‘It’s dehumanizing:’ Jewish community condemns rising antisemitism in L.A.

Kanye West’s antisemitic comments prompt public outcry and calls for change.

A still image of pop culture icon, Kanye West.

In the aftermath of Kanye West’s antisemitic statements via Twitter and various public platforms, there’s growing concern among Jewish communities that antisemitism will now be on the rise.

Despite the suspension of his Twitter account on October 9 over a tweet calling for the endangerment of Jewish people, West, who has since changed his name to Ye, continued to make dangerous comments about Jewish people on podcasts and television segments.

Following Ye’s disparaging statements, Los Angeles saw several prominent antisemitic incidents, including a gathering of an antisemitic hate group on the 405 freeway and the distribution of antisemitic fliers in Beverly Hills.

Antisemitic incidents in the United States were at an all-time high in 2021, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Physical assaults shot up by 167%, while harassment increased by 43% since 2020.

Rabbi Dov Wagner, director of USC’s Chabad Jewish Student Center, said the type of dangerous rhetoric used by Ye isn’t new, with antisemitism harming Jewish people for thousands of years.

“[Ye] doesn’t deserve this kind of attention,” Wagner said. “Even as an antisemite, he’s nothing new or out of the ordinary… The only difference is the amount of people paying attention right now. Antisemitism has existed throughout history and it’s been very commonly bandied about.”

Wagner said it’s somewhat “disconcerting” to see people starting to only care about antisemitism now after Ye’s comments when that support is long overdue.

Wagner said educating people on antisemitism is a key part of the solution, especially for non-Jewish folks. Part of that includes people educating themselves on the cultural and religious practices of Judaism.

Ye previously appeared on NewsNation and claimed he didn’t believe in the term “antisemitic” or that he could be an antisemite because he self-identified as Jewish, a tactic Joshua Holo dismissed as “aggressively antisemitic.”

Holo, dean of L.A.’s Hebrew Union College, said it’s illogical to single out Jewish people as a cause of evil while simultaneously denying the existence of antisemitism. Holo said Ye’s attempt to define the Jewish experience and dismiss the hatred Jewish people face should be called out and debunked.

“What could be more virulent an attack than to say to someone ‘your experience doesn’t even matter,’ — it’s dehumanizing, it’s erasure,” Holo said.

Ye has more than 31.5 million Twitter followers, meanwhile the Jewish population is estimated at just over 15.2 million, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel.

With Ye attracting more Twitter followers than the estimated number of Jewish people around the world, the repercussions of granting antisemitism such a large platform are inescapable for Jewish communities, he said.

The language people use cannot be taken back nor can its impact, Holo explains.

In the wake of Ye’s antisemitic behavior, several companies ended contracts with the rapper, including Balenciaga, Gap, Creative Artists Agency and most recently Adidas. Beverly Hills-based film and TV studio MRC announced it would not be distributing an already finished documentary centered on Ye.

Seeing companies take agency and reprimand Ye for his actions is important, but it’s only one step on the path forward, Holo said.

Senior Rabbi Steve Leder of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple hopes Ye’s dangerous words enlighten people who are unaware of how blatant and common antisemitism is in the world. What’s crucial now is continuing to dismantle antisemitic influence, Leder said.

“I would hope people now accept as fact what many suspected before and stop giving voice and attention to anyone filled with so much ignorant hatred,” Leder said. “I don’t think the motivation matters, poison is poison.”

Leder said antisemitism tends to operate on a pendulum; throughout history it’s held various levels of influence over societies. It doesn’t matter where that pendulum lands now or how much influence Ye truly wields because “a little bit [of hatred] once ignored becomes metastatic.”

Whether they know it or not, people have power to stop the spread of antisemitism, Leder said. Everyone exerts influence and power in their own social circles, and fighting back could be as simple as calling out those around us when they engage in antisemitic behavior.

It’s important the Jewish community in L.A. continues to also fight back against the negative stereotypes and tropes often used against them, Leder said. Now is the time for the community to “be loud, and be proud.”

As the L.A. community grapples with the aftermath of recent antisemitism, Leder said everybody, Jewish or not, needs to come together to start rebuilding connections for the next time a crisis emerges.

“The worst time to try to build a bridge is in a crisis,” Leder said. “Let’s use this time we have now to build bridges so that when we need each other, we can easily reach out and connect and support each other.”

Logan Barth, a student member of USC Hillel, said it’s disheartening to see how prevalent antisemitism continues to be in world where Jewish people have been persecuted for thousands of years.

Barth said his family was lucky to escape the atrocities committed during the Holocaust in the 20th century, but the way Jewish people are treated now harkens back to the beginning of Nazi Germany.

What began as just words led to the persecution and murder of millions of Jewish people, Barth said. Now, more than 100 years after the formation of the German Nazi party, Barth said neo-Nazis are embolded to spread the same hatred for Jews in cities like L.A.

Fighting antisemitism isn’t just a cause, Barth said. It’s simply humanity.

“We’ve already seen an increase in antisemitism, but I think we can stop it before it gets bad,” Barth said. “Obviously the Jewish community is standing up to it, but we do need non-Jewish people to stand up to it as well. And that’s how we can move away from a rise in antisemitism.”

A couple of years ago, Wagner was at a gas station on the corner of Adams and Figueroa, a mile from USC. When a person experiencing homelessness approached him for money, Wagner took him inside the gas station and offered to buy him food and a drink.

The station attendant looked at the rabbi and said people like Wagner simply don’t do stuff like that, and later remarked he must be rich if he’s willing to help someone who is homeless. Wagner said within 20 seconds, this stranger expressed two negative stereotypes about Jewish people.

Looking back, Wagner doesn’t believe the attendant knew how offensive his words were, but it shows how deeply ingrained antisemitism is in people’s minds.

Despite the growing prevalence of antisemitism, Wagner said “a little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.”

“Many have remarked on the miracle of Jewish survival — we are still here and thriving,” Wagner said. “This is actually a moment of tremendous light…As people, we need to be strong and proud of who we are.”