The past month of chagim has been a time of uncertainty for observant Jews. Turn on the phone after two days and one cannot imagine who could be making the latest outrageous statement, and the number of likes, retweets, and shares for such insults.
“I’m a bit sleepy tonight but when I wake up, I’m going death con 3 [sic] On JEWISH PEOPLE,” rapper Kanye West wrote in a now-deleted tweet earlier this month. “The funny thing is that I actually can’t be Anti Semitic [sic] because black people are actually Jew also.”
His poorly-written tweet was in line with comments that he made to Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson and, in a recorded voice message, to fellow rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs. Kanye’s penchant for offending people extends beyond Jews and includes African Americans when he spoke of slavery as a choice, and wearing a “White Lives Matter” shirt. His behavior has been described as mentally unstable and a contributing favor to his very public divorce earlier this year.
If there is a reason why his rants are worthy of news coverage it is because his social media profiles have more followers than the number of Jews on this planet. Among the millions of individuals who read his tweets, one cannot determine how many of them take the tweets seriously. Recent events showed that racist opinions have inspired followers to commit acts of violence.
When West spoke of Black people as the “real Jews,” he was channeling a century-old Black Israelite movement that believes that halachic Jews of non-African ancestry are impostors. Some followers of this group can be seen on busy street corners heaping invective on actual Jews while promoting a faith rooted in skin color that retains Jesus as their messiah, albeit as a black man.
Last week, on a Chol HaMoed trip to Manhattan, my third-grade daughter asked me about the Black man playing the drum on the subway. His tzitzis and kipah were multicolored, and he wore a large star on his chest. “Daddy, is he Jewish?”
I shushed my daughter and waited until he moved on to the next subway car. “There are people who think that they are Jewish and want a relationship with Hashem but without the responsibilities of learning halachah, undergoing conversion, and doing it the right way. He is not a Jew, but we cannot argue with him about it,” I answered her.
As he played and looked at me, I wondered whether his belief in race-based Judaism excuses violence against white Jews, or whether it is a passive ideology. Black Israelites are an eclectic group whose observance, positions on race, the Mashiach, and Israel, vary depending on the congregation.
In December 2019, a chasidic grocery store in Newark was stormed by two followers of this movement, resulting in six deaths.
West’s conversation with Carlson and his message to Combs touched on stereotypes that Jews only do things “to make money.” To summarize, it is an anti-Semitism that envelops economic, religious, and racial arguments aimed at marginalizing Jews.
Recognizing his ability to reach millions of people, Jewish celebrities spoke up about his ramblings. “The holiest day in Judaism was last week. Words matter. A threat to Jewish people ended once in a genocide,” actress Jamie Lee Curtis wrote. “Your words hurt and incite violence. You are a father. Please stop.”
Comedian Amy Schumer posted a video of a diversity training seminar where she was the main character. The four-and-a-half-minute video provided harassment scenarios where anti-Semitic comments aimed at Schumer were ignored by the facilitator. “Keep your anti-Semitic comments to yourself,” Schumer captioned her video, along with a link to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington where one can “learn more.”
Another visibly Jewish celebrity, the renowned actress and singer Barbra Streisand, tweeted earlier this month a direct question: “When does anti-Zionism bleed into broad anti-Semitism?” She gave the answer by linking to a Jewish Journal op-ed, titled Berkeley Develops Jewish-Free Zones.
Streisand was referring to Berkeley Law School, where nine student groups drafted a resolution barring Zionists from campus events. Erwin Chemerinsky, a self-described progressive, noted that he would be banned from such events as he believes in the existence of a Jewish state. “To say that anyone who supports the existence of Israel – that’s what you define as Zionism – shouldn’t speak would exclude about, I don’t know, 90 percent or more of our Jewish students,” he told the Jewish Journal.
Judaism is not a political religion, and within Orthodoxy there are communities that are not involved in Zionism and opposed to it on theological grounds; but like the majority of their coreligionists, they are connected to Eretz Yisrael, contributing to its Jewish communities and advocating for their security. Every nationality has its ancestral homeland, and every religion has its holy sites.
Social media does not represent popular opinion. It amplifies voices on the fringe, as they feel that they are not alone in their hateful views. Fortunately, in reality, most celebrities, elected officials, and members of minority communities in this country recognize anti-Semitism and stand alongside the Jewish community in condemning it.
By Sergey Kadinsky