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Ye (Kanye West): What You Need to Know

Ye (Kanye West): What You Need to Know

Ye (formerly named Kanye West) Source: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

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Since early October 2022, Ye – the highly influential artist, record producer, and fashion designer formerly known as Kanye West – has drawn media attention for inflammatory antisemitic and conspiratorial remarks. Ye made offensive claims about Jewish people and Jewish identity during an October 6 interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. Over the next two days, Ye shared social media posts which insinuated that Jews are using their purported control to intimidate him and threatened to go “death con [sic] 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE.” Ye repeatedly doubled down on his antisemitic beliefs during subsequent interviews, including on Revolt TV’s “Drink Champs” on October 16, NewsNation’s “Cuomo” on October 17, TalkTV’s “Piers Morgan Uncensored” on October 19, and the “Lex Fridman Podcast” on October 24.

Here’s what you need to know about Ye’s statements, his history of espousing controversial views and why they are concerning:

  • Ye’s recent statements draw on longstanding antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories about Jewish people. For example, he promoted tropes about Jewish power and control – including in the entertainment industry, media, politics and business – as well as tropes about Jewish greed and the notion that Jewish people exploit and intimidate others for financial gain. Ye’s generalizations about Jews is deeply offensive and perpetuates these harmful stereotypes.
  • Ye’s comments also reflect beliefs espoused by fringe antisemitic religious groups, including extremist sects of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement and the Nation of Islam. Ye has claimed that Black people are “Jews” and “Semites” and therefore cannot be antisemitic. This is not a reference to the religion of Judaism or traditional understandings of Jewish ethnicity, but rather a belief found in Black Hebrew Israelite ideology which asserts that certain people of color are the true descendants of the biblical Israelites. Extremists use this concept to promote antisemitism, claiming that Jewish people today are imposters who stole the religious heritage of Black people and are engaged in a global conspiracy to oppress non-Jewish people.
  • While there is no evidence that Ye views himself as a member of any organized extremist group, he has a longstanding and ongoing relationship with the Nation of Islam and its leader, Louis Farrakhan. Ye visited the group’s headquarters in Chicago to publicly express his support for their Millions More Movement in 2005 and attended an event that Farrakhan held in Los Angeles in 2015. Ye’s 2015 song “All Day” includes a lyric which describes Farrakhan as “sensei.” Ye has turned to Farrakhan when embroiled in antisemitism controversies on multiple occasions, including taking Farrakhan’s advice not to apologize in 2013 when Ye was criticized for alleging that Jewish people are more well-connected than Black people. Ye cited Farrakhan on “Drink Champs” in 2022 and played a voicemail that Farrakhan reportedly recently sent him.
  • Beyond antisemitism, Ye is no stranger to controversy and has a history of making anti-Black, false, conspiratorial statements. Ye’s interview with Tucker Carlson on October 6 was itself a response to widespread criticism that Ye received following his decision to wear a shirt with the white supremacist slogan “White Lives Matter” at Paris Fashion Week. During his recent “Drink Champs” appearance, Ye repeated the debunked claim that George Floyd, who was murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin in 2020, died of fentanyl. In recent and past interviews, Ye frequently cited the misleading claim that abortion is the leading cause of death for Black Americans. In 2018, Ye stated that 400 years of slavery “sounds like a choice.” He drew criticism again in 2018 when he called for the 13th Amendment to be abolished.
  • Known extremists and antisemites have embraced Ye’s recent statements, leveraging his comments to further their own agendas. For example, the Nation of Islam and extremist Black Hebrew Israelite sects have defended Ye’s statements about Black people and Jewish identity and used the opportunity to promote antisemitic claims and conspiracy theories. White supremacists have celebrated Ye for using his influential platform to “expose” Jews. Members of the extremist Goyim Defense League held a demonstration in Los Angeles on October 22, displaying a banner over Interstate 405 that read “KANYE IS RIGHT ABOUT THE JEWS” while giving Nazi salutes. Proud Boys members, QAnon adherents and other conspiracy theorists have also seized on reports that Ye may purchase the right-wing social media platform Parler.
  • As an internationally recognizable celebrity whose work spans multiple industries, Ye’s comments are concerning not just because of their antisemitic content, but because of his immense influence. Ye has nearly 50 million combined followers on Twitter and Instagram (for comparison, the global Jewish population is approximately 15 million). Ye is one of the top-selling musical artists of all time and, prior to Adidas ending their partnership with Ye on October 25, Ye’s Yeezy line accounted for between one and two billion dollars in annual sales for the company. In addition to being embraced by extremists, Ye’s comments advance the spread of antisemitic ideas in the mainstream.

