Thank Ye very much
By Bret Stephens
Dear Kanye West, or “Ye”:
We’ve never met, and I hope we never will.
Still, I’d like to express a sort of gratitude. With a few outbursts in a few days — you threatened in a tweet this month to go “death con 3” on “JEWISH PEOPLE,” and it’s been downhill from there — you’ve probably done more to raise public awareness about the persistence, prevalence and nature of antisemitism than any other recent event.
It’s remarkable how long it took us to get here. For 2020, the FBI reports that Jews, who constitute about 2.4% of the total adult population in the United States, were on the receiving end of 54.9% of all religiously motivated hate crimes. On many nights in New York City, Hasidic or Orthodox Jews are being shoved, harangued and beaten.
So far, this has been one of the most underreported stories in the country — itself a telling indicator in an era that is otherwise hyper-attuned to prejudice and hate.
At times, the reporting has all but accused Jews of bringing the violence on themselves, with lengthy stories about allegedly pushy Jewish neighbors or rapacious Jewish landlords. At other times — such as after the attack in January on a Texas synagogue by a British Muslim man who had traveled 4,800 miles to get there — reporters seem to have gone out of their way to find non-antisemitic motives for nakedly antisemitic attacks.
More often, attacks on Jews are treated as regrettable yet somehow understandable expressions of anger at Israel. In May 2021, Jewish diners at a sushi restaurant in Los Angeles were physically assaulted by a member of a group that, according to a witness, was chanting “Death to Jews” and “Free Palestine.” A KABC report of the event was headlined, in part: “Mideast tensions lead to LA fight.”
To suggest that “Mideast tensions” led to a “fight” is to obscure both the nature and motive of the assault. Imagine the absurdity of a headline that read: “High Levels of Crime in Minority Neighborhood Lead Police Officer to Kneel on Man’s Neck for Eight Minutes.”
Actually, Ye, you probably can imagine it, since you’ve also blamed George Floyd for his own death. But it’s worth pondering the extent to which, in American culture today, Jews are excluded from inclusion and included in the excluded. That is, the Jewish people’s status as an oft-persecuted minority goes increasingly unrecognized, while the Jewish people’s position as a legitimate target for contempt and ostracism is becoming increasingly accepted.
Take Hollywood, where the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opened its doors last year with a panel dedicated to “Creating a More Inclusive Museum.” Yet, as The New York Times’ Adam Nagourney reported in March, “Through dozens of exhibits and rooms, there is barely a mention of Harry and Jack Warner, Adolph Zukor, Samuel Goldwyn or Louis B. Mayer” — the Jews who essentially founded the modern movie industry. (After an outcry, the museum now plans a permanent exhibition for them.)
Or take the law school of the University of California, Berkeley, where nine student groups announced in August that they would not host any speakers who support Zionism, a move that is tantamount to the exclusion of most Jews. In an astonishing defense, law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky noted that the bylaw, which he acknowledged was “discriminatory,” had been adopted by only “a handful of student groups” and had not yet been acted upon — as if Berkeley or any other public law school would tolerate for one instant a single student group that announced its intention to exclude, say, a speaker who believes in trans rights.
Or take Israel itself. Is the Jewish state so uniquely evil that, alone among 193 U.N. member states, it has no moral right to exist? Or is it the unique evil of antisemitism that directs this kind of obsessive hatred at one state only — while generally ignoring or downplaying the endless depredations of regimes in, say, Caracas, Venezuela; Ankara, Turkey; Havana; and Tehran, Iran?
These are surely not the things you had in mind when you decided to go “death con 3” on my people. Nor were they necessarily top of mind for many of the celebrities who denounced you in tweets and Instagram posts. But your bigotry is as good a place as any to begin to have an honest conversation about antisemitism — one that will hopefully last longer than your own career’s self-destruction.
Honest would be to acknowledge that antisemitism is as much a left-wing phenomenon as it is a right-wing one. Honest would be coming to grips with the fact — as Henry Louis Gates Jr. did in these pages in 1992 — that antisemitism infects corners of Black politics as much as it infects the politics of white supremacy. Honest would be holding to account people who were complicit in your antisemitism — such as Tucker Carlson, who praised your “bold” beliefs while editing out your antisemitic remarks from his interview with you. Honest would be coming to terms with the extent to which anti-Zionism has become the antisemitism of our day, echoing the same sordid conspiratorial tropes about Jews as swindlers and impostors.
Honest would also be admitting that you speak for more people than many Americans would have cared to admit. For that, but only that, you deserve thanks.