The internet is a strange place. In one of the latest causes célèbres, the artist formerly known as Kanye West has outed himself in spectacular fashion as an antisemite. Ye’s open display of hostility towards Jews when compared to the quieter aspects of antisemitism being laundered through the right-wing populist mainstream shows the degree to which the radical right is willing to platform hatred when it is politically expedient. The politics of hate thus becomes a powerful political tool when used cleverly. This applies as much in cases of racism and misogyny as it does for antisemitism. In this piece I examine cases of all three to understand how subtleties in prejudice form the backbone of reactionary politics.
Different forms of politicized hatred function in correspondingly unique ways. The example of Ye’s antisemitic diatribe with Fox News host Tucker Carlson provides an example of the interplay between subtleties of the use of dog whistles compared to the open display of hate. Ye represents the liberation of naked political hatred while Carlson represents its pragmatic self-censorship, whereby hatred is just as present but obscured behind metaphors and stereotypes to obfuscate its pernicious reality. These are dynamics that play out again and again within the quickly radicalizing mainstream. For Carlson, the specters of the Great Replacement and George Soros provide a kind of distance for his viewers from accusations of antisemitism. By offering up an individual as an ideological enemy, it is possible to use the specter of someone like George Soros to stand in for Jewish elites or Jews writ large. In other words, by invoking these two ideas, Carlson can reference alleged Jewish conspiracies without saying as much explicitly.
While Ye’s use and motivation for using antisemitism differs from the ways that it is wielded by media, the continued use of antisemitic and racist tropes could look more palatable in comparison when Ye’s comments are held up against the typical line concerning Jewish elites (named or not). Ye’s antisemitic statements do not have a direct bearing on the kinds of antisemitism used by more reactionary media as such; however, the existence of Ye’s statements grants a modicum of validity to the tropes used by reactionary media figures. The validity is granted in the liminal space that contrasts the two types of antisemitism: overt and covert. Allowing these two styles of antisemitism to coexist within the same environment offers a justification via contrast under which the covert antisemitism can flourish. The Great Replacement is part of the conservative media establishment’s line, and while people of color are at the center of the theory, Jews are also (sometimes tacitly) implicated as being the engineers of this demographic shift. Thus, there is a latent antisemitism at play with this messaging. Commentators who indulge in and spread the theory are making use of antisemitism, but not overtly. Ye’s comments, being overt in their nature, have the knock-on effect of making dog whistles more likely to be accepted by both consumers of this media as well as the public.
Ye has traded in a lucrative career as a rapper and fashion icon to instead travel the circuit of right-wing podcasts, where he has been repeatedly offered opportunities to denounce his hardline and flagrant antisemitism in favor of the softer dog whistles offered by notorious disinformationists such as Alex Jones, host of InfoWars, and Tim Poole, a podcaster with 1.33 million subscribers on YouTube. In the latest episodes of this strange saga, Ye’s appearance on the former’s web program InfoWars on December 1 included numerous instances of the rapper praising Hitler and denouncing Jews. When Jones tried to correct or clarify that Ye was not a Nazi, or flatly disagreed with obviously antisemitic positions, Ye offered no equivocation, stating: “well I see good things about Hitler, also.”
As extreme as Ye’s comments are, they need to be taken seriously within the context of an ever-growing threat of violence committed by the extremist right, and for the ways that such blatant expressions of bigotry normalize the subtler forms that are found across the spectrum of right-wing commentary. By expressing such extreme views, Ye shifts the right’s own Overton window on what is considered permissible discussion. Steven Crowder, a right-wing podcaster and YouTuber whose content the ADL named a gateway to extremist ideology (despite the fact that the same report also shows that his viewers were more likely than most to have “warm” feelings toward Jews), Alex Jones, and Tim Poole have all made use of antisemitic dog whistles through the conspiracy theories that they hawk. But because of the explicit nature of Ye’s antisemitism, some of what the right’s disinformationists have to say may now seem a little more reasonable to the average listener by comparison, and thereby stand a better chance of making it inside the Overton window than beforehand.
Just one day after Ye stormed off the set of Tim Poole’s Timcast, when the host offered the mildest form of pushback against Ye’s antisemitic statements, Steven Crowder addressed the incident by calling into question the relationship of “secular humanists with Jewish last names” to power in Hollywood and banking. While Crowder might be considered on the fringe of conservative thought leadership, that does not change the reality that he has nearly 6 million subscribers. By contrast, in 2022, the Wall Street Journal, the United States’ second-largest newspaper by digital subscriber count, had only 3 million.
Ye’s initial antisemitic outburst that led to his initial suspension from Twitter occurred in early October. Elon Musk then took over the platform on October 27, 2022 and reversed the suspension. Kanye’s subsequent antisemitic comments after his suspension was reversed correlated with a 61% increase in antisemitic hate speech on Twitter. Following the second round of antisemitic tweets, Ye praised Hitler on Alex Jones’ program, InfoWars, on December 1. It is vital to place this explosion of vitriol in the proper context of a resurgence of white supremacy. But it is also important to relocate this episode in the context of the contemporary political landscape. Antisemitism is not solely a form of racial animus but additionally a tool for the promulgation of violence against those who stand in the way of white supremacist goals. It is thus important for the Jewish community to stand in solidarity with other marginalized groups. The hate that is directed towards us is not uniquely terrible, but it does have a unique place within the arsenal of those who would do us harm.
As Arielle Angel concluded in her editorial entitled “Beyond Grievance” for Jewish Currents in the Summer 2022 issue of the magazine, “We are going to need each other. This means staying attuned to the possibility of a collective power, instead of attached to a proprietary pain.” Ye has doubtless allowed for the normalization of a form of antisemitism that is a little louder and a little more venomous with his comments, and it is important to see how the specter of Jewish power affects not only Jews but the whole of society because of the way that antisemitic rhetoric specifically can be weaponized.
Ye’s blatant antisemitism is shocking only to those who have not been paying attention. Violence against Jewish people has been commonplace for millennia, and the latest iteration of antisemitism is ingrained in far-right culture online, on the airwaves, and in public policy in governments such as Hungary’s under Viktor Orbán. Antisemitism is also a tool, not just a hatred in and of itself, and as such, it forms part of the vast architecture of reactionary politics that is used in order to justify violence not only against Jews but against non-Jews as well. Recall that both the Buffalo shooter’s and the Mother Emmanuel shooter’s manifestos contained references to Jews as a core issue facing the white supremacist cause of racial domination.
It is easy to dismiss the outrageous nature of Ye’s statements. But what cannot be dismissed is the ripple effect that such statements have in the broader culture, especially of the terminally online right. When podcasters have new license to say the quiet part a little louder, one can expect the purveyance of antisemitic conspiracy theories to become more salient in right-wing talking points and policy preferences. It can thus be interpreted as a kind of lodestone for other reactionary measures taken by the right, both in policy as well as at the movement level. It is therefore important for all of those who seek to combat the politics of hate to learn, recognize, and reject not just blatant instances of bigotry, but the less obvious forms that bigotry takes as it makes its way into the rhetoric and policies affecting everyone. It is easy to know when the quiet part has been said out loud, but the quiet part when maintained in silence can be just as, if not more, pernicious.
Photo: “Kanye West– Saint Pablo Tour” by Jamielandis101 licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.