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Stop Excusing Anti-Semitism — Anywhere
Gentile allyship means calling out hate, even when it's inconvenient
You’ve probably heard by now about Kanye West’s thorough embrace of anti-Semitism. After two months of playing increasingly intimate footsie with stereotypes and conspiracy theories, West dispensed with any pretense about what he thinks of Jewish people in an interview with alt-right instigator Alex Jones:
“I like Hitler,” a fully masked Ye told Jones. Minutes later, the rapper said, “I love Jewish people, but I also love Nazis.”
The thing about being a Jew at a time when one of the biggest celebrities in the world is openly praising Adolf Hitler is that you get a little more sensitive than usual. Of course we Jews are not a monolith, and other members of our diverse community may have different opinions about what they find offensive and how best to support us in this time of heightened bigotry. But if you’re a gentile who considers yourself an ally in the fight against anti-Semitism, here’s what would mean the most to me: Call it out, always, even when it comes from people or places you prefer not to think of as bigoted.
That anti-Semitic rhetoric runs rampant in right-wing circles is apparent. I’m talking about Donald Trump, who (among many other transgressions) saw a counterprotest of a Neo-Nazi rally and declared that there were “very fine people on both sides.” About Elon Musk, whose biggest accomplishment since purchasing Twitter is allowing formerly suspended white supremacists back on the platform. About the incoming majority caucus in the House of Representatives explicitly naming Trump, Musk, and West as their ideological lodestars. About Doug Mastriano, the Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate who just ran what may have been the most openly anti-Semitic major-party campaign of my lifetime. About a prominent conservative writer claiming that Christians are “perfected Jews.” About the anti-abortion movement purporting to represent Judeo-Christian values while stifling what many Jews consider the religious right to reproductive health.
Yet these sentiments are unfortunately bipartisan. I have written before about Michael McFaul, the liberal pundit and former U.S. ambassador to Russia who went on The Rachel Maddow Show a few months ago to deny that Hitler killed “ethnic Germans,” then undercut any pretense of having misspoken by doubling down on his remarks. Not only did the offensiveness of his Holocaust revisionism elude both the production crew in the moment and the staff who promoted the segment on social media the next day (and who conspicuously did not apologize even when they removed it), but MSNBC kept him on their roster of guest pundits even after the incident. It was nice to see Joe Biden explicitly denounce Nazism last week since we recently learned not to take it for granted that a President is willing to do so, but his professed intolerance for such views is empty rhetoric if he still counts McFaul as one of his advisors, as we know he did at least as recently as earlier this year.1
Anti-Semitism is tolerated in other corners of the Democratic Party, too — even without poking the hornet’s nest of delineating the politically blurry boundary between the Jewish and Zionist communities. Consider the dog-whistle critiques from moderates in the party that Bernie Sanders’ voice is too loud and that he sounds too angry. It took a bipartisan effort to help the bigoted Mastriano win the GOP gubernatorial primary: Democrat Josh Shapiro intentionally elevated him as his opponent on the eventually correct but contemporaneously dubious assumption that he would beat Mastriano in November.2 It is not my place to parse a Black man invoking segregationist rhetoric in support of the Zionist cause — as Hakeem Jeffries, who was just unanimously elected as the new head of the House Democratic caucus, did in 2014 — but I take extreme exception to a gentile channeling George Wallace to proclaim “Israel today, Israel tomorrow, Israel forever!” It even manifests in smaller insensitivities, like Pete Buttigieg posing for a photoshoot at a Holocaust memorial.
The pernicious bigotry extends through pop culture as well. Despite his new calling as a reactionary provocateur, Ye is first and foremost a musician. Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving was suspended last month for promoting anti-Semitic beliefs, including Holocaust denialism, and reactions from some other sports personalities made it clear that he wasn’t alone. For many years up through January, consistent majorities of the Baseball Writers Association of America electorate wanted to enshrine former MLB pitcher Curt Schilling in the Hall of Fame, even if it meant celebrating a man who proudly collects Nazi memorabilia (among many other demonstrations of bigotry towards marginalized groups). Anti-Semitism even comes out in our culture’s fantasies. Think about the Harry Potter universe, where the banks are controlled by a cabal of amoral hook-nosed goblins. In the past, I’ve thought the fact that the only Jewish wizard at Hogwarts is a Ravenclaw named Anthony Goldstein was so ridiculous (and in keeping with J.K. Rowling’s bluntly insensitive naming conventions) that it hardly bothered me. Such stereotyping feels less benign right now.
Functioning in the world requires compromise and compartmentalization. I don’t begrudge anyone who is able to separate the art from the artist and still enjoy Rowling’s writings or even Kanye’s music, but I will infer something about your values if you think now is the time to express your admiration for “Gold Digger.” You can still be a Nets fan despite the Holocaust denier on their roster, but it would be startling to see someone wearing Irving’s jersey these days. It is true that one party abides such bigotry far more than the other — there is no place for both-sides false-equivalence when one faction sees “very fine people” among Neo-Nazis — but if you are a gentile who’s willing to countenance anti-Semitism on your own side of the aisle, you are a partisan, not an ally.
Anti-Jewish hatred is lurking throughout our society, even in places where we would like to think otherwise. These microaggressions and stereotypes ring far louder while a Hitler apologist has a microphone. Calling out anti-Semitism when doing so does not complicate your worldview is an important step, but when you decline to speak up about bigotry from ostensibly friendly sources, the selective silence is deafening.
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To be clear, the reporting is ambiguous on whether the summit described in the linked article took place before or after McFaul’s MSNBC interview, and if Biden has sought his counsel since that meeting. Suffice to say that knowingly dignifying a Holocaust revisionist with an invitation to the White House would be reprehensible.
It is only fair to note that Shapiro is also Jewish, and evidently he was not as concerned as I was about the risk of a Christian nationalist winning the Governor’s office. Again, we are not a monolith.