Ever since Ye declared he’d be going “death con 3 on Jewish people,” the media and advocacy groups like the Anti-Defamation League have sought to portray the issue as a battle between free speech and censorship. When Ye fawned over Hitler alongside an open Holocaust denier on a talk show hosted by a man successfully sued for calling a school massacre a hoax, it seemed to prove the larger point: Unregulated internet forums (like the ones where Alex Jones made his name) are dangerous, and the best safeguard against antisemitism lies in actively policing them.
Free speech of the kind being advocated by people like Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, the argument goes on, is a direct threat to Jews. Following Musk’s acquisition of the social media platform, The New York Times wrote breathlessly that “Hate Speech’s Rise on Twitter Is Unprecedented, Researchers Find.” Only two groups are named as sources for the research, one is the ADL and the other is British-based, dark-money-funded Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), perhaps best known for providing the White House with data that was then used to pressure Facebook to remove content deemed objectionable. The ADL, meanwhile, has increasingly defined its mission to defend the Jewish people as being synonymous with the Democratic Party’s efforts to eliminate “hate” from the internet, while turning a blind eye to it elsewhere. The head of the ADL, Jonathan Greenblatt, has repeatedly framed the fight against antisemitism in recent weeks as hinging on the actions of Elon Musk.
But this tells only half the story. After all, Ye’s narrative of sinister Jewish control did not emerge fully formed from his personal study of historical and theological matters. Rather it’s been building for decades in the same media ecosystem that now proclaims itself guardian against all things racist and the protector of the Jews.
For the past five years, the dominant media narrative about race—perhaps the dominant media narrative, period—has built up a hierarchy of racial justice. At the top are the perennially marginalized “BIPOCs,” victim to the lash of the ever-present colonial whip. At the bottom lurks the “white male,” inherently and ineluctably racist, even when (or perhaps especially when) they’re trying hard not to be.
In a manner true to our history, Jews have been sucked into this Manichean whirlpool, cast by radical academics and their media acolytes as an essential, almost distilled element of the global system of racial oppression. We are not just white; we are the plotters and financiers of the entire sysyetm of white supremacy.
Worse still, if Jews are white then they are not, well, Jews. The largely successful effort to assign Jews to the white race means Jews do not have the moral privilege of determining our own identity. The perverse result of dispossessing Jews of their own history is that it grants the mantle of Jewishness to our enemies. Thus Ye, in the same Twitter thread where he threatened to go “death con 3” on Jews, also claimed: “I actually can’t be antisemitic because Black people are actually Jew also.”
When Whoopi Goldberg asserted on The View that the “Holocaust was not about race,” she was advancing a version of the same arguments made by virulent Black Hebrew Israelite hate preachers, professors who insist on the indelible whiteness of Jews, and anti-Zionists who deny the legitimacy of Jewish historical identity. It’s true that only the last two groups tend to have their ideas promoted by the media, but all three share the idea that “Jew” is not a meaningful or legitimate category. Palestinians can be Jews—thus the Democratic political activist and Louis Farrakhan fan Linda Sarsour is invited to participate as an expert in a prominent panel on antisemitism. And by the same logic, Black Hebrews can be Jews. Ye can be a Jew. Only Jews are not allowed to be Jews.
Over and over, Jews have watched this trend play out, and largely we’ve been silent.
In a key scene in the 2014 Oscar-nominated Selma, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. leads a group of activists and protesters across a bridge alongside Black civil rights leaders. Not pictured in the scene was a man who walked in that front line of protesters, fighting for civil rights: the great American Jewish rabbi and leader Abraham Joshua Heschel.
Why would Ava Duvernay, the film’s director, compromise the film’s historical integrity to erase one of America’s most prominent Jewish spiritual figures out of the image? The answer is that over the past decade, the anti-racist movement that has been the media’s single most championed social cause has turned a syllogism into a truism: Whites are by definition white supremacists; Jews are the whitest of whites because they falsely hide behind their fake ethnicity; Jews, therefore, are at the top of the white supremacy totem.
