Laughing at Kanye Doesn’t Help

Just a couple of weeks after vowing, on Twitter, to go “death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE,” the musician and designer Kanye West, who now goes by “Ye,” found himself on camera outside what looked like a strip of businesses in Los Angeles — one of those parking-lot nonplaces so typical to TMZ-style videos. A scrum of reporters asked him about the multiplatformed antisemitic hatred he had, lately, been trading in, and the ensuing fallout, which saw him dropped by corporate partners including Adidas and Balenciaga. In response, he produced his phone and read, with increasing vigor, from a website listing which media and entertainment companies have Jewish executives, finally holding up his phone as if to offer visual proof of who, supposedly, controlled everything.

None of this part of the video was shared particularly widely, not even for the purpose of condemning it. After all, Ye had been saying this kind of stuff for weeks. What did end up circulating was the bit, at the video’s end, in which Ye pivots from talking about his MAGA hat to talking about his mental-health treatment, which he now regrets. “The thing about the red hat that drove me to a point of exhaustion,” he says, gesticulating like an old man lecturing from his porch, “which was misdiagnosed by a — I’m not going to say what race, what people — doctor, and what hospital, what media went to — we know I can’t say that.” But then he crosses his arms and, after an exquisitely short pause, clarifies what he isn’t allowed to say, just in case it might have gone over anyone’s head: “It was a Jewish doctor.”

For that, Jewish Twitter went a little wild. The brief punchline of Ye’s long, horrid ramble was shared again and again, not, for the most part, in outrage, not because it espoused the oldest kind of conspiratorial antisemitism, not because it showed no remorse for inspiring an ongoing variety show of full-frontal hatred, but because something about his delivery felt, in the words of one Jewish political staff member who retweeted the clip, so “classically Jewish.” It was unintended, but in terms of comedic timing, it could have passed muster at Grossinger’s in the heyday of the borscht belt. Joan Rivers could not have done better.

Far be it from me to tell my people not to laugh at a time like this; since when have we not turned our haters into humor? But something about the stickiness of this clip, in specifically Jewish circles, broke my heart, because it spoke of a group looking for something, anything, to use as a raft or security blanket. Here, coming from a public figure so media-dominating that his actions were impossible to ignore, was undisguised “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”-style hatred, sitting in full spread in the middle of mainstream popular culture. Here were people entering from the fringes, emboldened, hanging a “Kanye is right about the Jews” banner from a Los Angeles overpass. Here was the N.B.A. player Kyrie Irving, in a news conference, standing by his posting of a link to a film that, among other wildly anti-Jewish ideas, denies the Holocaust happened. Here was Donald Trump questioning American Jewish loyalties and posting that “U.S. Jews have to get their act together.” And here was Dave Chappelle, on “S.N.L.,” beginning his monologue by reading the apology Ye might have given to “buy time” and continuing to riff on how there are “two words in the English language that you should never say together in sequence: ‘The’ and ‘Jews.’”

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