Until now, my Jewish and conservative identities have co-existed in harmony. My non-Jewish conservative peers have been largely sympathetic to domestic and international Jewish vulnerabilities, and my Zionist colleagues largely sympathetic to right-of-center political views. But after Kanye’s appearance on Tucker Carlson last week, followed by a weekend of the controversial rapper being censored on multiple platforms for alleged antisemitic remarks, I am questioning whether my fellow travelers have their priorities right.
Carlson’s interview with Kanye was a fascinating portrait of a narcissistic, overly simplistic, and quasi-intelligible man, emotionally in heat and slightly out of tune with reality. It also revealed a man with some solid foundational instincts, creative ideas, and traditional values, admirably chest-pounding at the liberal mob and bitterly pushing back against wokeism and its variants.
Kanye is a split screen: both a bloviating cultural force with a bruised ego, and an attractive brand of anti-establishment revolutionary who bears the scars of leftist tyranny, his family having been destroyed by Hollywood. Although we should clearly not attribute wisdom to a man like Kanye, some on the political right have anointed him a spokesman and perhaps even future president.
This type of outreach is understandable. Conservatives are desperate for cultural representation and on the lookout for champions. Although Kanye is an elite iconoclast, allegedly the richest black man in the world, he has publicly betrayed his Hollywood class. One Twitter user noted, “Conservatives claim to hate Hollywood but fall all over themselves when a celebrity validates their views for them. It’s weird to watch.”
From Carlson to Twitter
The day after Carlson’s interview aired, Kanye was censored on Instagram for antisemitism after sharing screenshots of a text conversation with rapper P. Diddy that included a cryptic reference to “Jewish people.” Kanye was also criticized for telling Carlson, with no evidence, that the Abraham Accords were merely a means for Jared Kushner to grow his fortune, an assertion some say invokes classic antisemitic tropes of money-hungry Jews.
Given Kanye’s disdain for the Kushners and inability to control his impulses, I preferred to give him the benefit of the doubt. But then, Kanye lashed out on Twitter, presumably in response to being censored on Instagram, pushing an antisemitic conspiracy theory of the Louis Farrakhan and Black Hebrew Israelite variety about black people being the real Jews. He also threatened to go “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE,” and insinuated Jews are to blame for cancel culture.
Immediately, Twitter locked Kanye’s account. Jews on right and left, as well as our liberal allies, were quick to express outrage. Rep. Richie Torres commented, “If you see yourself at war with Jewish people, then you are, by definition, antisemitic.” United Nations Watch director Hillel Neuer aptly noted “the last time someone went death con 3 on the Jews, six million of us were murdered.”
Multiple people pointed out the particular danger of Kanye spewing gutter antisemitism on an account with more than twice the number of followers as there are Jews in the entire world. Indeed, Kanye’s words triggered the Jew-hating Twitter scum to come out of their bunkers with despicable, unbearably pathological responses. Instead of acknowledging this, many conservatives (and even a few Jewish ones), came to Kanye’s rescue, defending his right to free speech as a victim of big tech censorship.
Kanye and Free Speech
Do I believe Kanye should have been kicked off social media for his comments? In short, no. Speech, even hate speech, is protected under the First Amendment, and I stand firmly against big tech’s draconian, politically motivated “misinformation” and “hate speech” policies.
I do draw the line at incitement to violence. Clear-cut threats should be grounds for removal. But did Kanye’s tweet really constitute a “threat”? For my fellow Jewish activists, there is no question that it did. They interpreted the “death con 3” portion of Kanye’s tweet to mean something along the lines of “I’m about to go punch a Jew.”
Given that hate crimes against Jews are up more than 400 percent in a single year in New York City alone, with the majority of perpetrators black Americans in vicious, unprovoked attacks, this is a highly valid interpretation. But this is a real ball of yarn, and some have noted that Kanye outlined no method of violence or attack strategy. Without yet knowing entirely where I lie, I tend to err on the side of allowing his hateful rhetoric to remain.
In no way am I making excuses for Kanye. In some ways, whether someone is an antisemite in intention or in effect makes no difference to me. But while there is no doubt that the content of Kanye’s tweet was antisemitic, labeling the man an antisemite is a different matter.
Is Kanye Really a Racist?
So, the question becomes, is Kanye truly an antisemite of the Black Hebrew Israelite or Nation of Islam creed? Or is he an insensitive loudmouth driven by reactive urges who imagines himself a courageous, contrarian martyr? After breaking from Hollywood’s leftist thought tyranny, only to be alienated and suppressed by the industry’s leaders (many of them Jewish, no doubt), has Kanye’s anger driven him to the edge of reason?
Kanye is not an analytic, intellectual type. He was exposed to discrimination from a young age, and he views the world emotionally in these racial, ethnic, and religious categories. Conditioned to use generalities about race, Kanye may have reacted to being censored by lashing out.
More has come out about Kanye’s views that suggest a deeper affection for Farrakhan and Black Hebrew Israelite ideology. Yet also Armin Rosen of Tablet Magazine did his due diligence and looked not just at Kanye’s present remarks but his past actions, which include praising Jewish life on various occasions, particularly his previous trips to Israel.
Kanye Has Some Questions to Publicly Answer
At this point in an unfolding drama, should the right shun Kanye West? Perhaps. At the very least, his feet should be held to the fire. Before conservatives embrace him, he must at the very least clarify whether he bears racial hatred towards Jews.
If this is the case, there is no justification for conservatives to give him a platform. But free-speech advocates have a one-track mind right now and can’t be bothered to hold two thoughts about Kanye at the same time. Their celebration of Kanye has no moral underpinning. It is purely pragmatic.
I too am infuriated by the left’s great delight in being able to scream, “See? Of course, he’s an antisemite! He’s a Trump-loving fanatic who went on Tucker Carlson and wore a “White Lives Matter” shirt!,” especially when we know if Kanye had used the word “Zionist” instead of “Jew,” his tweet would likely have been acceptable to the left. But this is not a reason to stoop to the left’s level by conflating multiple issues and ignoring Kanye’s ugly sides.
That’s what Daily Wire pundit Candace Owens did. In a gaslighting response to Kanye’s tweets, she declared the tweet “not antisemitic,” and attempted to pull the wool over the eyes of the Jewish community.
Daily Wire founder Ben Shapiro, one of America’s most prominent conservative Jews, condemned West’s antisemitism, but also praised his conservativism. With many calling for Shapiro to cut ties with Owens for defending Kanye, Shapiro refused on the grounds that The Daily Wire is an open platform for debate. But is antisemitism really a matter of disagreement, or is it a big, fat, glaring red line?
Antisemitism is a sickness that runs rampant throughout human history. Kanye can wax ecstatically about God being his only audience, but if he has any hatred towards the Jewish people, then we should not believe he has accepted Jesus in his heart.
Today, the primarily conservative fight is over free speech. But the right needs to realize that antisemitism is everyone’s fight because, as the saying goes, it may start with the Jews, but it never ends with us. It is far better for the conservative movement to lose a guy like Kanye than to lose its refusal to tolerate racial animosity.