The media has actively spread these ideas by turning woke racialism into the defining moral cause of our time, while at the same time ignoring the consequences of this campaign. While Ye was “canceled” for making open threats and affirming his love for Hitler, little more than a week earlier hundreds of Black Hebrew Israelites marched through central Brooklyn, uniformed and in formation, chanting “we are the real Jews.” Save for some coverage in the New York Post and in Tablet’s daily newsletter, The Scroll, the rest of the media was virtually silent. The media is still talking about the alt-right’s 2017 hate march in Charlottesville, treating it as one of the defining events of the modern era, but when hundreds of virulent antisemites march in Brooklyn—the mecca of America’s media establishment—it was crickets. The silence was appalling but also unsurprising given that the same media has largely ignored the routine violent attacks against religious Jews in New York.
When Ilhan Omar tweeted in 2019 that Jewish money swayed Congress to support Israeli policies—only weeks before claiming American Jews harbor dual allegiance—the media response was hedged. Ilhan Omar “was widely accused of antisemitism,” NPR wrote, working hard not to claim Omar’s comments were in fact antisemitic. CBS News noted that it was not the first time Omar “has been attacked,” positioning Omar, incredibly, as victim rather than aggressor.
The New York Times worked this idea of dual Jewish allegiance into a 2021 news article by Catie Edmonson that claimed—without any source to substantiate it—that unnamed “rabbis” had influenced Congress’ decision to fund Iron Dome, a missile-defense system that has saved countless lives in Israel. The media appeared to further boost the narrative that Iron Dome is a tool of Israeli injustice when it ran dozens of headlines about AOC openly weeping after the vote.
In a profile of Alice Walker last spring, the Times offered sympathetic treatment to The Color Purple author despite the fact that she has spread vile antisemitic tropes, including writing a poem that asks “Are Goyim (us) meant to be slaves of Jews, and not only / That, but to enjoy it?” The Times, which previously ran a conversation between Walker and Cheryl Strayed that made no mention of Walker’s Jew hatred, characterized this noted antisemite as “complex.”
By far, the most effective tool in the demonization of Jews has been the use of Israel and Zionism as a means to hide what would otherwise be recognized as pure ethnic bigotry under the cloak of social justice. Casting Israel as the world’s last settler colonial state allows antisemites to call Jews colonialists. And casting Jews as colonialists has allowed them to call Israel a colonial movement. It has also underlined the idea that Jews are the most villainous sect on the hierarchy of white supremacy.
But by this tail-swallowing logic, the mere existence of Israel constitutes a crime. If Jews are not a real category with a legitimate identity, then why would they ever have a state, given that other people are there, too? And if the state is mired in the original sin of apartheid, how can any Jews support it without upholding white supremacy?
As a PLO political cartoon so neatly illustrates, the Palestinian national movement has not been slow to capitalize on the opportunity to conflate Jews with whites and Palestinians with American Blacks: An American police officer kneeling on the neck of an African American man is joined by an Israeli soldier kneeling on the neck of a Palestinian.
This paradox is resolved by a narrative of control. “Three hundred Zionists” (by Ye’s reckoning) run Hollywood, media, and finance to keep the gentiles in thrall. And through its silence, its endless attacks on Israel, its complicity in demonizing Israel and treating the word “Zionism” as an epithet, the media not only accepts but advances this heinous narrative.
Blaming the normalization of antisemitism on Elon Musk or on the internet’s “dangerous” tolerance of unregulated speech shifts attention from the way many Jews are regularly treated by the media, their neighbors, their college classmates, and law enforcement. As calls now come from the ADL and establishment figures that Jews should trust them to censor the problem away—that our very lives depend on it!—Jews understand that the real problem has been censored all along.
Ashley Rindsberg is the author of The Gray Lady Winked: How The New York Times’s Misreporting, Distortions and Fabrications Radically Alter History (2021).