As Kanye West praises Hitler, advocates fear antisemitism is going mainstream

Far-right Infowars host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, left, and rapper Kanye West are shown in a composite image. On Thursday, West made multiple inflammatory statements and denied the Holocaust happened on Jones's podcast. (Mike Segar/Reuters, Evan Agostini/Invision/The Associated Press - image credit)
Far-right Infowars host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, left, and rapper Kanye West are shown in a composite image. On Thursday, West made multiple inflammatory statements and denied the Holocaust happened on Jones's podcast. (Mike Segar/Reuters, Evan Agostini/Invision/The Associated Press - image credit)

The conversation was as vile as you might expect.

Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist who has been ordered to pay $1.44 billion US in compensation for promoting false conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook school massacre, invited Kanye West, a rapper who peddles antisemitism, onto his online chat show on Thursday.

Jones offered West some friendly cover, declaring: "You're not a Nazi, you don't deserve to be called that and demonized."

West paused and stumbled for a moment, before declaring, "I see good things about Hitler, also."

Throughout the course of the program, West made multiple inflammatory statements, denied the Holocaust happened, and said that Nazis "did good things, too. We gotta stop dissing the Nazis all the time."

For months now, West has been using his sizeable public platform to spread hate, including a tweet declaring he would go "death con 3 on Jewish people."

A week before he went on Jones's show, he invited Nick Fuentes, a well-known white supremacist and Holocaust denier, to a dinner at Mar-a-Lago with Republican candidate for president, Donald Trump. Trump, who only launched his campaign last month, has yet to clearly and unequivocally denounce the incident.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Then there's Kyrie Irving, the NBA star who promoted an antisemitic video. And comedian Dave Chappelle, who has been criticized for spreading harmful stereotypes about Jewish people during an appearance on Saturday Night Live last month.

When you add it all up, advocates are warning this is what the normalization of antisemitism looks like.

"It boggles the mind. It's almost hard to understand this is happening in 2022," said Meredith Weisel, the Washington, D.C., regional director for the Anti-Defamation League.

Acts of antisemitism steadily increasing

During a conversation inside her synagogue in suburban Maryland, Weisel said this kind of hateful rhetoric emboldens people who hold these views.

"Donald Trump, a former president, going and meeting with a known white supremacist and Holocaust denier. What does that say to the community? What does that say to the public? It's a normalization," she said.

"Somebody who may be more closeted about it feels, 'Oh, I can be more mainstream, I can be very public about it, I can act on it.'"

WATCH | Trump condemned for dinner with West and antisemitic white nationalist:

In addition to antisemitic language itself being deeply harmful, Weisel's fear is that these kinds of statements will incite violence — a concern shared by the Department of Homeland Security.

In its latest summary of terrorism threats to the United States, the department warned that "faith-based institutions" are among groups that could be potential targets of violence.

"Recent incidents have highlighted the enduring threat to faith-based communities, including the Jewish community. In early November 2022, an individual in New Jersey was arrested for sharing a manifesto online that threatened attacks on synagogues," the Nov. 30 report says.

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According to the Anti-Defamation League, which has been tracking incidents for more than 40 years, reported acts of antisemitism are steadily increasing.

In its 2021 audit, the organization tracked 2,717 antisemitic incidents throughout the United States — a 34 per cent increase from the 2,026 incidents tabulated in 2020. It's "the highest number on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979," the organization said.

The numbers for 2022 won't be ready until the spring, but "we're definitely on track to be where 2021 was, or possibly even higher," said Weisel. "It certainly hasn't gone down."

'A badge of honour to openly target Jews'

"In the past, even if you held antisemitic views, you often kept them to yourselves. But now it's almost seen as a badge of honour to openly target Jews and the Jewish people," said Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital and Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

Since the start of the pandemic, he said he has personally experienced an increase in antisemitic threats.

"It's the fact that I'm a COVID scientist and I develop COVID vaccines, so there's an additional layer of antisemitism directed against conspiracies around COVID origins and COVID vaccines," he said during an interview from his office in Houston.

While most of the hate arrives in his inbox via email or through social media, he said he was physically stalked at a synagogue during a speaking engagement about a year ago.

"Two people came into the synagogue and started heckling me," he said.

Dustin Satloff/Getty Images
Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

The incident concerned him because the individuals were brazen enough to enter a house of worship, and he was disturbed by the fact these individuals knew he was attending the event in the first place.

When Hotez participates in public events now, he requires security.

"People need to understand why antisemitic rhetoric and antisemitic targeting is so dangerous, and its legacy with the most dramatic version being what happened in the Holocaust."

Zero-tolerance stance needed

Hotez said there needs to be a multi-pronged approach in finding solutions.

In addition to better public education, he said politicians and community leaders need to take a zero-tolerance stance when it comes to antisemitism.

Weisel feels the same way.

"It's a whole of society approach, it's a whole of government approach — everybody together talking about it, condemning it, educating it," she said.

A growing number of Republicans have condemned Trump for his dinner with West and Fuentes. Former vice-president Mike Pence called on Trump to apologize for using "profoundly poor judgment."

In a series of social media posts just last month, Trump said that Jewish Americans needed to "get their act together" and "appreciate" Israel more.

Irving, the NBA player, was eventually suspended by the Brooklyn Nets on Nov. 3 after refusing to say he didn't have any antisemitic beliefs in a meeting with reporters. Nike suspended its relationship with Irving the next day. He apologized later in the month, and rejoined the team after an eight-game ban.

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, meanwhile, said this week the company has no plans to pull the video Irving watched from its online marketplace.

After West's string of antisemitic social media posts in October, his accounts were suspended, his talent agency dropped him, and Adidas cut ties with him — but not before facing widespread criticism for not acting sooner.

The same day as his interview on Jones' podcast, social media platform Parlement Technologies announced the platform and West had agreed to terminate his intent to purchase them, adding, however, that the agreement was reached in mid-November.

As well, Twitter announced his suspension from the platform late Thursday, just two months after his account had been reinstated.

WATCH | Antisemitic incidents on the rise in the U.S., say advocates: 

As for Chappelle, after he used his SNL monologue to discuss the abundance of Jewish people in show business, Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, tweeted "Why are Jewish sensitivities denied or diminished at almost every turn? Why does our trauma trigger applause?"

And writer Adam Feldman tweeted, "That Dave Chappelle SNL monologue probably did more to normalize antisemitism than anything Kanye said."