Will canceling Kanye West turn the tide on antisemitism?
November 4, 2022
(JNS) — The saga of Kanye West’s antisemitism is not without irony. Even after he had engendered controversy by engaging in anti-Jewish rants, West, who now calls himself “Ye,” boasted that his status as a rap music star and fashion mogul rendered him exempt from facing any real financial consequences for spreading hatred. The Adidas brand, in particular, would, he said, stick with him.
“I can literally say antisemitic s*** and they cannot drop me,” he said.
A few days later, he found out this wasn’t true when Adidas dropped him, on the grounds that his various statements and threats made against Jews “violate the company’s values of diversity and inclusion, mutual respect and fairness.”
That the sportswear conglomerate, which was actually founded by a family who became active supporters of the Nazi Party in the 1930s, was prepared to forgo a partnership that had been highly profitable says something about how toxic West had become. He may have thought the popularity of his Yeezy brand made him untouchable. But his decision to double down on his attacks on Jews for what the Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro aptly characterized as “Der Sturmer-type antisemitism” has grown to the point at which fashion powers like Vogue, Balenciaga and Adidas understand that he is more of a liability than an asset.
This is something that must be acknowledged as progress in the fight against antisemitism, even if the attention given his comments has predictably led to other outbursts of Jew-hatred, such as the display of antisemitic banners over a Los Angeles freeway. The growing list of celebrities condemning West—including ex-wife Kim Kardashian—demonstrates that when the pop-culture establishment wants to take the issue of Jew-hatred seriously, it is capable of making those who engage in antisemitism pay a price for doing so.
Still, the blowback against West shouldn’t lead anyone to think that antisemitism in public discourse is in retreat. To the contrary, a lot of the commentary it engendered and the way other instances of Jew-hatred are being given a pass indicate that the problem is growing worse, not better.
Perhaps what is most curious about the controversy is that it took this long for the pop- culture establishment to notice what has long been apparent to those who paid any attention to the music industry. The pervasive influence of antisemitic hatemonger Louis Farrakhan among hip-hop and rap performers is nothing new. While West is now the focus of public anger for claiming that Jews are manipulating and exploiting black performers, as well as a host of other antisemitic tropes, such ideas have become commonplace among these musicians and, by extension, their vast audiences, which cut across demographic lines.
At the same time, the debate about West also exposed the way the tribal culture wars between left and right help create safe spaces for antisemitism on both ends of the political spectrum.
West found vocal supporters on the political right, even as he doubled down on his antisemitic hate, simply because some conservatives believe he is an ally on issues like support for former President Donald Trump and opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement and abortion. As I noted previously, Daily Wire podcaster Candace Owens not only stood up for West, but had the nerve to talk down to outraged Jews by telling them that “no honest person” would perceive his comments as antisemitic.
That the website continues to tolerate her, even as founder Shapiro correctly condemned West and stated his disagreement with Owens, is problematic; it’s exactly the sort of thing that the outlet condemns when it emanates from the left.
Owens’s credibility was further undermined a few days later, when it was revealed that West had purchased the failing social-media site, Parler. Owens’s husband, George Farmer, just happens to be the CEO of Parler, and stood to profit greatly from the transaction.
But she wasn’t alone.
The dustup over West began when he was given a platform by Fox News host Tucker Carlson on his highly rated show. Carlson edited out the most outrageous statements about Jews. This indicated that, despite his claims of neutrality where the content of the program was concerned, he knew exactly what he was trying to legitimize.
Just as, if not more, disgraceful was the reaction of conservative author and activist David Horowitz, who bizarrely spoke up for West as a “heroic leader” only under attack for being a black conservative. While West’s conservative credentials are dubious, it is true that African Americans who dissent from leftist orthodoxy — such as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas or Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) — are subjected to racist abuse from liberals.
But to argue that West’s pro-life stand should render him exempt from criticism for antisemitism, or to pretend that he’s only under fire because of his politics, is sheer lunacy and undermines Horowitz’s credibility when he rightly attacks left-wing antisemites.
Though Trump didn’t defend or endorse West’s statements, he did himself no credit by subsequently praising the rapper for being a steadfast supporter. While Trump continues to be unfairly accused of antisemitism by the left for its own partisan reasons, he characteristically judges others only on the question of whether they like him.
And, as in the past, Trump believes that complying with requests to condemn various hate groups or individuals plays into the hands of his political foes. In this instance, however, he only provided his opponents with more ammunition, particularly in the wake of false claims that his recent chiding of American Jews for their lack of support for Israel was antisemitic.
While some on the right have demonstrated hypocrisy in relation to West, the left doesn’t have clean hands on this issue. The hatred for Israel and embrace of toxic ideologies (like critical race theory and intersectionality, which are permission slips for antisemitism) by a broad array of leftist opinion leaders and pop-culture influencers show that the canceling of the rapper hasn’t accomplished much.
Indeed, West’s conservative defenders were right about one thing: It was his dissent from leftist orthodoxy that made it easier for Hollywood and the fashion industry to disown him. Had he been endorsing the BDS movement, spreading the lie that Israel is an apartheid state or accusing the Jewish state of being run by Nazis, few, if any, of those who spoke out against him would have said a word about it.
This doesn’t excuse those who refuse to condemn him, let alone those who excuse his hatred, but it does show how so many have come to believe that they must defend their political allies, no matter what they say or do.
Though West’s influence in the pop-culture and fashion worlds was considerable, the fact remains that open antisemites who sit in Congress, such as Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-N.Y.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), continue to be portrayed as heroines by their fellow progressives. And newspapers like The New York Times continue to mainstream antisemitism, thinly disguised as anti-Zionism, while downplaying or ignoring the epidemic of antisemitic attacks on Orthodox Jews and the way in which Farrakhan has helped legitimize Jew-hatred among African-Americans.
In a free society, no one should be deprived of the right to say what he or she likes, even if it is hateful or wrong. But there is also no reason why someone like West, an open exponent of antisemitism, should not be held accountable for his conduct. His cancellation is not a matter of suppressing free speech, so much as it is a reminder that large corporations should not feel obligated to employ someone who trades in hate. By the same token, consumers should feel free to leverage their purchasing power to make a statement.
Neither of the above is remotely comparable to organized boycotts of Israel, which are rooted in and expressions of antisemitism that—despite West’s justified comeuppance—is not in retreat. On the contrary, it’s still clearly on the rise.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.