Content warning: This article contains descriptions of antisemitism and violence against Jewish people.
Last October, before his Twitter was suspended, Ye, the American rapper and fashion designer, began posting antisemitic comments and tropes online, horrifying the public with tweets such as, “When I wake up I’m going to go death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE.” By spouting antisemitic comments and conspiracies, Ye has become part of a community of neo-Nazis and conspiracy theorists.
I asked my father whether he had been following Ye’s increasingly alarming posts and my dad responded with something to the effect that he was not paying attention because Ye’s antisemitic remarks were only of interest to the “twittersphere.”
However, this was before Ye met with Donald Trump and the antisemitic white supremacist Nick Fuentes, before neo-Nazis hung a banner over a Los Angeles freeway reading “Kanye is right about the Jews,” and before Ye declared his steadfast admiration for Adolf Hitler. While Ye’s public displays of antisemitism seem only inflammatory, the harsh reality is that they threaten Jewish livelihood — and it seems that others share this view.
Ye’s ex-wife Kim Kardashian along with actresses Florence Pugh and Reese Witherspoon, among other celebrities, have rightfully condemned Ye and expressed their solidarity with the Jewish community. Meanwhile, Ye’s antisemitic statements on social media have led many companies to end their partnerships with him.
However, Ye’s antisemitic behaviour has still transported antisemitism to the social media of the masses, a large component of which includes youth. Antisemitism is obviously inexcusable and I am personally disturbed that, as a society, we still have to fight against antisemitic behaviour.
How has Ye’s antisemitic behaviour led to a rise in antisemitism amongst youth?
In the first week of December, at Sir Robert Borden high school (SRB) — a public school with a large number of Jewish students — in Ottawa where I grew up, a Jewish student was targeted with a Hakenkreuz — a Nazi symbol that resembles the Swastika — and Nazi salutes by classmates. However, I’m hesitant to accept that the student’s classmates were ideological antisemites.
I believe it is not a coincidence that young people in this liberal community are now displaying antisemitism at the same time that Ye is gaining notoriety for his antisemitic remarks. After all, many young people idolize Ye — his music plays at every house party I have attended, and I have memories of friends waiting in line to purchase shoes from Ye’s fashion collection. I believe this admiration for Ye may have led many young individuals to adopt his antisemitic behaviour.
As a Jewish student growing up in Ottawa, I never felt unsafe. However, when I was 11, a scared friend confronted me asking if the blood libel was true; she had seen a YouTube video that argued it was. Then when I was 15, a peer drew a Star of David on my locker. I never found out who drew it and a small part of me always worried it represented an unfulfilled threat, though I knew it was more likely a cruel joke. In a climate distorted by Ye and his attempts to make antisemitism mainstream, a Jewish student could just as easily find a Hakenkreuz on their locker rather than a Star of David.
University campuses are reflecting a similar increase in antisemitism in the months since Ye’s downward spiral. At Queen’s University’s homecoming, a building was vandalized with the words “Kill The Jews,” and Hakenkreuz were drawn in a campus residence. Meanwhile, in the United States, the number of antisemitic attacks on campus doubled in the 2021–2022 academic year, and last November, a Jewish centre at Brown University received an antisemitic note.
Jewish students have long since encountered antisemitism on university campuses. However, in recent years, antisemitism manifested as hate speech disguised under criticisms of Israel and Jewish organizations were primarily concerned with differentiating between antizionist campus politics and threats to Jewish life. Now, the way I see it, Ye’s antisemitic remarks have reintroduced the Holocaust denial and dangerous centuries old antisemitic tropes about Jews being corrupt and all powerful.
It is important for antisemitism to be recognized and addressed
In my experience, it is difficult to combat and even identify non-violent antisemitism in today’s age. This is because many Jews have come to be recognized as “white,” and as such, now benefit from white privilege. However, because of this privilege now afforded to many Jews, there has been a decrease in the seriousness attributed to antisemitic hate speech, such as Ye’s.
The important caveat to this privilege and a reason why antisemitic rhetoric is so terrifying is that while in North America, Jews no longer experience systemic discrimination, being of Jewish ethnicity or faith continues to put one at risk of violent crime. Only just over four years ago, a gunman walked into a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 people in the worst antisemitic attack in American history.
The visibility of Orthodox Jews’ faith may explain why Orthodox Jews have experienced an increase in hate crimes in the past few months. With this in mind, it is essential that Ye’s remarks are recognized as attempts to incite hatred; they are not merely expressions of inflammatory language, and should be treated as promotions of violence toward Jews.
American President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris publicly responded to Ye’s behaviour. Their comments equally display a commitment to fighting antisemitism, but also indicate that antisemitism has resurfaced as a conversation with implications for the security and well being of Jews across North America.
Ye has offered celebrity status to white supremacist organizations, but even more disturbing is how displays of antisemitism are becoming more common among young people who are ostensibly the most liberal demographic. Ye is not uniquely responsible for the global increase in antisemitism, as the proliferation of negative attitudes toward Israel shape current perceptions of Jews. However, it is clear that Ye’s platform has emboldened antisemites and encouraged young people to engage in antisemitic behaviour.
It is important that we continue to recognize that violence against Jewish people is a very real threat, especially with the emergence of antisemitic behaviour from influential figures such as Ye.
Sarah Stern is a third year English and European Affairs student at Victoria College.