The water is boiling. And too many people believe they won’t get burned.
In an era of ugly division, we come to one horrific week in American antisemitism. Then again, it seems like every week is a horrific week in American antisemitism now. The initial shock of torch-carrying white supremacists marching through Charlottesville five years ago, chanting “Jews will not replace us,” has long since passed. The rhetoric of white supremacy now surrounds us, spouted on social media, and by Republican politicians and megalomaniacal right-wing pundits so openly, and with such frequency, that many of us have become desensitized to it.
The water that has been growing ever warmer is now roiling. Like that frog in the pan at the point of no return, we’re in serious peril. Though precious few will acknowledge it.
Kanye West, who goes by Ye, is finally facing consequences for expressing antisemitic views. Adidas dropped the rapper and mogul this week. Social media sites de-platformed him after he tweeted a threat to go “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.”
But while a Black man with mental health issues has finally and rightfully been called out, the white conspiracists who have been using Ye as cover for their hateful views remain untouched. Fox personality Tucker Carlson, who has given Ye a massive platform, continues to push despicable lies right out of the white supremacist playbook, promoting the “great replacement theory” that animated mass shooters who attacked a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Black shoppers in Buffalo, and Hispanic people in El Paso. The GOP is lousy with politicians who push the same ugly rhetoric and blame Jewish philanthropist George Soros for everything they deem wrong with this country, from the Black Lives Matter protests to COVID-19.
The effects of this naked bigotry from on high are predictable: neo-Nazis unfurling a banner saying “Kanye is right about the Jews” over the 405 in LA; Orthodox Jews routinely attacked on the street in New York; a candidate for school committee in Indiana proclaiming “All Nazis weren’t ‘bad;’” emboldened New England-based neo-Nazis showing up in Danvers, Saugus, and Boston, harassing hospital workers here and elsewhere.
“Of course Kanye should be held to account,” said Amy Spitalnick, head of Integrity First for America, a civil rights group that successfully sued the white supremacists who organized the Charlottesville rally. But unless we hold to account the officials and institutions that “have mainstreamed antisemitism and white supremacy, we are only allowing it to fester and grow.”
The worse it gets, the worse it gets. Even when the response is appropriately outraged.
“We end up losing, even when there are consequences,” said Jeremy Burton, who heads the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston. “Antisemitism is so rooted in a conspiracy theory about Jewish influence and nefariousness that [punishing Ye] validates the antisemitism.”
Every incident, every hateful utterance, helps numb Americans to the bigotry. What was shocking in 2017 is no longer quite so jarring. Nazis wear us down with their ubiquity. Spitalinick said the Charlottesville defendants were free with hate speech, including racial epithets and jokes about the Holocaust, in an effort to desensitize the jury. It didn’t work in that courtroom: Jurors imposed $26 million in damages on the white supremacists.
Out here, it’s mostly another story.
Ye being held accountable for his antisemitism is the outlier. And as long as that is the case, the likelihood that more American Jewish communities will be targeted grows stronger. Burton points out that the high holidays that just passed — the first where many congregations gathered in person since the start of the pandemic — should have been a time of unalloyed joy. Instead, Burton said, he and others go into synagogues worried about another attack.
The same ugly worldview that puts his congregation at risk endangers others too: Black and Hispanic people, especially immigrants, are targets, as are transgender people and many others who reject Christian nationalism and white supremacy.
Together, those groups comprise a huge chunk of this country. White supremacists maintain their strength by pitting us against each other. That’s why Carlson and other hate-mongers celebrate Ye’s support.
The only way to defeat them is to come together — before the water boils so long that we’re cooked.