Kanye West, social media, extremism: The rise of antisemitism in the US

The rise in antisemitism in the US has American Jewish leaders more concerned than ever and ready to take increased action. 

 Demonstrators hold antisemitic symbols and signs as they protest outside the Tampa Convention Center, where Turning Point USA’s Student Action Summit was being held, in Tampa, Florida on July 23, 2022.  (photo credit: MARCO BELLO/REUTERS)
Demonstrators hold antisemitic symbols and signs as they protest outside the Tampa Convention Center, where Turning Point USA’s Student Action Summit was being held, in Tampa, Florida on July 23, 2022.
(photo credit: MARCO BELLO/REUTERS)
Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)

There has been a precipitous rise in antisemitism throughout the United States from the far Right, the hard Left and the Muslim world. It has crept into the education system, the corporate world, the political echelon and the celebrity sphere.

The rise in antisemitism has American Jewish leaders more concerned than ever and ready to take increased action. 

“This tsunami is hitting us in any number of directions, and it is incredibly troubling,” says William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “I believe there is a perfect storm of factors that have brought about this increase in hate.”

The world is entering 2023 in a cloud of economic uncertainty, traumatized by three years of the COVID-19 pandemic, amid rising global populism with an increase in political divisiveness.

“As has been the case for millennia, when there are economic, political and social crises, oftentimes Jews are blamed, held out and scapegoated,” Daroff tells The Jerusalem Report. “Plus today, you have the amplifying effect of social media. What might have been spewed from a hater 50 years ago … can now be spread with the click of a finger to millions of people.”

 Kanye West performs at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.  (credit: MIKE BLAKE/REUTERS) Kanye West performs at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. (credit: MIKE BLAKE/REUTERS)

American Jews are left asking difficult questions, such as “Are we safe?” “Will it get worse before it gets better?” “What can we do about it?”

Experts are divided on how to be both proactive and reactive when dealing with the new challenges. 

The situation is getting ever more complex, explains Robert Rozett, senior historian at the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem. “It is hard to figure out exactly where to focus our efforts.”

He adds that “antisemitism never went away. It was always mainstream in different places at different times since World War II.”

“Antisemitism never went away. It was always mainstream in different places at different times since World War II.”

Robert Rozett

By contrast, interfaith pioneer Yael Eckstein says, “We have reached a new level of acceptance of antisemitism that we have definitely not seen in my lifetime.”

Eckstein is president and CEO of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Her mother, Bonnie, is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. 

“Growing up, my mother said she had such a feeling of hope for the future – this feeling of never again, that it would never be possible to let something like this happen again,” Eckstein tells the Report. “My mom has said in the past few years that this feeling of hope is quickly deteriorating.” 

The late Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, used to stress that the Holocaust did not begin in gas chambers, it began with words, says former Knesset member Michal Cotler-Wunsh. “The hate being spewed online today against the Jewish people and their state is something of significant concern,” she says. “We have a shared responsibility to work together in order to identify and combat mutating hate in our midst and to stop the spiral of antisemitic vitriol.”

Normalizing hatred

Kanye West, now known as Ye, has been on an antisemitic rampage since the first week of October, when in an interview with Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, he accused former US president Donald Trump’s Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, of brokering the Abraham Accords for the purpose of “making money.”

Since then, there have been numerous other incidents, such as West’s accusing the Jewish people of having “owned the black voice.”

“Either it’s through us wearing the Ralph Lauren shirt, or it’s all of us being signed to a record label, or having a Jewish manager, or being signed to a Jewish basketball team, or doing a movie on a Jewish platform like Disney.”

Kanye West

Either it’s through us wearing the Ralph Lauren shirt, or it’s all of us being signed to a record label, or having a Jewish manager, or being signed to a Jewish basketball team, or doing a movie on a Jewish platform like Disney,” he said on October 16.

In November, West took Holocaust denier and white supremacist Nick Fuentes to dine with Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago. He then published Holocaust denial himself in an interview with Fuentes on the website InfoWars with Alex Jones.

“Hitler has a lot of redeeming qualities.”

Kanye West

Hitler has a lot of redeeming qualities,” West said during that interview. A few days later, he called on Jews to forgive Hitler.