Below are some of Ye’s recent statements about Jewish people and Jewish identity which play into antisemitic tropes or echo claims made by known antisemites and extremists:

Claims about Jewish Control of Media and Government

In many of his recent interviews, Ye repeatedly referenced purported Jewish control over various industries — he used the phrase “Jewish media” over twenty times on “Drink Champs” alone. Ye also spoke about “Jewish Zionists” and “Zionist media handlers.” He made multiple references to prominent Jewish individuals, including George Soros — the Hungarian Jewish billionaire, philanthropist and Holocaust survivor who is a frequent bogeyman for both avowed antisemites and the political right — and Jared Kushner, as supposed examples of Jewish power.

Ye’s insinuations about Jewish control perpetuate the longstanding antisemitic trope that Jews wield an inordinate amount of power and exert control over global systems as part of a quest for world domination. These views are regularly promoted by extremists and antisemites of a wide variety of ideologies, from white supremacists and extremist Black nationalist groups to conspiracy theorists and Holocaust deniers.

  • “Jared Kushner is an example of how the Jewish people have their hand on every single business that controls the world.” (Ye on “Drink Champs,” 10/16/22)
  • “We’re not going to be owned by the Jewish media anymore…Every celebrity has Jewish people in their contract…And these people, if you say anything out of the line with the agenda, then your career can be over.” (Ye on “Cuomo,” 10/17/22)
  • “Kim [Kardashian, Ye’s ex-wife] has Zionist media handlers surrounding her.” (Ye on “Piers Morgan Uncensored,” 10/19/22)
  • “I said the Jewish people because, by the way, it’s a barrage…George Soros knows, like, ‘wow, this guy is like a younger guy that’s looking at what I did and looking at how I control the world silently and he’s calling it out’…That’s what George Soros sees, right, when he’s dealing with me.” (Ye on the “Lex Fridman Podcast,” 10/24/22) 

Claims that Jews Exploit Black Artists for Financial Gain

Antisemitic tropes about alleged Jewish power and greed intersect in Ye’s comments about purported Jewish control of the music industry and exploitation of Black artists. This trope has been present in the discourse of other Black performers and activists in the past and is a common talking point within more extremist groups. Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, for example, frequently makes this accusation.

  • “Jewish people have owned the Black voice…The Jewish community, especially in the music industry, in the entertainment [industry] period, they’ll take one of us, the brightest of us, right, that can really feed a whole village, and they’ll take us and milk us till we die.” (Ye on “Drink Champs,” 10/16/22)
  • “There’s so many Black musicians signed to Jewish record labels and those Jewish records labels take ownership not only of the publishing…but also ownership of the culture itself…It’s like a modern-day slavery.” (Ye on “Cuomo,” 10/17/22)
  • “I’ve been wronged so many times by Jewish businessmen…They’re taking money out of my children’s mouths and putting it into their children’s mouths!” (Ye on “Piers Morgan Uncensored,” 10/19/22)
  • “90% of Black people in entertainment — from sports, to music, to acting — are in some way tied into Jewish businesspeople…Like if Rahm [Emanuel] is sitting next to [President] Obama or Jared [Kushner] sitting next to [President] Trump, there’s a Jewish person right there controlling the country, the Jewish people controlling who gets the best video or not, controlling what the media says about me.” (Ye on the “Lex Fridman Podcast,” 10/24/22) 

Claims that Jews Promote Harmful and Immoral Behaviors

Ye’s assertions about supposed Jewish control of the entertainment industry and exploitation of Black artists overlap with the conspiratorial claims that known antisemites and extremists promote alleging that Jewish people seek to undermine other peoples and cultures. Abortion is a frequent area of focus for Ye, who has compared abortion to the Holocaust, spread false claims about abortion rates among Black people, and claimed that that Planned Parenthood was created as part of a collaboration between Margaret Sanger and the KKK in order to control the Black population.

These views are reminiscent of claims and conspiracy theories that have been promoted by antisemites and conspiracy theorists, such as the Nation of Islam and extremist Black Hebrew Israelite sects, who allege that there is a supposed “depopulation agenda” targeting Black people in the United States today. The notion of population control also connects to the broader ideology of these groups. While appearing on “Drink Champs” in 2022, Ye played a message that Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan reportedly sent him in response to recent events; Farrakhan can be heard speaking in the voicemail about Yakub, the evil Black scientist who, according to the Nation of Islam, allegedly created the white race from the “Original Black Man” thousands of years ago through a process of “grafting” and “birth control.”

