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Antisemitic celebrities stoke fears of normalizing hate

A wave of anti-Jewish vitriol, spread by a world-famous rapper, an NBA star and other public figures, is fueling fears that public figures are normalizing hatred and increasing the risk of violence in a country already experiencing a surge in anti-Semitism.

US Jewish community leaders and extremism experts have been alarmed by celebrities with mass followings spouting anti-Semitic tropes in a way that has been taboo for decades. Some said it dates back to a dark time in America when powerful people routinely spread conspiracy theories about Jews with impunity.

Former President Donald Trump hosted a Holocaust-denying white supremacist at Mar-a-Lago. The rapper Ye expressed his love for Adolf Hitler in an interview. Basketball star Kyrie Irving appeared to be promoting an anti-Semitic movie on social media. Neo-Nazi trolls clamor to return to Twitter as new CEO Elon Musk grants “amnesty” to suspended accounts.

“These aren’t fringe outliers sending emails from their parents’ garage or idiots no one has ever heard of. When influential mainstream cultural, political and even sports icons normalize hate speech, everyone should be very concerned,” said Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, a leader in South Florida’s Jewish community.

History professor Peter Hayes of Northwestern Universitywho specializes in Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, said normalizing anti-Semitism is a “real possibility” when there is a “public discussion of things that used to be subpar”.

“I’m very concerned about it,” Hayes said. “It’s one of many ways America needs to get to grips with and stop playing with concepts and ideas that are potentially murderous.”

Trump hosted Ye — the rapper formerly known as Kanye West — and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes for dinner at his Florida home on Nov. 22.

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Fuentes was a student at Boston University when he attended a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that erupted in violence in 2017. He became an internet personality who used his platform to spread white supremacist and anti-Semitic views. Fuentes leads a far-right extremist movement called “America First,” with supporters known as “Groypers.”

On Thursday, Fuentes joined Ye in the Infowars show hosted by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Ye praised Hitler during the interview and ramped up the rhetoric that had already cost him a lucrative business deal with Adidas.

Jonathan Greenblatt, National Director and CEO of the League against defamationsaid it is astonishing and alarming that two of the country’s top purveyors of anti-Semitism “broke bread with the former head of the GOP.”

“I would characterize this as the normalization of anti-Semitism. It’s now become part of the political process in a way we hadn’t seen before,” Greenblatt said. And that’s not unique to Republicans. It’s not just a Republican problem. It is a social problem.”

Most Americans knew it was “beyond the pale” when torch-carrying white supremacists marched through the University of Virginia campus on the eve of the 2017 rally, said Amy Spitalnick, executive director of Integrity first for Americaa group that supported a lawsuit against the organizers of the Charlottesville rally.

“What’s even more dangerous than Nazis shouting with torches, ‘Jews will not replace us,’ is when we have political leaders and others embracing the same conspiracy theories in increasingly normalized ways,” she said.

In contrast, Spitalnick said the virulent hatred Ye has spewed out can make watered-down expressions of anti-Semitism seem more normal.

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“It is critical that we hold Kanye and Irving and these other public figures accountable for their anti-Semitism. But it means nothing if we don’t also acknowledge and hold accountable the ways in which this anti-Semitism and extremism has seeped into the mainstream of one of our largest political parties and become commonplace in our political discourse,” she said.

Trump’s critics and even some of his allies condemned the former president for hosting Fuentes at Mar-a-Lago. Trump claimed he knew nothing about Fuentes before dinner and defended his decision to host Ye at his club.

Twitter has suspended Ye’s account this week after he tweeted a picture of a swastika fused with the Star of David. Musk tweeted that Ye broke a rule against inciting violence.

Musk announced last week that his “amnesty” plan applied to accounts that “have not broken the law or engaged in gross spam.” Online safety experts predict the move will lead to an increase in harassment and hate speech.

Groups that monitor Twitter for racist and anti-Semitic content say toxic speech has been on the rise in the month since Musk took over the platform and laid off thousands of employees. Content moderators were among those who lost their jobs.

Guard dogs also have chastised Musk for some of his own tweetsincluding posting a meme with Pepe the Frog, a cartoon character who was hijacked by far-right extremists.

In April, the Anti-Defamation League announced that the annual number of anti-Semitic incidents had reached an all-time high last year. The organization counted 2,717 incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism in 2021, a 34% increase from the previous year and the highest number since the ADL began tracking events in 1979.

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Generations ago, famous Americans, including Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh, unashamedly expressed anti-Semitic sentiments in a way that would have shocked Americans in more recent decades. Now the internet and social media make it easy for world famous celebrities to normalize anti-Jewish hatred.

When someone of Ye’s stature praises Nazis and Hitler, it escalates from ugliness to some sort of incitement,” Greenblatt said. He noted that Jewish institutions already need to beef up security to protect against attacks such as the one in which a gunman killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018.

“Our community has yet to brace for the consequences of those ideas going mainstream,” Greenblatt said.

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Associated Press Writer Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, contributed to this report.

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