By Aidan Rubel
LOS ANGELES — Mutterings about Kanye West’s antisemitism have been commonplace in the entertainment industry for years, but only recently did they enter the limelight.
On Oct. 7, 2022, West’s most recent string of notorious antisemitic comments began as he entered a heated exchange with famous musician Sean “Diddy” Combs, claiming that Combs was controlled by the Jews because he took issue with West’s decision to wear a “White Lives Matter” sweatshirt. West’s comments only escalated from there.
A day later was West’s most infamous — now-deleted — tweet, in which he stated, “I’m a bit sleepy tonight but when I wake up I’m going death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE”.
This tweet was met with public backlash. A petition started by Campaign Against Antisemitism even gained close to 200k signatures. Moreover, West was condemned by other prominent figures — from his ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, to Eric Andre and Barack Obama.
A little over a week after West’s first tweet, he made an appearance on the podcast “Drink Champs”, where he taunted the sportswear company Adidas and flaunted his ability to say whatever he wanted with no consequence. “I can say antisemitic things, and Adidas can’t drop me,” said West.
Ironically, a little over a week after the podcast was aired, Adidas terminated their relationship. This was an enormous move by Adidas: not only were four to eight percent of its sales through Yeezy products, West’s brand, but the deal was valued at $1.5 billion dollars. This was devastating to West, whose financial standing took such a hit that he lost his place on the Forbes billionaires list.
In the wake of the backlash to West’s bigoted comments, some celebrities have come out in support of West and his comments — most notably Kyrie Irving, an NBA star, anti-vaxxer, and self-proclaimed flat-earther. On Twitter, Irving shared a documentary entitled “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America” to his 4.6 million followers, which promotes holocaust denial, a positive view of Hitler, and antisemitic tropes.
Initially, Irving refused to apologize despite pleas from his employer, the Brooklyn Nets, declaring “I’m not going to stand down on anything I believe in.
“I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from,” added Irving, a common belief in Black Hebrew Israelite circles. In response to this, the Nets organization suspended Irving for a minimum of five games without pay.
Soon after, Nike cut ties with the seven-time NBA All-Star, ending Irving’s eight-year line of signature shoes; this loss reportedly will cost Irving $11 million annually.
West and others’ comments seemed to embolden people with antisemitic views across the country. In Florida, for example, the TIAA Bank Field stadium in Jacksonville was lit up with the phrase “Kanye is right about the jews” during the Florida-Georgia football game. The exact phrase was written on a banner hung on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles by a number of individuals performing Nazi salutes. Additionally, the FBI released credible information regarding a broad threat to synagogues in Irving’s home state of New Jersey since his string of comments began.
To many, this string of antisemitic statements made by professional entertainers is not a surprising occurrence. In recent years, antisemitic hate crimes have been at an all-time high, with 2,717 incidents in 2021. This is a 34 percent increase from 2020, and the highest reported incidents since 1979 — when the Anti-Defamation League, a civil-rights group, began tracking this data.
Famous athletes and musicians making antisemitic statements is anything but new; from Ice Cube to Mel Gibson, it is surprisingly common. Just two years ago, Desean Jackson, a National Football League (NFL) star, posted pictures of a falsified Hitler quote which claims that Jews extort America, and have a plan for world domination. Last year, National Basketball Association (NBA) player Meyers Leonard used an anti-Jewish racial slur while playing the video game Call of Duty: Warzone on the streaming platform Twitch.
What do Kyrie Irving, Mel Gibson, Nick Cannon, Desean Jackson, and Meyers Leonard have in common? They all made antisemitic comments and later apologized after facing intense social and financial pressure.
All of this begs the question: does taking this approach with public figures who espouse bigoted views work? The answer seems to be yes.
For Irving in particular, he only agreed to apologize after his indefinite suspension from the NBA and Nike contract termination. On Instagram, he wrote “to all Jewish families and communities that are hurt and affected from my post, I am deeply sorry to have caused you pain, and I apologize… I initially reacted out of emotion to being unjustly labeled antisemitic, instead of focusing on the healing process of my Jewish brothers and sisters that were hurt from the hateful remarks made in the documentary.”
The others were similar. Jackson apologized after the NFL and its owners confronted him. Leonard apologized after he realized his career was likely over — and it soon was: the Miami Heat kicked him off the team. Nick Cannon apologized after he was fired from hit show “Wild ‘N Out.” The list goes on.
It’s clear to many that apologies like these are likely not sincere, but that doesn’t really matter; an apology will not change the effect of their words and actions. What matters is that people like this stop being able to spread hateful ideas to their large followings.
As we have learned, a successful method by which to do this is social and, especially, financial backlash. Once these figures realize that their livelihoods are at stake when they display their bigotry to the public, they will stop.
When public and financial pressure doesn’t work, though, like in the case of Kanye West, de-platforming must be considered. If you don’t want to hear hate speech on Twitter, then remove it and its writer. If destructive and bigoted ideas like these are able to continue being spread by prominent figures with no consequence, the bigotry will never end.