Antisemitism Around the World: How Social Media and Public Figures Influence Our Perception

By: Talya Pinto

February 6, 2023

A terrifying reality for many Jewish people is that Kanye West has more followers on social media than there are Jewish people in the world. There are approximately 15.3 million Jews worldwide. Kanye West has 18.1 million followers on Instagram.

Antisemitism is the prejudicial attitude against or hatred of Jews. The manifestation of antisemitism ranges from hateful remarks to violent attacks. In the United States, antisemitic incidents are at an all-time high. The worst example of antisemitism in history is the Holocaust which occurred in Europe between 1933 and 1945. The Holocaust was a state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million European Jews. Antisemitism was the foundation of the Holocaust. Jewish people were targeted and blamed for Germany’s defeat in World War I and the economic and political crises that followed. Adolf Hitler led the Nazis in spreading propaganda about Jews in the media, forcibly removing Jews from their homes, placing them in ghettos and concentration camps, and ultimately murdering over six million Jews. 

Antisemitism today presents itself in several ways ranging from jokes about the Holocaust, stereotyping Jewish people, vandalism of schools and synagogues, and brutal attacks. A 2021 report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) recorded 155 incidents of antisemitism at colleges and universities in the United States (a 21% increase from 128 in 2020). These incidents occurred at over 100 campuses across the country and range between incidents of harassment, vandalism, and assault. “‘Apartheid antisemitism’ has been largely neglected by university administrations because it has masked itself as ‘legitimate political critique.’” Overall, 2021 was the highest year on record for documented reports of antisemitic acts against Jews, which have been tracked since 1979. An individual who works at the ADL documenting and categorizing these reports has stated that whenever celebrities or politicians engage publicly with antisemitic figures, increased acts of antisemitism tend to follow. 

For example, around late 2022, Kanye West started posting and making antisemitic remarks on his social media accounts, podcasts, and shows. While appearing on The Alex Jones Show, Kanye said that people should “stop dissing the Nazis,” that he “loves” Nazis and “likes” Hitler, and that the Nazis “did good things, too.” Another post Kanye made on Twitter was that he would be going “death con 3 on Jewish people.” As a result of Kanye’s remarks, a well-known hate group in Los Angeles decided to demonstrate their support for his rhetoric by displaying a banner over a 405 Freeway overpass that read, “Kanye is right about the Jews.” Another consequence of Kanye’s remarks is seen on college campuses as a result of Kanye’s influence and popularity amongst Generation Z. As a student, I have heard a great deal of commentary about Kanye’s remarks. What’s most evident is how few people understand and are aware of the Jewish people’s long history of oppression and suffering. Even if Kanye’s comments haven’t caused antisemitic acts directly, students’ “understanding on the severity of the issue is being undermined.”

The latest report by the Stop Antisemitism monitoring group on the state of antisemitism on US university campuses shows that 55% of students surveyed report being a victim of campus antisemitism. 55% reported needing to hide their support for Israel, and 73% said they actively conceal their Jewish identity on campus. A report by the Community Security Trust (CST) reveals that allegations of antisemitic incidents have more than doubled in London’s universities. The CTS received reports of 150 incidents across the 2020-21 and 2021-22 academic years. Many of the incidents happened online in Facebook groups and Instagram chats where people openly share antisemitic comments and threats. The report suggests that antisemitic incidents in London universities have more than doubled compared to the previous two-year period.

Social media is helping extremist groups spread their message on antisemitism. Antisemitic groups have been campaigning on social media for years. One study shows that TikTok has become a popular tool for spreading extremist content which is concerning considering the platform has a large user base consisting of teenagers and young adults. The study found TikTok’s content between 2020 and 2021 had a 41% increase in antisemitic posts and a 912% increase in antisemitic comments. 

The Antisemitism Worldwide Report 2021 illustrates some disheartening results concerning a spike in antisemitic attitudes worldwide. In France, 589 antisemitic incidents were recorded in 2021, a 74% increase from 2020. The incidents involving physical violence increased by 36% from 2020. Canada recorded at least 266 incidents during May 2021, a 54% increase from the same period in 2020. This number included 61 violent incidents, the organization’s highest number ever recorded in a single month since they began collecting data in 1982. The United Kingdom recorded 2,255 incidents in 2021, a 34% increase from 2020. Incidents of assault increased by 78% from 2020.

Brandon Lantz, an assistant professor at Florida State University, said, “when a prominent public figure like [Kanye] gives voice to … extremist attitudes, extremist groups who are already saying these things can just now piggyback on that media presence and the social influence that someone like him has. They can leverage his words, they can express support for him, [and] they can use his words to promote their own beliefs.” Lantz also says that social media users should be cautious of the content they engage in on social media. This kind of rhetoric appeals to individuals looking for someone to blame. 

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