“When celebrities and politicians are spouting age-old tropes and stereotypes about a marginalized group of people, it normalizes the hatred and emboldens others to repeat those beliefs and even act on them.”

Liora Rez

When celebrities and politicians are spouting age-old tropes and stereotypes about a marginalized group of people, it normalizes the hatred and emboldens others to repeat those beliefs and even act on them,” explains Liora Rez, executive director of StopAntisemitism.org. “Disinformation about Jews – especially when it comes from your favorite musician or athlete or influencer – fuels these harmful stereotypes. 

“Add to that the variety of platforms on which to spew this type of hate, and we have today’s current environment of American Jews not having safe spaces,” she says.

 A protester carries an antisemitic sign outside the Kenosha County Courthouse on the second day of jury deliberations in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on November 17, 2021.  (credit: EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/REUTERS) A protester carries an antisemitic sign outside the Kenosha County Courthouse on the second day of jury deliberations in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on November 17, 2021. (credit: EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/REUTERS)

Upsurge in attacks

To put it in perspective: Between December 1 and December 12 alone, there were 22 reported antisemitic attacks in the US, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). These included swastika graffiti found in the bathroom of a middle school in Chicago, Illinois; a man who shouted antisemitic slurs and threatened parents and children outside of a synagogue’s preschool in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; a father and son who were wearing kippas being shot at with a BB gun in Staten Island, New York; and a group of boys in Brooklyn, New York, who were chased by individuals who fired a taser gun and yelled “Run Jews! Get out of here!”

New York, with approximately 1.6 million Jews, saw a 125% increase in antisemitic hate crimes between November 2021 and 2022, according to data from the New York Police Department – although that represents a lower increase than in February 2022, when there were 56 anti-Jewish hate crimes versus 11 in the same month in 2021.

The upsurge of antisemitic attacks against Jews has been ongoing since 2017, the data shows. In 2021, Jews were the most targeted group in New York, when 20 anti-Jewish hate crimes were perpetrated versus nine against Asians (the second most targeted minority population). 

This year, hate crimes in New York were up in general, including a 500% increase in hate crimes against African Americans, with six attacks. However, there were 45 (up from 20 the year before) attacks against Jews.

Two years ago, a report by the American Jewish Committee found that nearly nine out of 10 (85%) American Jews believed that antisemitism was a problem in the country, and 82% believed it had increased over the previous five years – with a plurality (43%) saying it had increased a lot

More than one-third (37%) of American Jews had been victims of antisemitism over the previous five years, from 2015 to 2020, the report revealed. 

More recently, a report by the ADL and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation found that Israeli Jews were also encountering antisemitism, albeit mostly online. A report published in December showed that more than 80% of Israeli teens have encountered antisemitism on the Internet and social networks. 

One in four teenagers (27%) have been the target of derogatory comments because they are Jewish.

The majority (71%) have been confronted with antisemitism more than once on social media; 66% have been exposed to sites with antisemitic content; 65% have come across songs or videos with antisemitic content; and 30% have encountered antisemitic websites.

Reliance on social media

Social media fuels antisemitism.  

“Modern antisemitism relies on social media more than anything else,” says Gabriel Weimann, professor of communication and senior researcher at the IDC Herzliya’s Institute for Counter Terrorism. “Rising cases of violence and physical antisemitic attacks have a lot to do with violent postings and incitement online.”

“Modern antisemitism relies on social media more than anything else. Rising cases of violence and physical antisemitic attacks have a lot to do with violent postings and incitement online.”

Gabriel Weimann

Weimann has published multiple reports detailing large amounts of antisemitic, racist and other hate speech circulating on social media, such as the popular video-sharing platform TikTok.

“I would argue that without social media, we would not see the rise in hate speech and violent antisemitism we are seeing today,” Weimann stresses. 

He says that online platforms are richer than ever and provide more opportunities to espouse hate than ever before, including platforms beyond the ones most people know like Facebook and Twitter. Others, such as 4Chan and 8Chan, have been described as having “extremely high levels of hateful rhetoric, including racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, white supremacy and antisemitism” by the ADL.

The 2020 AJC report found that of the 22% of American Jews who were targets of antisemitism on social networks, the majority (62%) encountered it in Facebook, 33% on Twitter, 12% on Instagram, 10% on YouTube, 5% on Snapchat, 2% on TikTok and 10% everywhere else.  Weimann says what worries him are not the messages people see and can report, but “the people we do not see, blame and expose. This is where the danger lies.”

