Neta Bar is a business administration junior and opinion columnist for Mustang News. The views reflected in this piece don’t necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
Hate speech targeted at one’s own ethnicity is, as one might surmise, invariably jarring. But when words become actions — when tweets become hate crimes — entire communities are shaken, far and wide. Communities are shaken in our own backyard.
On Nov. 14, a Jewish cemetery in Chicago was vandalized with Swastikas painted on over thirty headstones, one of which was defaced with a message. “Kanye was rite.”
On Oct. 22, an antisemitic hate group was photographed over a busy Los Angeles highway sporting Nazi salutes and a sign that stated “Kanye was right about the Jews.”
As so blatantly expressed as an integral element of both of these hate crimes, the respective perpetrators were inspired, or perhaps more appropriately, empowered, by Kanye West’s recent string of antisemetic outbursts. Primarily, the infamous tweet, calling for violence and puzzling the masses:
“I’m a bit sleepy tonight but when I wake up I’m going death con 3… on JEWISH PEOPLE,” he wrote, and later followed up with a slew of other anti-Jewish comments.
Jews and non-Jews alike were shocked and appalled by the events that followed Kanye’s overt and seemingly shameless antisemetic statements. Of course, this is largely the case when hate crimes occur, regardless of motive or context. By virtue of socially accepted norms and moral positions, we know and agree that this isn’t right; that it’s worthy of condemnation, even.
However, in this particular case, a more intentional evaluation of motive and context is paramount. Kanye West has allowed for antisemites to come out of hiding and proudly be… well, antisemites. At best, he has made them feel heard, and by the same token, he’s entitled them to feel justified, to feel correct, in their bigotry, at worst.
At the hand of the flagrantly Kanye-induced nature of these hate crimes, we know that these people are citing Kanye West as a reference, as a sponsor of sorts, for their frightening ideology. His name was spray painted alongside Swastikas, held up alongside Nazi salutes. For the sake of Jewish safety, we must pay attention. These facts should not and cannot be tuned out. Antisemitism is not simply “on the rise.” Kanye West has effectively given a green light for bigots around the world to not just stand by these beliefs, but to do something about them, too.
And when I say “around the world,” I refer not just to Jewish communities in urban metropoles, but to our very own backyard. In my first two years at Cal Poly alone, I watched with great disappointment and growing fear as incidents such as the 2021 vandalization of our Alpha Epsilon Pi house with the horrifying “6 million was not enough” and the 2022 drawing of a Swastika on a Free Speech wall on Dexter Lawn made Jewish students feel startled and alone.
The people behind these instances of hate speech at Cal Poly have gone undetected and unpunished, with no accountability taken and no closure found. These are the very voices that Kanye West enables and empowers when he takes to his 44 million person following to spew Jewish hate, however superficially mindless.
“What affects me a lot is the fact that he does have such a huge following. At the moment, even after the incidents, he has more followers on his Instagram than the number of Jews on this planet,” the former president of Chabad Cal Poly, Rachel Nebel, stated. “I am so scared yet so numb at the same time. Numb, because this is obviously not the first time this has happened.”
Rachel is one of many experiencing these feelings of fear, and even an absence of physiological safety. English freshman Zoe Goldstein also opened up about her personal distress.
“I practice Judaism, I consider myself religious in that sense,” Zoe said. “I feel less safe as a Jewish person because of the implications of hate speech. I think that especially when I don’t feel like my non-Jewish allies are taking action, or even discussing things that happen, I feel let down by my community. I just feel unsafe, like I have to be more aware of my surroundings, after events like this.”
In the midst of my research for this article, as I walked down the street of my temporary housing in Florence, Italy, where I am currently studying abroad, I encountered a bright green Swastika newly spray painted on the exterior of a coffee shop that I visit nearly every day. I felt disgusted at first, astonished shortly after.
A deep sadness came over me upon realizing that even in Italy, a place that was once quite literally victim to the Nazi regime, a place where Swastikas once littered the city in the form of red and black flags, Jewish hate still persists. With my peers on the other side of the Atlantic in mind, I felt fear, and momentary outrage. Jewish students — Jewish people, of all walks of life, of all nationalities and demographics — deserve safety, both actual and perceived.
The Swastika spray painted on this Italian neighborhood street felt particularly ominous in the wake of the Swastikas hung up, probably on the very same street, just 80 years ago. As a community, we are responsible for asking ourselves: how did that come about? How did the fanatical bigotry that led to widespread Jewish extermination come to be? Thereafter, we must grapple with this question’s critical answer: Public expressions of hate speech, tangibly harmless yet ultimately catastrophic, just like ones that Kanye West has carried out; loudly, thoughtlessly and, most frighteningly, with the wrong people clinging to his every word.