Kanye West has more followers on social media platforms than there are Jews in the entire world. But that did not stop the billionaire rapper from using his Twitter account last month to declare a war on Jewish people.
The contagion of antisemitism
West’s antisemitism was contagious on social media; a few weeks later, Kyrie Irving promoted an antisemitic so-called documentary to his millions of fans. The professional basketball star initially refused to apologize before he was suspended from the team and lost out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in pay.
West, who has lost lucrative sponsorship deals, has refused to make a full apology and instead entrenched himself further by embracing the likes of self-avowed Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes, and going so far as to declare “I like Hitler” and “…I also love Nazis” in an interview with Alex Jones that has since been viewed millions of times.
West and Irving’s heinous rhetoric comes in an atmosphere in which antisemitism is steadily on the rise. When such mainstream celebrities endorse antisemitic conspiracies on national platforms, it sets a dangerous example and normalizes an environment of fear and uncertainty that is already palpable for Jews across the country.
During Kanye’s exhausting media tirade, the New York Police Department and FBI arrested two armed men at Penn Station for making credible threats of violence against New York synagogues. Right near where the Nets play in Brooklyn, hassidic Jews are the frequent target of violent assaults – for the simple crime of wearing signs of their faith. The march last week of Black Hebrew Israelites in New York City defending Irving and proclaiming “We are the real Jews” echoed the same hate-filled calls of “Jews will not replace us” by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.
Violence and hate on US shores
American universities, which once represented Jewish integration and upward mobility in the US, are now battlegrounds. A flier recently circulated at the University of Michigan blames Jews for the coronavirus pandemic. A sukkah at Miami University in Ohio was torn down during the last holiday season. American Jews continue to be targeted by those who oppose Israel’s political and military policies. During the last escalation between the Jewish state and Hamas, thugs attacked a yarmulke-wearing Jew at a sushi restaurant in Times Square. His kippa made him guilty.
And this is to say nothing of the instances in which antisemitism has become lethal: The shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue; the massacre at a shul in Poway, California; and the rampage at a kosher grocery store in Jersey City come to mind. There was also the hostage crisis in a Colleyville, Texas synagogue that almost turned deadly.
These events have all occurred in the past five years and have come as a profound shock to American Jews. We never expected such violence to come to our shores – in the US – a land that historically is a refuge from the antisemitic sentiment and persecution that the Jewish people has suffered for centuries. This violence and hate were associated in our minds with Europe, where Jewish communities have been the target of Islamist and anti-Israel violence for several decades.
WE HAVE overcome our shock to take action. We are resolved as a community, hand-in-hand with our non-Jewish allies, to #ShineALight on antisemitism. I am proud of the work of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations toward this end. In addition to co-establishing Secure Community Network (SCN) – which ensures the safety, security, and resiliency of the Jewish community in North America – and ramping up our antisemitism education initiatives, we have redoubled our campaign for the institutional recognition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.
The IHRA definition, the result of years of transparent dialogue and negotiation among academics, diplomats, civil society leaders, and community members, identifies antisemitism where it exists and draws a vital connection between antisemitism and the guise it often wears – anti-Zionism.
Twenty-six states, in addition to a constellation of local governments and international bodies, adopted the definition. We will not rest until all 50 states follow the lead of President Biden, whose State Department recently reaffirmed American support for the definition, and encouraged other nations to follow suit.
This is a dire moment in the life of our community, which must contend with an unprecedented wave of hatred and violence. But I take heart in the fact that our communities – as well as the nation’s leaders, law enforcement agencies and other faith communities – stand united against the scourge of antisemitism.
The writer is CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.