitic remarks, West has a longstanding history of anti-Black, false, and conspiratorial statements, and we always need to take West, or, any non-credited source with many grains of salt. We need to remain vigilant against antisemitism around us, from both famous and ordinary people. Keep calling out your peers and unfollowing public figures on social media to keep them accountable for their actions.