Why Kanye's Antisemitism is so Dangerous

If cultural icons can normalize hate and still find support at the highest levels of government and commerce we are not headed for disaster - we are already there.

Why Kanye's Antisemitism is so Dangerous
Photo by Karina Carvalho / Unsplash

Extremism and hatred, in the countless forms that they can take, are a constant in much of the work I've done in the security/threat space but I am consistently frustrated by the intractable nature and acceptance of antisemitism in particular. Of course, there's a human element to hate and fear of the "other" that humanity is unlikely to ever fully escape but in this case there is an odd casual acceptance of, or blindness to, antisemitism that I (as someone who has had to frequently present these cases to others) find perplexing and deeply frustrating. I'm not referring to active hate and those who practice it but rather what seems like an all too common inability to recognize or appropriately calibrate reactions to that hate by people who are otherwise allies.

Ultimately, I think, it's the centuries of normalization and the dogged persistence of many antisemitic narratives that contribute to this insidiousness. Examples don't shock when they should. The visceral reaction to the holocaust has faded with time, or was never present, for many. Attempts to pass those lessons on are increasingly challenged. Well-intentioned and good people don't respond with outrage because the stereotypes and hate have been normalized through politicization of the narratives and accepted as a constant. Antisemitism, for all too many, is acceptable background noise.

The consistent unbroken string of hatred, spanning centuries, and the ubiquitousness of it has created other dangerous dynamics that are poorly understood. Antisemitism is not only the longest hatred but elements of it have also been woven into virtually all other forms of hate, extremism, and conspiracy thought no matter how radically different or disconnected it they may initially appear. Explore almost any conspiracy long enough and eventually (if not immediately) you will find a hateful narrative about Jews. It is painfully predictable.

All of this sets us, the United States, up poorly for what is happening now and what will happen next. The worst among us have always understood these dynamics and the destructive potential and power that can be tapped in latent and unchallenged hate. This is the peril that Seamus (the Deputy Director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University) pointed to in his tweet and it is being unlocked with lightning speed by cultural icons and the political opportunists who are all too willing to let them lead the way to a horrific new normal.

Of course, my concerns are not limited to antisemitism. We're seeing the same highly politicized targeting and othering of trans people and underrepresented demographics generally. Ultimately extremists don't care who can be legitimately (in the eyes of the state) hated or oppressed as long as that hate can be legitimized and woven into the fabric of our culture and government. Once that domino falls the rest aren't far behind. Ignore it at your peril.