Kanye West and the bigger story surrounding antisemitism

Kanye West’s recent hateful rhetoric has sparked outrage, especially in Jewish communities. Photo courtesy of The Sacramento Bee

SAMANTHA COHEN | STAFF REPORTER | srcohen@butler.edu 

Antisemitic ideology is nothing new — from the establishment of the Jewish faith, Jews have always been “othered” or been the scapegoat for problems completely unrelated to the Jewish people. From the ancient claims that Jews were the perpetrators of Jesus’ death, to the modern trope that Jews control the media, it is evident that Judaism and antisemitism have always coexisted. 

Growing up, my family was one of the few, if not the only, Jewish families in my community. I heard antisemitic comments thrown about as if it was not a slight against my identity. People knew I was Jewish, so why did they not care about the terrible things they were saying? The simple answer is education, or lack thereof. Simply, they did not know that the comments they made were perpetuating antisemitic stereotypes — similar to the recent Kanye West Twitter controversy. 

Dr. Hilene Flanzbaum, an English professor and director of the core curriculum, has taught courses covering the Holocaust and Jewish American literature during her time here at Butler. She is aware of the dangers of antisemitism, and the fact that it is largely perpetrated because people are uneducated about Judaism. 

“I worry about the Jewish community of Butler, specifically, and in Indiana, because it is a very small minority,” Flanzbaum said. “I think a lot of people don’t really know much about Judaism … I remember I used to teach a literature of the Holocaust course. I remember somebody saying, in absolute shock, ‘What do you mean, there are still Jews?’ They thought that when they were learning about the Holocaust, they were learning about ancient history. They’re like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that [Jews] were actually people who live in this world.’ It is completely shocking to [some people].”

Lack of education is exactly what led to controversy on Twitter. When Kanye West tweeted antisemitic rhetoric on Oct. 9, it was easy for some to dismiss him as nothing more than a troll. The impact it has had — especially on those who look up to West and may not have a good education about the Jewish faith — is concerning. 

With over 30 million Twitter followers, West’s platform more than doubles the Jewish population worldwide. To say that he has influence is an understatement. Influence, in this aspect, is a dangerous thing. It creates the perfect breeding ground for further antisemitism. For example, shortly after West’s tweet went viral, there were banners being hung off of an overpass spouting even more antisemitic rhetoric in Los Angeles, directly referencing West’s tweets.

Dr. Flanzbaum said that even though she tries to avoid antisemitism on social media, the comments she has seen are horrible. 

“I try not to look at [antisemitism on social media],” Flanzbaum said. “Even when I have to Google something about antisemitism for work, I get nervous. I get nervous because I don’t want to be bombarded by all this antisemitic crap. The stuff I have seen from my friend who teaches a course [on antisemitism] is unbelievable.” 

Though West’s tweets have sparked outrage and messages of support for the Jewish community from influencers and celebrities alike, this has not always been the case. For centuries, society has been slow to condemn antisemitism. This is one of the first times, in my lifetime, that I can remember antisemitism being condemned on such a large scale.

Orly Trachtman, a sophomore psychology major, says that this large-scale condemnation is beneficial for the same reason that West’s tweets were harmful: influence.

“I think [influencers condemning West’s tweets] are a good thing,” Trachtman said. “It goes to show that celebrities do have influence, and they do have an impact. I think that what [influencers] say has weight. So, if there are more and more people who are showing support, that is [important].” 

This incident, I believe, is the perfect opportunity to discuss the broader implications of antisemitism. 

Almost every time I am on social media, I see antisemitic comments. People purposefully seek out Jewish organizations or pages to spew a hateful rhetoric — rarely are there consequences to these undeniably hateful comments. Social media is not the only place I see antisemitism, though. I see people who hold office perpetuating myths and stereotypes about Jewish people. From Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green blaming Jewish people for the war on Christmas to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar insinuating that Jewish people control the economy — antisemitism exists on both sides of the political spectrum. Antisemitism is all around us, and that is why it is important to educate people about Judaism to avoid the continuation of antisemitic rhetoric on such a large scale.  

Sarah Miller, a sophomore web design major, said that prominent figures in society promoting antisemitism is worrying. 

“There are so many people, even [at Butler], who haven’t met a Jewish person,” Miller said. “So you see something like [West’s tweets], and you’ve never actually met [a Jewish person, and I feel like it could have a pretty big [impact]. I feel like people who are devoted to him could take it to a different level.”

Antisemitism, similar to Kanye West’s antisemitic comments, is not something to merely brush aside. I truly believe that the first step in curing the plague that is antisemitism is education. Here at Butler, we only have a few courses which discuss Judaism — some of which Judaism is not the main focus. This lack of access to education is troubling for me. For an institution like Butler University, which prides itself on diversity and inclusion, how can we fix the issue of antisemitism if students have little to no option to learn? Because the Jewish population at Butler is so small, the university has failed to protect a group that does not have the power to fight back. We fail to fight hate altogether. 

Education about antisemitism is important because many people are simply unaware of the implications of this kind of rhetoric. I sincerely hope that West’s tweets, the backlash and the acts of antisemitism inspired by West’s tweets are a wakeup call to our community, and society as a whole.


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