Goldie Benarroch

The Destructive Power of Hate: How One Person’s Words Can Influence Many

The phrase " Zero tolerance for antisemitism " drawn on a carton banner in hand. A girl holds a cardboard with an inscription during a march.
The phrase " Zero tolerance for antisemitism " drawn on a carton banner in hand. A girl holds a cardboard with an inscription during a march.

Given history’s bad record on antisemitism, one would expect us to have learned from history’s mistakes, but antisemitism sentiment and incidents have dramatically risen in the past decade. Historical antisemitism dates back to biblical times when Abraham, the father of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, and his family moved to Canaan in BCE, where Jews experienced persecution for refusing to worship idols and adopt the customs and culture of the new ruler. Then in 70 C.E., the Jewish state was destroyed by Romans, forcing Jews to spread across the world because of the threat of Judaism to establish Christianity as the most prominent world religion. Jews refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah and thus were seen as a threat to Christianity. In Europe during the Middle Ages, Jews were accused of “blood libels” to explain the death of Christians and were rumoured to have horns and tails. In 1095, the Crusades started, massacring, looting, and raping Jews.

When the bubonic plague spread throughout Europe in the middle of the 14th century, fear led to the need to blame the Jews because of the myths and notions spread about them. In the late 1800s, secret police published The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which consists of documents accusing rabbis of secret plans to control the world, which led to Pogroms and the mass murder of Jews in Ukraine. Then, the Holocaust: the murder, torture, ill-treatment, and robbery of millions of Jews by the Nazi regime in an effort to exterminate Jews. Due to the horrors and magnitude of the Holocaust, individuals and countries would less widely accept expressions of antisemitism immediately after the Holocaust.

However, as decades passed, there has been a huge rise in antisemitism, and there are numerous reasons for this. Firstly, social media and false reporting have provided a platform for the spread of extremist views and hatred to be spread online easily. Secondly, the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict has fueled antisemitism, with some people blaming Jews for the situation in the region without understanding the full picture. Thirdly, many people hold negative views of Jews simply because they have not been exposed to accurate information about Jewish history and culture. Overall, the rise of antisemitism is a complex issue with many contributing factors.

Antisemitism has always been around, and today is no exception. Recently, celebrity personalities worldwide, particularly in the United States, have begun to peddle antisemitic tropes. These influencers are slowly normalizing and popularizing what was once considered unacceptable and antisemitic rhetoric. The spread and popularizing of these beliefs are also causing a simultaneous desensitization amongst the public to the woes and horrors of antisemitism. These influencers are not just speaking to themselves but to their millions of followers.

In the past few months, we have seen many antisemitic incidents whose perpetrators have justified their behaviour using the same antisemitic rhetoric that Kanye West has pushed on major media outlets in the past few months. For example, this past October, white supremacists were spotted hanging a sign over a Los Angeles overpass that read “Kanye is right about the Jews” and made pro-Nazi gestures. This follows an episode where Kanye had gone on a media tour to spread antisemitic rhetoric. Amongst those interviews, Kanye was seen on Alex Jones’s show, Infowars, where he, almost astonishingly, attested to his love for Hitler and the Nazis, all while making fun of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Before Kanye West was banned from Twitter for his antisemitic rhetoric, he succeeded in sending out antisemitic tweets to his over 30 million followers. Even if only a small percentage of his followers took his message to heart, it was enough to set off a wave of Jewish discrimination worldwide. But we should have seen the writing on the wall; in the past ten years, antisemitism has risen substantially. With synagogue shootings from Pittsburgh to California, antisemitic attacks have become an expectation in the United States. This recent wave of celebrity-sponsored antisemitism is just the blossoming of seeds of antisemitism that have been planted in the United States’ social fabric over the past decade.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, Kanye West represents how flagrant antisemitism has become in the United States. We cannot solve antisemitism by ignoring it. We cannot claim not to see, rationalize or give excuses for antisemitism. We may think that ignorance is bliss, but when it comes to antisemitism, ignorance has proven to be the kiss of death. With all of our might, we must call out antisemitism wherever it hides, wherever it lurks. We must publicize the perpetrators and rely on the public to inflict cost and create deterrence. We must also respond to the lies by calling them out and responding with the truth. These are the defensive measures we must take.

As sure as history has taught that ignorance is dangerous, it has also taught that relationships can be your saviour. We have seen the death and destruction of antisemitism. Addressing this problem will require a concerted effort from governments, civil society organizations, and individuals to educate people, promote tolerance, and combat hate speech. We can and should also begin strengthening our inter-community alliances. Now it is our watch, our time to calm the flames of antisemitism.

About the Author
Goldie Benarroch is a Business Management and Organizational studies student at the University of Western Ontario and a HonestReporting Canada campus media fellow.
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