Should We Shut Up or Stand Up When Celebs Slur 'The Jews’?

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It hasn’t been a great couple of months for the Jews. First Miley Cyrus freaks out about old Jewish men being out of touch with teens, a U.S. councilwoman-elect implies that Jewish people might have reason for being randomly punched, and of course, Kanye West’s tirade. Just a few weeks ago, he went on record saying:

"Man, let me tell you something about George Bush and oil money and Obama and no money. People want to say Obama can't make these moves or he's not executing. That's because he ain't got those connections ... Black people don't have the same level of connections as Jewish people. Black people don't have the same connections as oil people."

Pardon me, Kanye, but I didn’t realize all Jewish people have such insane connections, more than — wait for it — the president of the United States of America. Excuse me a moment while I make a few phone calls and work my way to the CEO of Cisco Systems, or better yet, Apple.

West has been getting a lot of media attention, being derided for his “classic anti-Semitism,” and, on the other end of the spectrum, urged not to apologize.

It’s unclear as to whether all this hype is good or bad for the Jews. In a Daily Beast article last week, one woman implored fellow Jews to “stop trying to make people shut up” - particularly when it comes to debates on Israel. But is she right? Would we be better off trying to keep everyone quiet or let them rant and rave so as not to quell public debate?

It’s dangerous being the whiny people who beg for others to stop spouting nonsense, and - perhaps in colder, more politically charged debates - we as Jews should learn to amplify our tradition of healthy discourse. But part of our job as a minority is to protect our group.

So when public figures like Kanye West make anti-Semitic comments, it’s fair for us to want him to shut up. Because even if West has no intention of spreading anti-Semitism or hurting the Jews, and even if his comments are purely spurred by ignorance, not hate, you can guarantee that there are a lot of people out there who think that what he says is completely legitimate, for given the educated man that West is, they probably would believe his words are based on facts. Thus, when influential people like West make these comments, plenty of people out there believe they are valid.

Not everyone has met a Jew before. Indeed, most people in the United States don’t have synagogues in their towns. I, myself, have met many people in the southeastern United States that had never met a Jewish person until they met me. So the more these stereotypical ideas spread, the more they morph into bigger, nastier rumors about Jews being loaded with money and connections, controlling the media and the government.

Therefore, yes, I will make a big deal of these comments. And yes, I will condemn them for being anti-Semitic. Because the gateway drug for anti-Semitism is believing smaller lies about Jewish people, and I won’t just accept that some people get addicted.

Yael Miller is a professional working in International Affairs in Washington, D.C.

Kanye West performs in Los Angeles, July 1, 2012.Credit: AP
Kanye West.Credit: AP

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