Antisemitism Didn't Start With Kanye West. It Won't End There.

"Antisemitism has gone mainstream, but it's been running unchecked for years."
Photo illustration: OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

The recent spike in antisemitism did not begin ― nor will it end ― with Ye, the rapper and designer formerly known as Kanye West.

Since Ye’s racist and deeply offensive “White lives matter” stunt at Paris Fashion Week, he has embarked on an unapologetic tirade of antisemitic tropes and dangerous conspiracy theories, claiming that Jews are disproportionately powerful and run Hollywood, banking institutions and the media, while also questioning Jewish identity.

After Instagram banned his account for his hateful rhetoric, Ye went on to threaten “Death Con 3 on Jewish People” in a post to his more than 31.4 million Twitter followers—despite the fact that there are only 14.8 million Jews in the world, making up .2% of the world’s population.

Though I was hurt and disappointed in Ye, particularly because I was a huge fan of his music and have seen him live many times, I was more disturbed about the more than 30,000 likes his post immediately received and the comments of praise for speaking his truth.

Although many brushed off his comments as mental illness or a publicity stunt, his words had real, tangible consequences. So I wasn’t completely shocked to see a group of neo-Nazis hanging a sign that read “Kanye was right about the Jews” over the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles while they gave a Nazi salute ― particularly because this group has held similar demonstrations over the last several years.

I also wasn’t shocked to hear about the number of cars honking in support. Absolutely none of this shocked me because antisemitism has gone mainstream and has been running unchecked for years.

Even though a social media post in solidarity is appreciated, the best way to support your Jewish friends and combat antisemitism is to educate and understand its various forms.

Most of the antisemitism I’ve experienced has come in the form of ingrained social prejudices from friends and colleagues. While home from college, I worked at a high-end clothing store and became friendly with the other sales associates. When they found out I was Jewish, a woman was shocked because she thought my nose should be bigger.

One day a group of Orthodox women came into the store. They browsed the items and left, like many others do. My co-worker turned to me and asked ― quite sincerely ― if we were taught to be cheap in temple because the women didn’t buy anything.

My mother was upset when I told her about these incidents and didn’t understand why I wasn’t angry. I simply shrugged and suggested that maybe the girl’s naivety and prejudice would disappear once she got to know me. To this day, I’m not sure if it did.

Another time, I asked a friend at work if I could borrow a dollar. One of our colleagues overheard and warned him not to lend me money because I “wouldn’t pay him back.” The woman clarified that this was because I was Jewish, and we’re cheap. (This was also illustrated with a hand gesture.) She was laughing even though we were clearly silent and dumbfounded.

This list goes on and on ― there’s the boss who would not allow me to leave the office to attend a Passover seder, threatening me with termination. I’ve had friends use phrases like “Jew them down” or tell me that I don’t “look Jewish” because of my blue eyes and freckles.

My freshman year of college, I met two girls in my dorm from the Florida panhandle. Apparently I was the first Jewish person they’d met, and they joked about the absence of horns ― completely unaware of how offensive these comments were. Each insult was met with an uncomfortable laugh and brushed off as ignorance, but I regret not calling it out for what it was at the time.

These experiences and microaggressions were upsetting, but they are just the tip of the iceberg to the antisemitism that has been festering for the last several years.

From the horrifying scenes of rioters at the U.S. Capitol wearing “Camp Auschwitz” shirts and the neo-Nazis chanting “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville, Virginia, to the vandalism of synagogues and community centers across the country, the hate has been spreading like a cancer.

Antisemitism a very old form of bigotry, yet many people do not understand it or recognize it. Sure, it’s easy to call out Ye for blatantly spewing hate speech or former President Donald Trump for his public statement on dual-loyalty. However, the anti-Zionist movement is also having a dangerous impact on Jewish communities, despite the fact that we are not a monolith and have varying opinions on such complex international issues. Meanwhile, American Jews are being targeted with violent attacks, hateful fliers, vandalism and threats.

It’s terrifying. It’s infuriating. It’s hypocritical. It’s antisemitism.

The Holocaust didn’t happen overnight. It started with ideas, words and the silence of average people. So when your Jewish friends start sounding the alarm, listen to them.

We see history repeating itself, and we are scared.

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