People pay their respects at a memorial to the victims of a mass shooting in front of the Tree of Life - Or L’Simcha Congregation in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 4, 2018.
People pay their respects at a memorial to the victims of a mass shooting in front of the Tree of Life - Or L’Simcha Congregation in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 4, 2018.

Antisemitism appears in a variety of forms, from hate speech and the propagation of lies and stereotypes to acts of open violence and terror.

The recent Detroit News opinion piece by columnist Karen Dumas (“Opinions don’t threaten free speech,” Oct. 25) portrayed Kanye West (now known as Ye) as a victim of cancel culture.

This disregards the blatant antisemitism in Ye’s recent comments and loses sight of the importance of protecting free speech — while condemning hate speech that can lead to violence.

The column also suggested that Ye was silenced by “those who control the platforms,” reinforcing the notion that Jews wield a monolithic influence over the media and other levers of power, which is itself a long-standing and pernicious antisemitic trope. The many companies who distanced themselves from Ye did so out of abhorrence for the views he has espoused.

As leaders and representatives of the Detroit Jewish community, we are grateful for the swift and sincere efforts of the paper to acknowledge and rectify this by editing the piece. The Detroit News has been a staunch supporter and ally to the Jewish community, and we know they will continue to stand up against antisemitism, as well as against all forms of hatred and intolerance.

This is a critical and urgent issue for the Jewish community. Contrary to the corrosive narrative of outsized power and influence, Jewish individuals today remain uniquely vulnerable.

According to 2020 FBI hate crime statistics, Jews — who make up a little more the 2% of the U.S. population — were the targets of 54.9% of all religiously motivated hate crimes. The American Jewish Committee’s 2020 State of Antisemitism in America report found that 88% of American Jews viewed hatred against Jews as a problem in our country.

Antisemitism appears in a variety of forms, from hate speech and the propagation of lies and stereotypes to acts of open violence and terror. It emerges from across the political divide, uniting neo-Nazis and other racist hate groups with those from the opposing extreme who use their political animosity for the state of Israel as a pretext to slander or assault the Jewish people.

Due to Israeli conflicts with the terrorist group Hamas, for example, attacks against synagogues and Jewish Community Centers rose by 61% in 2021.

Alarmingly, there has been a sharp overall increase in anti-Semitism in recent years. In 2021, a record number of anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in the U.S., according to the ADL, growing 34% over the previous year.

Jewish communities around the world are experiencing a surge in harassment, vandalism and physical violence, including deadly assaults and acts of mass murder. Just recently we marked the four-year anniversary of the assault on the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh that left 11 people dead.

It is against this stark reality that Ye’s recent comments were widely recognized as offensive, dangerous and unacceptable. Allowing antisemitic discourse to go unchallenged leads to its spread and normalization across society.

The comments and tweets of world-famous celebrities become the everyday banter between acquaintances on the street. Extremists are emboldened and a new generation is indoctrinated in hate. This is how the scourge of antisemitism continues to fester and grow.

Living in the shadow of the Holocaust, we remain resolved to fight antisemitism whenever and wherever it appears, and we thank the many allies who have advocated on our behalf.

Once again, we are grateful to the editors of the Detroit News for working with us to use this moment as an opportunity for learning and open communication on a subject that has often been underreported and underestimated.

We also recognize the Jewish people are not alone in struggling against prejudice and hatred, and we stand in solidarity with all groups that have been assailed or marginalized. Guided by the Jewish principal of “tikkun olam” — repairing the world — we remain committed to working with our friends and neighbors across the wider community to build a place of peace, justice and respect for all.

Matthew B. Lester is president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. Dennis S. Bernard is president of the United Jewish Foundation. Phil Neuman is president of the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC. Steven Ingber is CEO of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, and Rabbi Asher Lopatin is executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC. This op-ed was originally published in the Detroit News on Nov. 7.

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