The blight of Kanye West

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According to rapper and fashion designer Kanye West (aka “Ye”), he lost “2 billion dollars in one day” when Adidas, the Gap and Balenciaga cut ties with him over a series of very public antisemitic outbursts last month. On Oct. 8, Ye tweeted that he was “going death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE” and claimed that he is the target of a “Jewish underground media mafia.”

It might be easy to blame Ye’s outbursts on his bipolar disorder. But mental illness is not an excuse for antisemitism. So it’s important that his business partners recognize the difference between loose speech that might be tolerated and hate speech that cannot. Moreover, given West’s celebrity — he reportedly has more Instagram followers than there are Jews in the world — what he posts on social media makes a difference.

Adidas was West’s biggest business collaborator. His Yeezy clothing line reportedly accounted for 10% of Adidas’ revenue. Perhaps it was because of that impact that West boasted on a recent podcast that “I can say antisemitic things and Adidas can’t drop me.” But he was wrong, even if it took Adidas several weeks to cut ties with West. Adidas made the right move. But its dithering gave critics time to look into the company’s own antisemitic past, including its Nazi founder and the company’s participation in Germany’s World War II war effort. Today’s Adidas is not a Nazi company. And what Adidas was 75 years ago should not distract us from West’s outrages today.

Vogue magazine also cut ties with West. As did JPMorgan Chase, the CAA talent agency and MRC film and TV studio, which announced it would not distribute a completed documentary about West. And lest anyone think the whole ugly episode was another celebrity melodrama that will soon be forgotten, a group of white supremacists made sure it would not when they stood on an overpass above a Los Angeles freeway with a banner that read “Kanye is right about the Jews” and gave the Nazi salute.

In the crisis overload of the last few years, it is easy to forget that Jews are a small minority in this country. Growing antisemitism and the increasing willingness of some to act on their hate leaves us all vulnerable. We welcome all attempts to address the problem. One was provided last week by late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, who introduced a spoof product to cure antisemitism called, “Yentanyl” — a mashup of “yenta” and the narcotic fentanyl. If only the curse of antisemitism could be addressed in pill form.

On a more serious note, Rabbi David Wolpe published a piece in Sapir Journal, arguing that Judaism “teaches us how we can grow past and heal the cleavages rending our culture.” Wolpe didn’t mention West, but his message about the importance of engagement and conciliation and the process of teshuvah/repentance reminds us that reconciliation must be an intentional, mutual effort.

West is unrepentant and appears to have no interest in reconciliation. He deserves to be shunned. The world needs to block Kanye West on social media, and those drawn to his music should explore other talent.

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