Every Tuesday and Thursday I attend a two-hour forty-five minute ceramics studio art class. I look forward to this class as my mental relaxation period. I get to think about art, play with clay and take my mind off of all the other worries college students are constantly thinking about. During this class my teacher plays the radio, rather than let us listen to our own music through headphones. As we all know, the radio over plays every song that ever gets released, so during that nearly three hour period the majority of the songs that come on are played about two to three times over. One day while everyone was working on their pots, the song “Only” by Nicki Minaj featuring Drake, Lil Wayne and Chris Brown, all part of the Young Money music group, came on the radio.
For those of you who do not know, this song created a large amount of controversy when it was released. First of all, the song was released to the public on the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night that thousands of Jews were taken to concentration camps throughout Germany. While this may not have been an issue on its own, its what the music video contained that caused a huge problem. The video for this song blatantly resembles Nazi symbolism. Throughout the video there are masses of soldiers standing at attention wearing red armbands on their left arms, thousands of military tanks stationed and waiting, and just as many war planes flying in the sky shooting missiles at the ground. All the while there are images being projected of tall flags with a red circle and a black YM (Young Money) figure in the middle. In addition, throughout the song there is an image of a gas mask flashed continuously. There is no mistaking that Nicki in this video is the leader of the army and Drake, Lil Wayne and Chris Brown her military commanders. If you have ever studied Nazism in school or watched a World War II movie you know the eye-catching imagery of the Nazis, seeing something that resembles it sets of an alarm in many people’s mind. However, that is just the issue. These alarms were not going off in many of the students in my art class’s heads.
My teacher brought attention to the song by stating that she noticed it played every time we were in the classroom. Her comment was received by a number of students saying that they “love the song” and “Nicki is the best!” While I had kept my mouth shut every other time the song came on, I felt an urge to finally say something so I posed the question to the class, “has anyone ever actually seen the music video for this song?” This is when I realized how important pro-Israel advocacy on campus really is. My classmates responded in an amused way saying that they knew it caused “controversy” but they “didn’t really get why”, when they had watched it they “didn’t see any problems with it.” I tried to explain how watching that video had made me feel. I told them that as a Jew I was truly scared while watching it, frozen unable to comprehend how imagery with such a terrible meaning and history behind it could be used in a pop culture song that had nothing to do with the Holocaust or Jews. I tried to explain why Nicki Minaj using Nazi symbolism was not okay. My classmates listened but really didn’t comprehend the weight of what the imagery meant and what I was trying to tell them.
I am lucky to attend college at a campus that is not plagued with anti-Semitism, such as many other campuses across the country currently are. While Tulane University is not anti-Semitic or anti-Israel, there is definitely a need for activism on campus. The general student body seems to be indifferent when it comes to Israel. While some may look at this and think, “Great! No opposition, no problem,” that is not exactly the case. College students are very impressionable and are easily influenced by campus groups and the media. A student who is indifferent, uneducated or ignorant about Israel and its well-being is just as likely to be persuaded against Israel as they are to be persuaded for it. CAMERA, The Committee for Accuracy in Middle Eastern Reporting in America, truly believes in the importance of reaching those students who are uneducated about Israel. They started their CCAP, CAMERA Campus Activist Project, program to help ensure that there is a pro-Israel voice on every campus across the nation, to help educate students. Tulane has a CCAP liaison on campus who works with a team of pro-Israel students to bring speakers to campus and organize educational events to help apathetic students, like the ones in my art class, understand the importance of the existence of Israel. These indifferent students have minds that need to be exposed to outside sources and information that they do not usually access. Israel has never been a pertinent topic to them, but it is our job as pro-Israel activists to find a way to make it relevant and important to them.