Kanye West's Dark, Twisted Fantasy
And Jewish reality.
Yesterday was any given Sunday in America, which meant that most Jews were not at all astonished when we looked down at our phones and discovered a former president was calling us ingrates and one of the most famous artists in the world was doing Louis Farrakhan one better. We are long past astonishment.
For those who don’t have an anxious Jewish mother or an internet connection, here’s a glimpse of this past weekend’s bile, starting with Kanye West.
“On TMZ I just saw yesterday it said, ’Pete Davidson and Kim have sex by the fireplace to honor their grandmother.’ It’s Jewish Zionists that’s about that life. That’s telling this Christian woman that has four black children to put that out as a message,” he said on a podcast, in which he went unchallenged by the hosts.
Another clip: “Jewish people have owned the black voice. Whether it’s through us wearing a Ralph Lauren shirt, or it’s all of us being signed to a record label, or having a Jewish manager, or being signed to a Jewish basketball team, or doing a movie on a Jewish platform like Disney.”
And another: “You know they came into money through the lawyers, when after Wall Street when all of the, like, the Catholics, they wouldn’t divorce people so the Jewish lawyers came and they were willing to divorce people. That’s when they first came into their money.”
In one interview—an interview that the host, a rapper who goes by the name N.O.R.E, celebrated as having gotten more views than Sunday night football—West pulled off a perfect antisemitic hat trick: nod to our apparent sexual deviancy and perversion; accuse us of exploiting other minorities for our benefit; and suggest that our success is ill-gotten. It was almost impressive.
While those clips were going viral, Donald Trump offered his own take on American Jews. “No President has done more for Israel than I have,” the former president wrote on his platform, Truth Social. “Somewhat surprisingly, however, our wonderful Evangelicals are far more appreciative of this than the people of the Jewish faith, especially those living in the US. Those living in Israel, though, are a different story—Highest approval rating in the World, could easily be PM! US Jews have to get their act together and appreciate what they have in Israel—Before it is too late!”
Here is the part of the column where I tell you things that are also true.
Kanye West, who now goes by Ye, is a brilliant musician. He is a brilliant musician who is mentally ill.
Also: The Trump White House did a tremendous amount for the cause of Middle East peace.
But those facts do not undermine what is undeniable. Namely, that the wealthiest musician in the world appears to hold deeply conspiratorial views about Jews informed by the antisemite Louis Farrakhan and a hate cult called the Black Hebrew Israelites, whose worldview—black people are chosen by God; Jews are pretenders—is disturbingly prevalent in large parts of American culture. And that the former president is criticizing American Jews for being ungrateful, commanding them to show him proper respect—and issuing a veiled threat if they do not. (His staunchest supporters may insist that Trump’s warning “Before it is too late!” meant “Before it is too late for America” or perhaps “too late for Israel,” the implication being that Biden isn’t as supportive of the Jewish state and so Jews need to support Trump. However you read the opaque missive, the toxic notion of the ungrateful Jew is unambiguous.)
If you are an American Jew who has been paying attention you have long since learned to lower your expectations. We have learned to live with the strange reality that ours is a culture in which major pop stars revise their lyrics when they are accused of committing microaggressions, but cannot muster a single tweet condemning West’s tirade. There will be no hashtags for the Jews.
Some have argued that we cannot judge West—that he is mentally ill, and therefore isn’t in full control of what is coming out of his mouth. Let’s grant that argument. What you are left with is the reality that West has been made into a vessel for antisemites keen to amplify and memeify the most destructive lies about Jews.
There is a moment in the interview when he says: “I want Jewish children to look at their Jewish daddies and say, ‘why is Ye mad at us?’” To which one of the hosts gives a Michael Barbaro-style “hmmm,” as if the musician has just made a profound and compelling point. The tens of thousands of comments on YouTube saying “great interview” and calling West a “genius” confirm it. More to the point: Ice Cube and Nick Cannon are not mentally ill. They have expressed the very same ideas as West with little consequence.
Theirs is just one variant of the ancient poison that has been unleashed and now nestles comfortably in so many corners of American life. In Brooklyn, where it’s now dangerous to be visibly Jewish. At U.C. Berkeley, where there are now nine major student groups that have banned any speaker who supports “the apartheid state of Israel”—in other words the vast majority of Jews who do not, in fact, want the Jewish state destroyed. (Under their rules, the current dean of the law school would be barred.) In Los Angeles last week, several billboards were defaced with a sign declaring, “Zionist Jews Control America”—Ye’s dark, twisted fantasy blaring in bold letters.
Tonight, as it turns out, actual, living, real Jews will celebrate the holiday of Simchat Torah, in which we mark the conclusion of the annual cycle of reading the Torah and celebrate the beginning of the Five Books of Moses anew.
As the brilliant scholar and teacher, the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, pointed out, this holiday goes unmentioned in the Bible or the Talmud. It began in Babylon, after the Jews had been exiled from the Holy Land, in the fifth or sixth century. From there, it spread to Jews exiled and scattered to the furthest reaches of the globe. Not by rabbinic edict, but by the grassroots.
As Sacks reminds us: “By the time Simchat Torah had spread throughout the Jewish world, Jews had lost virtually everything: their land, their home, their freedom and independence, the Temple, the priesthood, the sacrificial order—all that had once been their source of joy.” The only thing left, writes Rabbi Sacks, was the Torah itself: “All that remained was a book.”
Yet those Jews—who lacked land, who lacked political power, who lacked a shared culture—celebrated in the face of devastation.
So tonight I’ll go to synagogue with my wife and our baby. We will dance. We will sing. We will read, as every generation has before us, those first words of Genesis: “In the beginning . . . ”And we will remember that our very lives were made possible by Jewish men and women who found a way to continue that cycle, unbroken. Who refused, against all evidence to the contrary, to give into despair.
Read Bari’s last column about rising antisemitism in America here. And if you missed our episode of Honestly with Abdullah Antepli, the brave imam blowing the whistle on Jew hate, please listen:
If you appreciate the work we do, please subscribe today: