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Dear Music Industry: When it Comes to Antisemitic Rhetoric, Your Silence Is Deafening

On Saturday October 8, the artist Ye, formerly Kanye West, declared to his 18 million Instagram followers that he was “going death con 3 on Jewish people,” adding that Jews “have toyed with me and tried to black ball anyone whoever opposes your agenda.”

In the days that followed, I wrote a piece for the 10/14 edition of “The Jerusalem Post” expressing my own experiences with growing antisemitism in the U.S. and abroad. “This isn’t a matter of my Jewish faith,” I wrote. “It’s a fundamental breakdown of our shared humanity.” And though my statement was supported by many friends and colleagues throughout the industry, I also encountered several disconcerting instances of trepidation. The outright silence of others spoke volumes.

Ken Burns’ recent documentary “The U.S. and the Holocaust” bluntly illustrates how the U.S. was initially unwilling to intervene in the Holocaust, even as evidence of its horrors publicly unfolded. Most of all, it reminds us that complacency is akin to complicity.

We’re now seeing our nation get more virulent and divisive by the day. We hear hate speech shared by public figures on global platforms. History can — and often does — repeat. But next time, will we allow inaction to prevail? As a descendant of refugees, many of whom died in the Holocaust, I will not tolerate antisemitism, racism, ignorance or hate from individuals or institutions, celebrities or politicians, friends, colleagues, or strangers. Neither should you.

On Saturday October 15, Ye appeared on Revolt TV’s “Drink Champs” to defiantly double-down. Not only did he endorse falsehoods about Jewish control of the media, but he went on to dismiss the indisputable — and adjudicated — facts of George Floyd’s murder.

I don’t buy the argument that Ye’s mental illness allows for public displays of malignant stupidity, and I don’t believe the platforms he’s been given should be exempt from responsibility either. My anger has only intensified in the days since, as have my questions: why have Ye’s music business partners — record labels, publishers, touring agencies, merch companies, etc. — remained silent?  Is his brand so valuable that it overshadows his messaging? Is his fame so important that it’s worth the eventual price we may all pay? I will not stay silent, allow Ye’s message to dissipate over time, or wait until he says something even more destructive in the future. Neither should you.

And yet the problem is not simply Ye.  He may be the most current public figure spewing antisemitism and racism, but is certainly not alone; from Sunday morning preachers and white nationalists to college campuses, city councils, and even members of Congress, ignorance and hate are gaining traction daily. If recent statements by Tommy Tuberville, Nury Martinez or Donald Trump haven’t shocked you, then what will it take?  If you’re not getting angry or frightened, you’re not paying attention.

The creative community has a greater responsibility than most. Our voice — particularly among young people — is pervasive. Our influence is global. Which is why our time to act is now. We must speak up, no matter what the cost. And we must encourage our friends, families, colleagues and leaders to do the same.

Let me be perfectly clear, this is not about “cancel culture,” “wokeness” or any other buzzword used to denigrate empathy and undermine compassion. This is about stopping racism, bigotry, misogyny, homophobia and antisemitism in its tracks before it repeats itself to a degree we pray it never reaches again. We cannot idly stand by in fear, silence, or indifference. We must not allow the horrors of the past to infect our future.

The choices we collectively make over the next few months will matter for years to come. Through it all, I will march with you; I will scream with you; I will stand with you. And for the sake of our industry, our integrity, and our very survival as intelligent and rational beings, I am humbly asking you to do the same.

Steve Schnur is Worldwide Executive/President of Music at Electronic Arts and co-founder of Creative Community for Peace and Black Jewish Entertainment Alliance.

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