'We as Canadians need to be concerned': Advocates fear continued rise in antisemitism with Kanye's 'I like Hitler' comments

Kanye West’s recent comments have continued to spread fears about a rise and normalization of antisemitism, a problem that’s been felt by Canada’s Jewish community.

Appearing most recently on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars podcast, West — who’s legally changed his name to “Ye” — voiced his admiration for Hitler and Nazis, denied the extent of the Holocaust, while spreading hurtful stereotypes about Jews.

On Thursday, West also tweeted to over 30 million followers an altered photo of the Star of David with a swastika inside. He was then suspended after having “violated our rule against incitement to violence,” said Twitter CEO Elon Musk.

West’s following on the social media app is more than the entire world’s population of Jews — which stands at around 15 million. The power of the internet has continued to in turn allow disinformation to cross borders instantaneously — Canada included, where antisemitism is growing.

“His malign influence that he has on so many in the U.S., he has the same on people in Canada. We as Canadians need to be concerned," says Marvin Rotrand, the national director of League of Human Rights part of B’nai Brith Canada, the country’s oldest independent Jewish Human Rights organization.

"What we’re seeing is the real Kanye. It’s pure and vile hate.”

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West’s comments throughout the broadcast are disturbing, among them include:

“I like Hitler.”

“I don’t like the word ‘evil’ next to Nazis. I love Jewish people, but I also love Nazis.”

“The Holocaust is not what happened. Let’s look at the facts of that. Hitler has a lot of redeeming qualities.”

“He didn’t kill six million Jews. That’s just factually incorrect.”

Shimon Fogel, the CEO and president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, which is the advocacy agent of Jewish Federations across Canada, says that "this is something that's beyond comprehension."

In October, the 21-time Grammy winning artist was initially banned from Twitter after tweeting “death con 3 ON JEWISH PEOPLE.” As a result, his corporate partnerships with Adidas and Gap — among others — were terminated. It’s a move that Rotrand says is a much-needed way to combat someone like West, as he urges everyone to shift away their loyalty to the pop star, including his music.

Rotrand says we can’t look past what he’s said because of his mental health problems, with West speaking up about his bipolar disorder in 2020. Instead, we need to understand he’s an anti-Semite.

“We've got to seriously look at whether there's criminal behaviour here in the sense that he is willfully fostering and promoting hate towards Jewish people,” says Rotrand.

In this photo illustration, the Twitter account of Kanye West is displayed on a mobile phone with a photo of him shown in the background on October 28, 2022 in Washington, DC. - Rapper Kanye West's Twitter account, which was temporarily locked out after posting anti-Semitic remarks, appeared to be back up on the platform, on October 28 after billionaire Elon Musk took ownership of the social media company. (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Kanye West is once again banned from Twitter amid fears of antisemitism. (Credit: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

Canada's history and future with antisemitism

Canada’s own history with antisemitism is sometimes forgotten. In the 1940s, Jews were discouraged from certain vacation spots. It wasn’t until the 1960s that McGill University lifted its quota for how many Jewish students it would accept. And a few years ago, another home in Quebec was found to have a clause prohibiting the sale of a home to people of Jewish faith.

Both Fogel and Rotrand stress the importance of education.

A 2021 survey of North American teens by Liberation 75 — which focuses on Holocaust Education — found 32 per cent of students “don't know what to think about the Holocaust, think the number of Jews who died has been exaggerated, or question whether the Holocaust even happened.”

“The young are very susceptible to Holocaust denial and distortion and to just plain misinformation," says Rotrand. "That's why someone like Kanye West is dangerous and why he needs to be pushed back.”

Rise in antisemitism in Canada

Fogel says there’s “anxiety” in the Jewish community, because “online hate leads to offline violence.” Rotrand says there was especially a sense of fear in 2021.

StatsCan reported in its 2021 annual survey that Jewish people were the most targeted religious group for hate crimes in Canada with 487 incidents — a 47 per cent year over year increase. Jewish people only make up 0.9 per cent of Canada’s population in 2021, while they were ultimately the victims of 14 per cent of all hate crimes.

What starts with the Jews, never ends with the Jews. This hatred is the kind of cancer that leeches and spreads. It starts with the Jews, but it’ll also move on to other vulnerable groups and then come to define our society.Shimon Fogel, the CEO and president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs

In total, hate crimes in Canada went up 27 per cent in 2021.

A 2021 audit by B’nai Brith Canada found that antisemitic incidents — such as harassment, vandalism and violence — rose for the sixth consecutive year, with eight occurring every day. Violent incidents rose by 733 per cent — up from nine to 75 in 2021, while in the five previous years the figure stood at a combined 45.

Rotrand says that the normalization of antisemitic comments from such a well-known figure can influence others who at the moment may be “marginal, on the fringe” to go off into the “deep end and act out.”

Joining West on Infowars was Nick Fuentes, a known white nationalist and Holocaust denier. The two were even Donald Trump's dinner guests in November.

NBA superstar Kyrie Irving has also recently been in the news, and suspended by the Brooklyn Nets, after refusing to deny that he has antisemitic beliefs, while Dave Chappelle has caught attention for spreading antisemitic stereotypes on Saturday Night Live.

“I don't think the community has an exaggerated sense of their vulnerability,” says Fogel.

Rotrand says B’nai Brith Canada’s stats are larger than StatsCan, because the bar is lower than what police officials would sometimes consider a hate crime. There’s also the problem where many communities fear getting law enforcement involved, which has led to under reporting.

The spike in cases in 2021 however did propel action, says Rotrand. In July 2021, Canada held a National Summit on Anti-Semitism to come up with a strategy. While Rotrand also applauds Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s pledge to create a permanent post for a special envoy on antisemitism.

For further improvements, Rotrand is encouraging all provinces to adopt the working definition of antisemitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance — to get a clear image of what constitutes hate.

While actions are in progress among governments, many, including Canadians, have also taken to Twitter to voice their frustrations and disgust:

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