The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Antisemitism is an ancient kind of hate that requires constant repudiation today. So when prominent people engage in antisemitic tropes and further antisemitic conspiracy theories, it requires a strong response from all of us.
And there should be no equivocation about it: Kanye West and Donald Trump have recently said things that empower antisemitism. It might make their supporters upset to hear this, but these are facts.
And more importantly, imagine how Jewish people feel as they continue to weather attacks — both rhetorical and physical — across generations.
Take the hateful words of Catholic priest Charles Coughlin, a prominent voice on American radio in the 1930s. From his powerful position, Coughlin frequently railed against “Jewish” financiers for supposedly exercising control over global politics.
“We have lived to see the day that modern Shylocks have grown fat and wealthy, praised and deified, because they have perpetuated the ancient crime of usury under the modern racket of statesmanship,” Coughlin said. This is a man who made excuses for the Nazis after the anti-Jewish horrors of Kristallnacht. And he was incredibly popular at the time.
Now compare that to some of the things that West has said recently.
“I’m a bit sleepy tonight but when I wake up I’m going death con 3 [sic] on JEWISH PEOPLE,” West tweeted. This seemed to be a confused take on the U.S. military term DEFCON, or defense readiness condition. Confusion aside, this is one of a string of alarming, antisemtic comments he has made as of late.
He has accused fellow musician Diddy of being controlled by Jewish people. He has said he prefers his kids celebrate Hanukkah rather than Kwanzaa because “at least it will come with some financial engineering.” Even in his attempts to defend or clarify his comments, he again leaned into antisemtic comments about Jewish ownership and influence in the music industry.
Kanye West is a lot of things. He is a businessman. He is a musician. He is a fashion designer. He is, increasingly, a conservative political figure. He is also someone who lives with bipolar disorder. None of these things explain or excuse his antisemitic comments.
West has been frozen out of social media accounts after his recent comments. And now there has been reporting about him buying Parler, a conservative-leaning social media platform.
“In a world where conservative opinions are considered to be controversial, we have to make sure we have the right to freely express ourselves,” West said in a statement about the purchase.
It really should go without saying that antisemitism is not a tennant of conservatism. West isn’t running into these problems because he’s conservative, but because of his antisemitic comments. Anybody who argues otherwise is telling on themselves.
And some conservatives are pushing back against his comments, even if somewhat tepidly.
“I admire Kanye [in] many [ways] but his harsh comments of Jews are offensive and wrong,” Matt Schlapp, chair of the Conservatice Political Action Coalition (CPAC), said on Twitter Monday.
“Back from the Jewish holiday now. As usual, two things can be true at once: Kanye’s moves toward pro-life, faith, and family conservatism are encouraging; his ‘death con 3’ posts and Black Hebrew Israelite language are clearly anti-Semitic and disturbing,” conservative commentator Ben Shapiro tweeted on Oct. 12.
One prominent conservative who hasn’t pushed back, but instead piled on, is former President Donald Trump. On his own social media platform on Sunday, he criticized American Jews for not appreciating him enough, and once again leaned into the antisemitic notion that being Jewish is somehow dependent on support for Israel. He even included a strange and ambiguous “before it is too late” warning.
“I think the real danger here is that both President Trump’s remarks and Kanye West’s have the danger of normalizing antisemitism, of legitimizing it. I mean, these are people who have a huge number of followers, particularly on social media,” Dov Waxman, a professor of Israel studies at the University of California Los Angeles, told PBS this week. “And when they’re coming out and saying this, it kind of gives license to many other people to also express antisemitic statements. And it really signals a wider, I think, mainstreaming of antisemitism in our political discourse today. And that’s really a worrying development.”
It falls to the rest of us, of all faiths and backgrounds, to recognize and repudiate antisemitism. We must be clear that is not mainstream, and it is not acceptable.