Opinion: Condemning Kanye West’s antisemitism is easy. Vigilance is harder
This might not be saying very much given the turmoil Los Angeles has undergone recently, but this week was an extremely ugly one. The unfurling of antisemitic banners over the 405 Freeway on Oct. 21 was only the most conspicuous reminder that anti-Jewish hate never went away after much of the world declared “never again” nearly 80 years ago — and that it doesn’t need much (in this case, the endorsement of a celebrity) to burst into public view.
That celebrity endorsement came from the rapper Kanye West, also known as Ye, and drew condemnation from businesses, political leaders and The Times Editorial Board. In readers’ responses to West and The Times’ coverage, there were warnings: to understand that the hate expressed by West and others has lurked in the mainstream longer than most would like to admit, and that we need to be vigilant of antisemitism even when it may be convenient to ignore it.
In the last week, The Times’ prominent coverage of antisemitism has received praise, but not without some criticism.
To the editor: The editorial board urges readers to be “outraged by [antisemitic acts] no matter where or how they happen.”
What does this outrage accomplish? The Goyim Defense League, the extremist antisemitic white supremacist group responsible for the antisemitic banner displayed last week, hung similar banners across the freeway in 2020, and has been distributing vile antisemitic fliers for years. Outrage has not dampened the group’s zeal for disseminating hateful messages and may actually be feeding it.
But antisemitism in people we admire or who share our views is different.
A Times opinion piece in 2019 described the Women’s March leaders’ praise of Nation of Islam head Louis Farrakhan as a tolerable “contradiction,” though Farrakhan has expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and described Judaism as “satanic” and Jews as “termites.” The author extinguished her outrage with appreciation of “some of the empowerment work that he has done in the black community.”
When creeps execute Nazi salutes on freeway overpasses, outrage is easy. Outrage is difficult when we admire the antisemite and agree on other issues. But it’s the inconvenient antisemitism expressed by apparently admirable people that most requires outrage.
It’s the antisemitism for which people make excuses that perpetuates this lethal hatred.
Jo Perry, Studio City
To the editor: I was happy to see a story about the frightening rise of antisemitism featured on the front page of The Times. But I was incredulous to see the writers assert that “racist and bigoted rhetoric” and “conspiracy-soaked rants” are “entering the mainstream,” and that “extremism has tended to come from the margins of political life” and “dark corners of the internet.”
Where have these writers been been for the past seven years?
This country has been subjected to years of prime-time racist, inflammatory language and insane conspiracy theories, much of it emanating from the very highest levels of our government.
Just last week the former president shared a social media post threatening American Jews to “get their act together ... before it’s too late.” We see it in the rhetoric of popular cable network hosts, and we have seen it play out in the news in violent ways from El Paso, Texas, to Charlottesville, Va.
Yes, the Kanye West story is inflammatory and he deserves the scorn he is receiving. But mainstream media have a responsibility to shine an even brighter light on this same behavior coming from our political leaders who hold far more power over our lives than a celebrity.
Valerie Burchfield Rhodes, Laguna Niguel
To the editor: Someone quoted in one of your articles called West’s antisemitism “historically fringe.” That’s a woeful misreading of history.
Most of us grew up in the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust. That generation saw the ugly face of antisemitism, and it was only that horror that shocked them out of the historical norm, which of course is that antisemitism is normal and acceptable.
I grew up Jewish in the best possible time to be Jewish, but that brief reprieve was bought with the blood of 6 million of my people. The World War II generation is all but gone, and it seems society is reverting to its shameful norm.
Branden Frankel, Arcadia
To the editor: Someone needs to tell West to start looking in the mirror. He is not white. His admiration for Adolf Hitler is abominable.
If West was living under a regime of Hitler’s, he probably would not exist. He may have been exterminated much like the 6 million European Jews prior to and during World War II.
Jamie Harvey, Ventura
To the editor: I am a proud Angeleno Jew and agree 100% with the letter that criticized a Times article for using “Jewish person” instead of “Jew.” I would have written a similar one myself if I weren’t such a procrastinator, but I have been thinking of this issue for some time.
Again, in Friday’s paper, you wrote in the obituary for Roz Wyman, “Centers of power like the exclusive Jonathan Club, which did not allow women or Jewish people, were off-limits to her.”
If the word “Jew” needs to be reclaimed, then let’s do it.
William Fields, Los Angeles
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