By Leah Small
This past September, my mom and I went to Rosh Hashanah services at our local synagogue, and I asked her if someone was going to shoot us while we were there. Throughout my childhood, I had spent countless hours at the temple for religious school and celebrating my friends’ bar mitzvahs.
However, due to a profound new wave of antisemitism across our country, I was especially nervous to attend services this fall. And never once before now had it occurred to me to ask something like “Are we going to get shot?” to my mom. In addition to this, growing up I have spent many summers at Camp Seneca Lake, a Jewish overnight camp in Upstate New York, and only as recently as two summers ago, immediately following the massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, “camp” installed a large steel gate with a weekly-changing keypad entry code.
Not just because campers are young, innocent, and times being different, but the rise of antisemitism in our country and the world has raised concerns for me personally and for Jews generally, for our safety in summer camp, and in the United States. A new wave of technology has given famous people the ability to connect with the masses easily. Recent Tweets by rapper Kanye West and NBA star Kyrie Irving have triggered an alarming modern rise of antisemitism across the country. Celebrities with the platforms they acquire have an obligation to not ostracize any group of people by their religion or race.
On October 8th, famous rapper and singer Kanye West tweeted out to millions of his followers that he wanted to go “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE” as the first thing he plans to do when he wakes up in the morning. He followed this by saying that the Jews have “toyed” with him and “tried to blackball anyone whoever opposes their agenda”. Following up later that week, Brooklyn Nets basketball player, Kyrie Irving tweeted a link to an antisemitic film, encouraging his followers to watch. It’s not coincidental that these celebrities are exposed for being antisemitic around the same time, it’s the effect one has on another, making them think that expressing their hateful views is okay. This then gives a voice to people in our country to act on their words. Kevin Rector from the LA Times asserts, “Kanye West’s weeks-long spate of antisemitic comments drew a well-known hate group to Los Angeles this weekend for a demonstration of support on a 405 Freeway overpass, raising alarms from local officials and residents that the rapper’s rhetoric was inspiring more public bigotry.” “Demonstrators gave Nazi salutes as they stood behind a large overpass banner that read, “Kanye is right about the Jews”’. By Kanye tweeting what he did, he has inspired people to come out with their antisemitic beliefs, and it doesn’t end there. The New York Times attests that civilians in Los Angeles have found fliers at home casting fake news with lies like the Covid-19 pandemic was because of the Jews, Jews control the media, the Biden administration is controlled by Jews, that Jews caused gun control and more. Kanye “has helped advance the spread of long-standing hateful and false narratives shared by extremist groups.”
Next to Kanye, Kyrie Irving tweeting and posting links from Amazon to an antisemitic film that claims the holocaust didn’t happen only fluctuates his supporters to inflame hate toward Jews. The New York Times remarked, “the Anti-Defamation League and the Nets called on Amazon to take down or add explanatory context to the film and a related book, writing that they were ‘designed to inflame hatred and, now that it was popularized by Mr. Irving, will lead directly to the harm of Jews.’ Kyrie responded to the backlash first by saying “I’m not going to stand down on anything I believe in. I’m only going to get stronger because I’m not alone. I have a whole army around me.” And after facing even more backlash he said he is “aware of the negative impact of my post towards the Jewish community” and that he “takes responsibility.” But the issue is that these celebrities say and post hate online and don’t take into consideration how their words affect the world. They only feel the need to retone themselves once they are in trouble.
After these celebrities’ remarks, Kanye was dropped from his partnership with Adidas effective immediately. Adidas spoke up and said the company “does not tolerate antisemitism and any other sort of hate speech” and said that his recent comments were “unacceptable, hateful, and dangerous.” Adidas said they violated the company’s “values of diversity and inclusion, mutual respect and fairness.” Along with Adidas, other brands partnered and sponsored with Kanye like Gap, Balenciaga, and Vogue have all dropped him since. As for Irving, the Brooklyn Nets have suspended him from playing as well as Nike cutting all ties with him. Nike reported, “At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8.”
By these celebrity companies dropping them, it displays how their hateful views will not be tolerated, but even still there are so many other platforms that they influence young minds on that need to be cut off. The biggest one being Twitter; Elon Musk has recently taken over the ownership of Twitter while changing the whole dynamic of the app’s content. Musk claims to want to “loosen content moderation rules in the name of ‘free speech’”, but this worries many as these changes will allow offensive content to spread on the platform. Already recorded by the Times, “A coordinated campaign to spread antisemitic memes and images on Twitter resulted in more than 1,200 tweets and retweets featuring the offensive content, according to an analysis by the Anti-Defamation League.” This switch of ownership has already spread hate within the media and allows celebrities with massive platforms like Kanye and Kyrie, to continue to influence their supporters with hate instead of love. Nevertheless, the actions we can take as a community to not support these celebrities are numerous. Unfollow them on Twitter and other social media platforms. If you like Kanye’s music but don’t want to support him, you can listen to it on YouTube for free without being on his account. You can stop attending the Brooklyn Nets basketball games or continue to go while being conscious of Kyrie’s actions. There are many steps we can take as viewers to stop supporting these famous people while still enjoying the work they create.
Although many argue that Kanye West suffers from mental illness causing him to act the way that he does, that statement is untrue. Mental illness does not excuse racism, bigotry, or misogyny. USA today affirms, “Psychologists say unmanaged mental health conditions can cause people to act in seemingly uncharacteristic ways. But mental illness and bigotry are two distinct problems requiring two distinct solutions.” While Kanye’s bipolar diagnosis may explain impulsive behavior, antisemitism is a rumination of his toxic beliefs. Assuming that antisemitism is a symptom of a mental health problem is dangerous and an ableist misconception, warns Andrea Bonior, a clinical psychologist and host of the “Baggage Check: Mental Health Talk and Advice” podcast. If we believe every person with mental health issues is discriminative, then this causes a dangerous stigma that it’s an appropriate excuse for being hateful, and “we are turning our backs on the cultural changes that we need to address in terms of implicit bias.” Whether due to suffering from an episode or not, Kanye’s influence can cause irreparable harm.
When celebrities use their platforms in a way that condemns antisemitism, the real risk to the safety of Jewish people in this country increases. They have an obligation to use their influence for good and especially not harm no matter the reason, and when they use it for the exact opposite like expressing hate speech towards others, problems begin to form. They have millions of followers listening and watching their every move, and it shouldn’t be a burden to express positivity. Furthermore, I hope some holiday season soon, I won’t have to be concerned for my neighbors when they put up their “Happy Hanukkah” sign in front of their house.