'Boycotting Kanye doesn't help Jews– antisemitism is embedded in our society’

cancelling kanye doesn’t help jews antisemitism is embedded in our society
'The Kanye row shows how embedded antisemitism is'Getty Images

I’ve never been the biggest fan of Kanye West. I mean, he rudely interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the VMAs back in 2009 (I’m a Swiftie until the bitter end), and I’ve always thought Yeezy trainers were pretty ugly. But now, it’s personal.

As a Jewish-Israeli woman, I’m used to antisemitism. In 2020, I wrote a piece for Cosmopolitan in the wake of British rapper Wiley’s antisemitic comments, explaining my personal experiences with Jew-hate (name-calling, shoe-throwing, gaslighting and all), and expressed my hope that non-Jews were finally beginning to acknowledge that antisemitism is a capital-P Problem. A good start, I said, for tackling it head-on.

Sadly, I realise my hopes back then were incredibly naive. Antisemitism seems to be more rampant than ever. And this is magnified when you look at the conversations happening around the recent downfall of West.

To recap: Ye (as he prefers to be called) has been falling out of public favour for a while. From attacking his ex-wife Kim Kardashian on social media, to saying ‘slavery was a choice’, to sporting a ‘White Lives Matter’ sweatshirt (a white supremacist slogan), he was already steam-rolling his way towards being cancelled.

But the nail in the coffin seemed to be when he turned his attention to Jews. On October 8th, he published a now-infamous tweet in which he promised to go ‘death con 3’ (a misspelling of US defence warning system, defcon) on Jewish people. Later, he doubled down on his comments on numerous podcasts and TV interviews, implying that Jewish lawyers and industry professionals were trying to ruin him.

You don’t need me to tell you that words matter. The Holocaust started with words. Kanye yields an extraordinary amount of power and influence – his combined following on Instagram and Twitter is around 50 million (NB: there are only 14.8 million Jews in the world). His words have already had a snowball effect; days ago, a picture circulated of signs above an LA motorway reading ‘honk if you know Kanye was right about the Jews’, alongside a crowd of people doing the Nazi salute. I dread to think how many visibly Jewish, Orthodox people are already feeling the impact of this in more violent ways.

As Kanye hasn’t apologised for his remarks in any meaningful way, he has unsurprisingly suffered the consequences: Adidas, which manufactures his Yeezy brand, announced this week that they were cutting ties with him, following in the footsteps of GAP and JP Morgan (although there are question marks as to whether those relationships were in the process of ending anyway).

Initially, I welcomed the news that Kanye was being dropped by brands. You simply can’t allow Jew-hate to go unchecked, in the same way every form of racism should be shunned and stamped out. But those who swallowed Kanye’s lazy regurgitating of cliched rumours that a shadowy Jewish cabal controls the media, music and entertainment industries are likely reading the consequences of his actions as “proof” that he was right all along.

You see, there’s still a fundamental misunderstanding of what antisemitism actually is, and how it functions differently from other forms of discrimination. Throughout history, Jews have consistently been scapegoated for contemporary ills with antisemitism found on both the right and left of the political spectrum. Jews are simultaneously seen by many who hate us as a dirty threat to white supremacy, and the epitome of superhuman white privilege; the puppet-masters pulling the strings. We are somehow both worthless and all-powerful, conniving and manipulative.

This presents a conundrum for us Jews: we’re damned if we do, and damned if we don’t. If we put up with antisemitism and don’t cause a fuss, this sets a terrifying precedent. We all know what happened to those Jews who remained in Europe in the 1930s because they thought – hoped – it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. But when we stand up for ourselves, the conspiracies about us circulate further.

You only need look back to the dismissal of accusations of antisemitism in the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn to see this. Even though the Equality and Human Rights Commission independently ruled that there was an antisemitism problem within the Labour party, many still described the accusations as a ‘smear’, constructed for Conservative gain. Absurd, considering British Jews have traditionally been overwhelmingly left-wing.

Likewise with Kanye, I’ve seen numerous comments online that view his cancellation as ‘proving his point’ about Jews. I have seen educated, informed people peddling these damaging and untrue tropes about Jewish people, with no logical reasoning whatsoever. But what would Jews have to gain by bringing down Ye? (Besides a campaign against ugly trainers, but that seems like an awful lot of effort).

Kanye might be the loudest for now, but he’s just a tiny drop in a vast, engulfing sea. These warped ideas about Jews are deeply embedded in society that they’re often going largely unnoticed until they’re spelled out loud and clear in a Tweet – impossible to ignore. Antisemitic hate crimes hit a record high in the UK in 2021, and I fear this will only continue to rise.

Ultimately, while severing business ties with someone that espouses dangerous views makes a necessary point, cancelling one celebrity does little to shift entrenched structural bias or unravel long-held blind spots. Only when there is a huge cultural shift in education and a wider intolerance of anti-Jewish jokes, snipes and discrimination will we begin to make real headway in the fight against antisemitism.

You Might Also Like