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25 October 2022

Ye, Adidas and the trap of celebrity anti-Semitism

Prejudice against Jewish people won’t be stamped out in America because the German sportswear company dropped Kanye West.

By Emily Tamkin

WASHINGTON DC – Adidas has announced that it will sever its partnership with Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, three weeks after he tweeted that he was going to go “death con 3 on Jewish people”. It’s a significant move: Adidas’s partnership with Ye’s company Yeezy is said to be worth billions. Adidas is not the first brand to drop Ye (Balenciaga already cut ties), but it is the most significant.

Adidas came under particular pressure not only because Yeezy is so central to Ye’s brand, or because the company’s founder, Adi Dassler, was a member of the Nazi Party; last week, in a wide-ranging interview with the Drink Champs podcast, in which he appeared to blame Jews for divorce law, Ye goaded critics, saying, “I can say anti-Semitic things, and Adidas can’t drop me. Now what? Now what?”

Anti-Semites will likely take this as proof that Ye was right: he claimed that there was a Jewish agenda working to stop him, and now look! He lost his shoe partnership! This is one of the frustrating features of anti-Semitism: if there are consequences for spewing conspiracy theories about Jewish control, it’s taken as a sign of Jewish control. If an anti-Semitic rant ends with the words “we’re not allowed to say anything about Jewish people” and then results in some form of accountability, the ranter can say that they were right all along.

Others, meanwhile, might be tempted to interpret Adidas’s decision as a sign that anti-Semitism will not be tolerated in the United States. Someone said a series of horrible things, yes, but that person will now, quite literally, pay for it.

But that’s not right either. Back in 2014, Ye – speaking about how brands misuse celebrity partnerships – said, “Celebrity is the highest form of communication.” And on this one limited point, I agree with him. Celebrities set trends. They make news. They fascinate us, draw us in. They have more reach than the biggest, highest billboard. Ye, who has long known exactly how to make a splash and a statement, understood this better than most celebrities. But this works both ways: if a celebrity, particularly one as famous as Ye, decides that the thing they are going to communicate is conspiracies about Jewish people, what does that say about the brand that chooses to work with them? The conversation that has been circling around Adidas over the past week isn’t the one Adidas wants to have. So it changed the conversation.

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But if celebrity is the highest form of communication, then perhaps it is also worth noting the communications that we spent less time discussing in recent weeks. Consider the people who jumped in to share that, actually, they thought Ye had a point about Jewish control of certain industries, and insisted that, no, they weren’t anti-Semites, since their problem wasn’t with “religious Jews”, but with elites in Hollywood and the media. Consider that the former president Donald Trump, pressed last week by the radio host Larry O’Connor to comment on the rapper, said, “He was really nice to me.”

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Doug Mastriano, Pennsylvania’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, has been called out for using anti-Semitic rhetoric in his campaign against the Democrat candidate Josh Shapiro. After the Washington Post ran a piece titled, “Shapiro emphasises Jewish faith as he warns of Mastriano’s extremism”, an ad adviser for Mastriano’s campaign tweeted on 21 October: “Headlines like this are so disingenuous. Josh Shapiro is at best a secular Jew…” The implication is that Shapiro isn’t the right kind of Jew to be considered a legitimate target of anti-Semitism.

A similar sentiment was espoused on 25 October by Mark Finchem, the Republican candidate running to be Arizona’s state secretary. Finchem tweeted about the Hungarian-born billionaire philanthropist and routine bogeyman of the right, George Soros, writing that “Soros is a Marxist. I love the Jews.” It seems beside the point to say that Soros was a Holocaust survivor who left socialist Hungary, made his money in finance, and thus is not a Marxist.

The list goes on. Yet these politicians and pundits won’t likely face the consequences that Ye has. Perhaps it’s because they, unlike Ye, know better than to say the word “Jew” or “Jewish”, and so stick instead to “globalist” or “elitist cabal”, while denouncing opponents as insufficiently Jewish. Or perhaps it’s because celebrity is the highest form of communication. We have trouble hearing anything else.

[See also: Joe Biden crushes Xi Jinping’s precious semiconductor ambitions]