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Kanye West shows responding to antisemitism requires education, not just condemnation

The latest chapter in the ongoing controversies of Kanye West is his antisemitic tirades. Over the last month, West has spewed nearly every antisemitic trope in the book. On Instagram, he suggested that the rapper Diddy was influenced by Jews, playing on the notion that Jews control the media and other societal institutions. The insinuation is dangerous because it portrays Jews as puppet masters of the world and responsible for the world’s ills. After being restricted on Instagram, West shared on Twitter that he’s “going death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE.” He clarified later that he meant “DEFCON 3” in reference to a stage in U.S. defense readiness. However, whether he wants to kill Jews or go to war with them, both are clearly antisemitic. He also tweeted that Jews try to “black ball anyone who opposes [their] agenda,” again spreading the antisemitic conspiracy that Jews control the world.

In early October, he was interviewed by Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson and shared several antisemitic comments. Although those weren’t aired in the official interview, the footage was released around the time of his social media episode. In it, West claimed that Black people are the “real” Jews, arguing that Jews are “who the people known as the race Black really are.” While there are certainly Black Jews, his characterization plays into an antisemitic trope that non-Black Jews are imposters who stole their Jewish identity. In another part of the interview, the musician stated that he preferred his kids “knew Hanukkah than Kwanzaa. At least it will come with some financial engineering.” Here, West propagates the notion that Jews are greedy and wealthy. While the stereotype may seem positive, it’s historically used as justification to oppress Jews and commit violence against Jewish communities.

In mid-October, West appeared on a three-hour episode of the podcast “Drink Champs” and blamed nearly all his problems on Jewish people. West talked about sharing “Jewish business secrets,” claiming that “Zionist Jews” control the media, comparing Planned Parenthood to the Holocaust (Holocaust comparison, by the way, is antisemitic), and more. The rapper’s antisemitic commentary can go on much longer, but the message is clear that Kanye West’s October was a series of antisemitic conspiracies and rhetoric.

West’s celebrity status only amplified the reach and influence of his dangerous antisemitism on society. Because he has such a high level of stardom, his hate-filled messages have been misinterpreted by some as legitimate and emboldened others to spread antisemitism. Los Angeles saw a slew of antisemitic demonstrations following West’s comments, including one group that gave Nazi salutes over an overpass with a banner reading “Kanye is right about the Jews.” Antisemitic flyers were distributed in Beverly Hills alleging that Jews control the media and are responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond Los Angeles, a College Republicans group in Wisconsin posted a photo on Instagram with the message “Kanye is right. Def-con III,” likely referencing the assault on Jews that West has been advocating for. Although social media is always ripe with antisemitism, West’s comments have only reinvigorated users, spreading further hate on the Internet.

Now, it’s true that West has been routinely condemned. He’s been restricted from Instagram and Twitter indefinitely. Organizations and other celebrities have denounced West, including major sponsors like Balenciaga and GAP, as well as members of his former in-laws, the Kardashians. However, in some cases, this took too long. Adidas, for instance, waited until this week to cut ties with West, despite weeks of outrage as the company with Nazi ties was silent about their partner’s antisemitism. Why should Jews wait for their concern about clearly antisemitic acts to be shared by others? When bigotry happens, there must be solidarity with the affected community and commitment to counteract hate. Otherwise, the dangerous rhetoric manifests into discrimination and violence against marginalized communities.

That’s why condemning antisemitism and cutting ties with antisemites isn’t enough. Of course, condemning bigotry and disassociating from those who espouse hateful views is often good. However, we cannot simply call something bad, exclude those who practice it from societal institutions, and expect the problem to go away. Even though Kanye West may not be on Instagram or Twitter, his influence remains abundant. In addition to our current efforts, we must also combat the ignorance and misunderstanding that hatred capitalizes on to counter these prejudiced beliefs. This is especially true for antisemitism, a complex form of hatred that pertains to a small portion of the global population. We must strive to educate non-Jews about identifying and responding to Jew-hatred.

The first step to combating antisemitism is learning how to identify it. If we can’t recognize antisemitism, then we have no hope to limit its pervasive influence across the world. For this initiative, a clear, unified definition is necessary. By beginning from a similar starting point, we preclude the chances of obscurity or ambiguity that antisemites often employ to avoid condemnation. The Working Definition of Antisemitism offered by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance fits this description, adopted by countless governments, universities and other organizations throughout the world. I invite readers to utilize the Working Definition to gain a better understanding of antisemitism, as well as resources like the Translate Hate Glossary from American Jewish Committee to learn about common ways antisemitism manifests in our everyday conversations. 

Antisemitism is a difficult topic to understand and navigate, but there are steps we can take to build a more inclusive environment for the Jewish members of our community. As a Jewish student myself who works in Jewish advocacy, I’m still seeking clarification on antisemitism as new issues arise. I hope that you’ll join me on this journey.

Blake Ziegler is a senior at Notre Dame studying political science, philosophy and constitutional studies. He enjoys writing about Judaism, the good life, pressing political issues and more. Outside of The Observer, Blake serves as president of the Jewish Club and a teaching assistant for God and the Good Life. He can be reached at @NewsWithZig on Twitter or bziegler@nd.edu.