Another Holocaust?

Could the world be on the cusp of another Holocaust? This is a question that some are hesitant to even ask out loud, but Rozett says the question should be examined. “There are similarities between Germany in the 1930s and what we see today in the United States,” he tells the Report

“There are similarities between Germany in the 1930s and what we see today in the United States.”

Robert Rozett

“Some of this is due to the fact that politics has become more extreme on either end, which is what was happening in the 1920s and 1930s in Europe,” he says. 

“Jews were seen as outsiders in society in much of Europe, and certainly Nazi Germany, despite the fact that German Jews felt very German,” he continues. “Jews are still seen as outsiders, such as by the extreme Left, progressive world – Jews are not really natural parts of that, and this has to do with identity politics.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations, says the US today reminds him of Germany in 1935, when the government decreed the Nuremberg Race Laws, effectively making Jews into second-class citizens. In contrast, he says, it is not yet 1938, known as “The Fateful Year” for the radicalization of the Nazis’ Jewish policy.

“We have heard this story before, seen this story before,” Hoenlein stresses. “I think we could be susceptible to some sort of charismatic, extremist leader getting elected. Hitler got elected, too. “No one is immune,” he says.

However, Hoenlein and Rozett say that there are key differences between then and now, most importantly that – at least currently – the Jews are not fighting antisemitism on their own

“In Malmo last year, 70 governments and major international organizations made pledges to fight antisemitism,” Rozett says. “In the 1930s, there was no report about antisemitism by Ahmed Shaheed, UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. And when someone like Kanye West would say what he said, you would not have had a Joe Biden in the White House speaking out against him.”

The US president in December announced that he was establishing an inter-agency group led by Domestic Policy Council staff and National Security Council staff to increase and better coordinate US government efforts to counter antisemitism, Islamophobia and related forms of bias and discrimination within the United States.

“The president has tasked the inter-agency group, as its first order of business, to develop a national strategy to counter antisemitism,” the White House said in a statement. “This strategy will raise understanding about antisemitism and the threat it poses to the Jewish community and all Americans; address antisemitic harassment and abuse both online and offline; seek to prevent antisemitic attacks and incidents; and encourage whole-of-society efforts to counter antisemitism and build a more inclusive nation.”

A few years ago, when Cotler-Wunsh was an MK, she initiated four hearings in Israel’s 23rd Knesset in which social media giants, civil society organizations, and technology experts engaged to identify and understand the problem and to discuss possible solutions. Subsequently, the Interparliamentary Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism was launched, together with multi-partisan partners from the US, Canada, the UK and Australia, she tells the Report.

On December 14, 2022, Israel announced that it plans to regulate social media companies in an effort to tackle illegal and offensive online content. Reuters reported that “under the new rules, which still require legislation and parliamentary approval, social media companies will be obliged to act quickly to remove ‘offensive illegal content.’ They would also need to operate an online hotline for reporting such content, while courts in Israel would be authorized to issue orders to remove the content.”

Taking action

But more than just policies are going to be required to quell antisemitism again, Hoenlein says. The first step is accepting that its resurgence is real.

“It is hard to accept certain realities,” he admits. “To see that in America antisemitism could be so widely espoused is challenging for many US Jews. But Jews cannot live in a world that is not rooted in real events.”

“To see that in America antisemitism could be so widely espoused is challenging for many US Jews. But Jews cannot live in a world that is not rooted in real events.”

Malcom Hoenlein

Another step is to encourage more states to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, Daroff says. So far, 28 out of 50 states have adopted IHRA. 

Prof. Irwin Cotler, Canada’s former justice minister and current antisemitism envoy, says, “This comprehensive working definition critically enables tracking the mutation from its ‘traditional’ form – barring the individual Jew from an equal place in society – to the mainstreamed ‘modern’ form – barring the Jewish nation state from an equal place among the nations.” 

“This comprehensive working definition critically enables tracking the mutation from its ‘traditional’ form – barring the individual Jew from an equal place in society – to the mainstreamed ‘modern’ form – barring the Jewish nation state from an equal place among the nations.”

