Community reacts to Kanye West’s antisemitic remarks

Kanye West performs at The Museum of Modern Art’s annual Party in the Garden benefit – Jason Persse, 10 May 2011 – via Wikimedia Commons

Over the past several months, influential singer and songwriter Kanye West–who now  goes by Ye–has embarked on a series of hateful and false remarks targeting the Jewish community. It most noticeably began on Twitter claiming that Jewish people control banks, politics, and media. Most recently, he appeared on a podcast making statements that he “loves Nazis” and can see “good things about Hitler.” He also made a blatantly false claim that “the Holocaust is not what happened” and that Adolf Hitler, the German dictator factually responsible for World War II and the Holocaust, “didn’t kill six million Jews.” 

In regards to West’s antisemitic remarks, some students were caught off-guard. 

“I was honestly surprised,” Fifth Former Render Ford said. “I had no idea that [West] was anti-semitic.” 

The rapper, from the public’s perspective, hadn’t shown any signs of antisemitism in the past, and the unprovoked nature and the lack of justification contributes to the peculiarity of the situation. However, to the Jewish Student Union, antisemitic attacks aren’t as uncommon as one might think. 

I think that his impact really targets a lot of Jews in poor communities and in urban communities where we have to deal with a lot of uneducated people who see Jews as people who can easily be robbed, mugged, or attacked

Nathan kahana ’24

“We were saddened by this, obviously, [but] I don’t think this [is] something we’re surprised by,” Sixth Former and Jewish Student Union Leader Isaiah Shuchman said. “I think what surprised a bunch of us was the broad openness of it.”

Mr. Andrew Poolman, faculty advisor to the Jewish Student Union, shared a similar perspective, but pointed out how dangerous his popularity can be. 

“Of course, my first reaction was extreme disappointment and frustration, but honestly and unfortunately, I wasn’t surprised. There will always be extreme and unhinged people like Kanye in this world who espouse hateful rhetoric, but what is most concerning now is Kanye’s number of followers and his influence.”

With almost 30 million followers on Twitter before a recent suspension, West certainly maintains influence that could even extend to the Haverford community. Students could listen to his music, own his brand of shoes, or follow his social media, which could lead to an influx of antisemitism. However, Fifth Form Jewish Student Union member Nathan Kahana believes it won’t have any particular effect on him.

“I don’t think that the effect is really present in a lot of ways, and the reason for that is because, in the group of people I interact with, who my family interacts with, the group of people who will listen to what he says isn’t present in any way,” Kahana said.

Kahana added, however, that the effect could extend to other Jewish families that aren’t in as fortunate a situation. 

“I think that his impact really targets a lot of Jews in poor communities and in urban communities where we have to deal with a lot of uneducated people who see Jews as people who can easily be robbed, mugged, or attacked,” Kahana said.

In order to prevent antisemitic environments, particularly at school, students differ. To Sixth Former Isaiah Shuchman, the best way for the Jewish Student Union to approach blatantly false and antisemitic remarks is to not ignore the comments, but rather not support him, and behave at a high moral standard even when the remarks made weren’t. 

“I think for us, I think a good thing is to take the high road. I personally wouldn’t buy Yeezys or merchandise that would directly benefit Kanye himself, but when it comes to listening to the music, [the situation] is a little bit harder because a lot of people talk about ‘separating the artist from the art,’ but instead of boycotting an individual, I think it’s better to invite people to the table to have a conversation,” Shuchman said.

This year the Jewish Student Union has remained proactive in demonstrating the ongoing effects of the Holocaust and educating the community, and one way they have done that is by bringing in Holocaust survivor Emil Fish to speak to the upper school about his experience. 

Mr. Emil Fish speaking to the Haverford Upper School – via @haverfordschool on Instagram

Kahana also suggested another perspective in terms of better educating the students about the Holocaust. 

“I think the answer is that you need to find time for it in the curriculum. You need to find books, you need to find time in a history curriculum; this is something that is very, very important,” Kahana said. “I have not learned about World War II in a lot of depth and to the extent that I’ve never really learned about this stuff in school, I think that’s a problem.”

And while the school does provide portions of the history curriculum to World War II and the Holocaust, the history department has trying to ensure that all major events are covered in as much depth as possible. 

“Within the history department, we have had conversations about making sure that major historical events are covered throughout our four-year curriculum and the Holocaust was front and center of that talk, particularly in light of national surveys showing a shocking number of students who had never heard of or learned about the event,” Modern World History teacher Mr. Jeremy Hart said. He explained that he lectures on the rise of Hitler and the Nazis in the 1920s and 1930s, shows film clips, shows photos of Jewish concentration camps, and shows statistics from the war. 

“I think, in the end, many of my students are surprised that the Holocaust involved not only Jews,” Mr. Hart said, “but Soviet, Polish, Serbian civilians, disabled peoples, Romas, and many other ‘undesirable groups,’ according to the Nazis.”

An important part of ensuring that there is sufficient knowledge and coverage of the mass genocide of Jewish individuals at Haverford is ensuring that there is a proper place to converse about different perspectives and a supportive environment is present for students that may feel targeted and need people to talk to. The Jewish Student Union has played a large role in doing just that. 

“The JSU group deserves enormous credit for confronting these events with plenty of consideration, conversation, and courage,” Mr. Poolman said. “I hope their main takeaway is that hate speech, antisemitism, racism, homophobia, in any form, has no place here at Haverford, and by educating themselves and others, they have a responsibility to fight hate and bigotry to make a more inclusive world.”