  • “Even the information put in our music, the toxicity put in our music. There’s nothing promoting the idea of a king taking care of a queen and then taking care of the future kings and the future queens. It’s just us talking about killing each other and Jewish people getting paid off it.” (Ye on “Drink Champs,” 10/16/22)
  • “A Jewish friend of mine said, ‘come, go visit the Holocaust Museum.’ And my response was, ‘let’s visit our Holocaust museum: Planned Parenthood…Six million people died in the Holocaust. Over 20 million have died by the hands of abortion. And the media promotes the ‘my body, my choice,’ which is actually still a promotion for Planned Parenthood. 50% of Black deaths a year is actually abortion. It’s not the cop with the knee, it’s not Black on Black violence and gang violence, not heart attacks—it’s actually abortion…That’s what we deal with on our TVs right now with Black people. Soros would use Black trauma economy to win an election.” (Ye on the “Lex Fridman Podcast,” 10/24/22)
  • “It’s genocide and population control that Black people are in today in America that is promoted by the music — and the media — that Black people make, that Jewish record labels get paid off of.” (Ye on the “Lex Fridman Podcast,” 10/24/22) 

Challenging Antisemitism Accusations

When challenged about his recent antisemitic statements, Ye has repeatedly claimed that the label of “antisemite” is used as a smear to silence critics or censor the truth, recalling the excuses that antisemites have made in a variety of historical and contemporary cases. Antisemites often position themselves as truth-tellers, whose mission it is to unmask nefarious Jewish behavior or a supposed insidious Jewish plot to take over the world. Facing accusations of antisemitism in October 2022, Ye repeatedly claimed that he was fulfilling a God-given mission to expose the alleged improper contract practices used in the entertainment industry, which he blames on Jewish people.

  • “I crossed the antisemite line. I crossed the gun line. I stood in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square. I’m saying, ‘look, this smokescreen that’s been created to make us so afraid to speak up for ourselves, this is just a smokescreen.’” (Ye on “Drink Champs,” 10/16/22)
  • “I don't like the term antisemitic. It’s been a term that’s allowed people, specifically in my industry, to get away with murder, sometimes literally, you know, and get away with robbing and doing bad.” (Ye on “Cuomo,” 10/17/22)
  • “Antisemitism and the closeness of the Holocaust is used by certain individuals in media to not take accountability for the bad things that are happening.” (Ye on the “Lex Fridman Podcast,” 10/24/22) 
  • “Ultimately, I am fighting a battle in the spiritual form and anyone that believes in God and is looking at this interview would agree with that…These contracts need to be fixed. Everyone could be so mad at the messenger, right? ‘Ye, you said it the wrong way. You’re offensive. You’re like Hitler now because you said it, you said this out loud, you weren't getting enough sleep.’ But all this shit does not negate the fact that we do have — Houston, we have a problem.” (Ye on the “Lex Fridman Podcast,” 10/24/22)

Questioning Jewish Identity

In recent interviews and on social media, Ye has expressed the belief that Black people are Jews. These statements echo Black Hebrew Israelite ideology, which claims that Black people are the true descendants of the biblical Israelites. BHI adherents reject Judaism and are not the same as Black Jews or Jews of color. This type of rhetoric is also commonly espoused by members of the Nation of Islam.

Some BHI sects are explicitly antisemitic and extremist and describe members of the mainstream Jewish community as “imposters” who stole the religious heritage of Black people. Extremist BHI and NOI adherents frequently emphasize that the “-ish” suffix of “Jewish,” both verbally and in writing, as an indication that those people who identify as Jewish and practice the religion of Judaism today are usurpers and not “true Jews.” Ye’s defense that he cannot be antisemitic because Black people are Semites or Jews is an argument that BHI and NOI adherents also regularly employ when they are accused of antisemitism.

  • “When I say ‘Jew,’ I mean the 12 lost tribes of Judah, the blood of Christ... the people known as the race ‘Black’ [sic], really are.” (Ye on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” 10/6/22)
  • “We are Semite, we Jew [sic], so I can’t be antisemite [sic].” (Ye on “Drink Champs,” 10/16/22)
  • “Black people are also Jew [sic], I classify as Jew also, so I actually can’t be an antisemite.” (Ye on “Cuomo,” 10/17/22)
  • “I’m Jew, not Jewish. Jew-ish means ‘like that of a Jew.’ I’m saying I’m Jew [sic].” (Ye on the “Lex Fridman Podcast,” 10/24/22)