Silence is Compliance

Sarah Finfrock, Copy Editor/ Director of Photography

In the wake of anti-Semitic comments from American rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, the silence is deafening. In public and on social media, I still see people listening to Ye’s music and promoting his new song released last month. Around town, people still wear Yeezys, Ye’s, “I see ghosts” hoodies, and his new line of merch. The predicament reminds me of the quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. right before his assassination in 1968: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” I think a large part of the hesitation in drawing attention to Ye’s ludicrous comments is that to non-Jewish people, myself included, I must admit the words don’t seem, at first, to hold much weight. People think words are just words. They say Ye hasn’t done anything, so it’s not a big deal, right?

This is where proper education comes into play. We must realize, historically, words are indeed not just words. Ye is currently promoting a movement of anti-Semitism that has, for millenniums, left Jewish people victims of scapegoating, hate crimes, and even mass murder. To this day, we applaud the courageous men and women who aided in defeating Nazi forces. We oftentimes think of these Allied soldiers as justly fighting to free Jewish people from concentration camps, but in reality, few people knew what was going on in the Nazi regime. We knew simply that Hitler was spewing anti-Jewish ideas and trying to spread his empire, but the mass killing of Jewish people was unknown to the rest of the world until after the war. We had to take the comments Hitler was making seriously, even without knowing the horrors they masked.

More recently, we can point to the arrest of Andrew Tate as a further example of words holding immense weight. As an ex-professional kickboxer, Tate amassed a large following on multiple social media sites. He made many misogynistic comments about women being property, females not having a right to say no to sex, and about his relocation to Romania due to more lenient rape laws. Tate was detained on December 29 in Romania on charges related to running an underground human sex-trafficking scheme. Although unrelated to Ye’s comments, it goes to show that we cannot stand idly until empty threats become real ones. The threats Ye has made hold gravity. Going back to the earlier point, one may say Ye hasn’t done anything, but history shows how fast the tide can change and how quickly people fall down the rabbit hole of misinformation. Ye’s words are incredibly dangerous and cannot be taken lightly.

The most eye-opening experience for me, in realizing the underlying effects these comments have on the Jewish community, is putting a face to the victims of anti-Semitic comments. I corresponded with the CEO of Shalom Orlando, a company that merged with the Roth Family Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Maitland, to speak about the impact hateful comments have had on his organization. Shalom Orlando aims to bring Jewish people together in a safe space in order to share culture and identity. When I visited the center, I was greeted by an armed security guard patrolling the grounds. Mr. Kevin Dvorchik, the CEO, stated that due to the, “Exponential rise” in anti-Semitism in recent years, “Security has been increased on Jewish facilities.” When I asked if men were more afraid to wear yarmulkes (a sacred Jewish hat, pronounced like, “Yamaka”), he stated, “Not just a yarmulke but any symbol of Jewish life. A star of David, a Chai, a mezuzah on your home, or anything that identifies you as being Jewish now has increased risk.” 

As someone who practices the dominant religion in this country, Christianity, this statement made me realize the things Christians take for granted. It is often seen as a pillar of Christianity to take pride in your faith, like the popular expression, “Live Your Faith Out Loud.” It never occurred to me that this may have less to do with a distinctiveness in our faith and more to do with our immense privilege of not having to see our faith as a target on our back. Indeed, most religions encourage followers to proudly display their faith. So when people are afraid to merely admit their own religion, there are clearly oppressive forces at play. 

The comments Ye has made have directly impacted Jewish people. These are not Jewish people far away that you will never meet. These are our neighbors, our classmates, our friends, our co-workers, and maybe even you personally or your own family. In the Orlando area on New Year’s Eve, there were three separate occasions of anti-Jewish messages being displayed by projectors onto popular buildings. One read, “Vax the Jews” downtown, another displayed, “Hitler was right” across Fairwinds Credit Union building (the company was not responsible and condemned the message), and a third read, “Did the Jews kill Kanye yet?” next to Planet Pizza. 

Threats against the Jewish community today are not just verbal. Anti-Jewish hate crimes in the U.S. reached an all-time high in 2021 at 2,712 incidents of assault, harassment, and vandalism. The Tree of Life synagogue in New York City remains closed four years after the deadly shooting that left 11 members dead and 6 injured. Anti-Semitism is not contained to America, however. The movement has gained traction globally, especially in Europe. In Halle, Germany, an armed 27-year-old man live-streamed himself attempting to forcefully enter a synagogue on Yom Kippur in 2019. He shot at the door’s lock, but could not get in before police arrived. While his attempt failed, he shot and killed two people in the street, and the incident was surely traumatizing to the people inside.

The shooters in these attacks were not born with a raging hatred of Jewish people. They learned these first as biases and allowed them to fester into outright violent hostility. Anyone who perpetuates misinformation and stereotypes against Judaism, even in the form of jokes, is inviting people like these shooters to fall down the rabbit hole of scapegoating and loathing. Slight subconscious biases against any racial, religious, or ethnic group are incredibly dangerous. It might not lead everyone to violence, but it will for some. Therefore, we must actively fight against any hate-filled words, no matter how light-hearted they seem.

When I hear the debate of the First Amendment pertaining to situations like these, it tends to surround the perpetrators of such comments, while overlooking the victims. We fail to realize the “freedom of speech” alt-Right extremist groups exercise is grossly encroaching on the freedom of speech of Jewish people. The First Amendment protects the freedom for people to share their culture and identity without fear of repercussions. When messages like, “Vax the Jews” and, “Hitler was right” become mainstream and are coupled with physical threats to Jewish people’s safety, it is only a natural consequence that Jewish people will not be able to share their faith and in turn exercise their First Amendment rights. Until all Americans, not just Christians, can, “Live Their Faith Out Loud,” this war on hate isn’t over.

(Above) The New York Nets suspended their star player, Kyrie Irving, for at least five games after promoting an anti-Semitic documentary. He initially
received no punishment from the NBA, but after fans and former players, including Charles Barkley, slammed the Nets and the NBA for their response, the Nets ordered a suspension without pay. This incident goes to show that fans have power. When organizations and companies stay silent on hate, we can vote with our dollars and force change. Irving, like Ye, also lost many sponsorship deals for his comments. Photo courtesy of The New York Times. (Photo courtesy of The New York Times.)
(Above) The property of Shalom Orlando is also the site of The Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Central Florida. The organization aims to combat anti-Semitism through history on prejudice and bigotry toward Jewish people. Kanye West has stated his support for Nick Fuentes, who has perpetuated a conspiracy theory denying the Holocaust, saying it was fabricated to advance Jewish interests. Denying an event that took the lives of countless Jewish people just perpetuates the hateful beliefs that first laid the groundwork for Hitler’s reign. Photo by Sarah Finfrock. (Photo by Sarah Finfrock.)