Prof. Irwin Cotler

Finding allies is also key, says Daroff. “It will take an all-hands-on deck strategy to combat this illness. It will be necessary for us to join together to focus our communal resources on this issue, and also work together with government and civil society and our non-Jewish friends and neighbors.”

The Evangelical Christian community is one of the most overlooked potential allies in the battle against antisemitism, Eckstein says.

Now is the time to wake up and realize that while there are many people who hate us, many antisemites out there, we have millions of Evangelical friends who would do anything to stand with us and defend us,” she asserts. 

“Now is the time to wake up and realize that while there are many people who hate us, many antisemites out there, we have millions of Evangelical friends who would do anything to stand with us and defend us.”

Yael Eckstein

Eckstein calls on the Jewish world to stop investing in trying to change people’s minds and instead invest in leveraging the voices of those who could support the Jews.

“If we would be able to foster and grow and give a platform to those [Christian] voices, I think the narrative would shift quickly from Jews being a voiceless people to being a powerhouse,” she says. 

But what about Trump, who recently has called the Jews “unappreciative” of his policies on Israel when they complained about his dinner with West and Fuentes? The Evangelicals put Trump in the White House, and many are likely still planning to vote for him.

David Parsons, vice president of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, says that most Christians will likely side with the Jewish people out of a sense of “moral duty.”

“For many centuries, it was our Christian forebears who were the main purveyors of antisemitism and all the expulsions and pogroms through the Holocaust,” he says. “We don’t want to make the same mistakes that our ancestors made by not speaking out.

It is such a strong sense of duty, that even if someone like president Trump, who has done so much for Israel … fails to distance himself from the antisemitism and Holocaust denial that was represented at that dinner meeting and does not say something to clarify this, then American Christians need to say something about it to him. Our duty to the Jewish people outweighs any political sense of loyalty to one individual.”

He adds that there is a sense that many Americans don’t understand West’s specific genre of antisemitism, represented by the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, nor the “strange networking” between these individuals with certain white supremacists

“We see great potential danger in this against American Jews if we do not educate people more and try to contain it,” Parsons says.

There are some Christian leaders who have had access to Trump who are trying to get a meeting to address this particular brand of antisemitism.

Global war

In general, when antisemitism is encountered online, it is usually seen alongside other hate speech. “We call this a fusion of hate because generally, someone who hates does not hate only one group but two or three groups,” Weimann says. “People who hate gays also hate Jews, for example. People who hate women also hate liberals, and so forth. 

He also says that hate cuts across countries; therefore, a global effort is needed.

“In cyberspace, there are no states, no borders, no police, no immigration, no green lines,” Weimann adds. “This must be a global war against hate.”

Education 

Education about the Holocaust is also a key tool, says Revital Yakin Krakovsky, deputy CEO of the March of the Living. She shared a report prepared by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany in 2020 that showed a worrying lack of basic Holocaust knowledge among millennials in the US. 

Some 63% of respondents said they did not know that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, and 36% thought that “two million or fewer Jews” were killed, according to the report. Moreover, more than 48% of millennials said they could not name a single one of the more than 40,000 camps and ghettos in Europe during the Holocaust. Finally, 56% said they believe something like the Holocaust could happen again.

“When we live in a world in which millennials do not know about the Holocaust, that kind of ignorance can enable people to be bystanders when they see antisemitism,” Yakin Krakovsky says. “I think every person must be taught about the Holocaust, visit a Holocaust museum, meet a survivor or a second-generation survivor.”

She notes that the world is in a “transition period,” facing a reality that within the next decade there will be no Holocaust survivors. 

“The world is not ready for that moment,” she laments. “We need new ideas, big money and tech involvement to teach the Holocaust or we will lose the next generation for sure.”

Time for an assessment 

In December, Hillel International announced it has embarked on a $150 million campaign, part of which will be aimed at fighting antisemitism on campus. The Jewish Federations of North America, the World Jewish Congress and many others have also infused millions into the battle. Why it is not working well enough, Hoenlein admits, no one knows. “There has to be an assessment of what works, how money is allocated, to what it is allocated and what is really effective,” he says. “We need more cooperation, more sharing of resources – it is really essential if we are going to succeed.”

There is no magic bullet, Rozett says. “It is not going to get better quickly or immediately.” ■