The response to Wiley’s tweets shows antisemitism is forgotten in the age of anti-racism
Your performative activism seems to be waning
In the Jewish week, Friday night is the most important night.
We gather with our families and relax over a meal together, lighting candles, drinking wine, and eating a plaited bread called Challah. We sit and talk, and discuss our week, being glad that we now have time to contemplate and rest. Normally my Liberal Jewish family play games or watch a film together, and there will be the inevitable pitch from my brother of why it should be a Marvel film, to which I will always have my rebuttal at the ready and we will laugh together at how little our disagreement will matter tomorrow. Then, we go to bed in the promise of waking up to a new day.
But last Friday was different.
We had our meal, we lit our candles, drank our wine and ate our bread that my little sister is so proud of making, then Facetimed my grandparents to wish them a “good shabbos”. Many Jews do not actively use electricity on Shabbat, and I try not to use my phone in an effort to detox from everything else that goes on during the rest of the week, but I couldn’t help myself when I saw the notifications that kept flooding in.
It was an unfiltered torrent of hatred, which stormed Twitter, and then moved to Instagram, followed closely by a cry of pain and anger from my Jewish community. The reason? The rapper Wiley had taken it upon himself to slurry Twitter with a deluge of antisemitic tweets, naming Jewish people “cowards” and expressing that “Jewish people you think you are too important I am sick of you” and that we should “hold some corn”. This last is a euphemism for being shot. He actively wants to harm us. I looked at the number of likes and retweets he was receiving and was paralysed in shock.
In a matter of tweets, Wiley became a mouthpiece for hatred. My mother told me that 16 years ago he was meant to be a symbol of ‘wokeness’ as my mother said when she “when she still knew music”. But he has proven that he is far from it. Not only did he spout antisemitic poison for a full day before he got banned – for just seven days! – from Twitter, but he invalidated the experiences of Jews of colour. Jewish people come from all walks of life, countries, and cultures. We are a diverse people of varying experiences. For Wiley to straight-up tell a black Jewish woman who subtweeted him that she was not really black is unforgivable, and to then negate Drake of “black excellence” because he is also Jewish… Our Jewish identities are not dichotomous to our physical or cultural features and no one has the right to judge our authenticity for either.
“You don’t look Jewish” and “your nose isn’t big enough to be Jewish” are just two of the micro-aggressions that I face regularly. But what is a Jew supposed to look like? Wiley attacked black Jews, he attacked white and white-passing Jews, he attacked Jews no matter where they came from or whether they were practicing, simply because they were Jewish. It is prevalent to remember that Judaism is an ethnoreligion, which means we too can face racism.
I may appear white, but on a DNA test an unknown percentage of my heritage will show that I am ‘Ashkenazi Jew’, and the rest of my Jewish blood will be a mix of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries that my family once lived in. Spain and Portugal both offer citizenship to the Sephardi Jews who were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula more than 500 years ago, in acknowledgment of the antisemitic hate my ancestors faced. I am eligible to apply for this. Do not tell me that antisemitism is a scarce occurrence.
My history and the history of many other Jews has been whitewashed. Hitler murdered European Jews because he did not view us as white and Aryan. He viewed us as ‘other’ and identified us through our bloodline, meaning that with just one Jewish grandparent, we were therefore Jewish – whether we practised or not. However, there are of course people who convert to Judaism, and this is not to deny them of their own Jewish legitimacy.
The hashtag ‘#jewishprivilege’ has recently been trending on Twitter and the only response I have seen condemning it is Jewish. The hashtag seeks to delegitimise the Jewish experience of facing racism and hatred, marking us as white and undeserving of support from anti-racist groups. I will tell you what ‘Jewish Privilege’ is. It is having to hide my Star of David, for fear of being attacked. It is having regular anti-terrorism training and bullet-proof glass in Jewish schools. It is being told at 16 as a leader on a Jewish summer camp how to protect the children you are looking after if someone sets off a bomb, and not being allowed to wear our Jewish clothing on a day trip because some of us were previously attacked. It is having guards outside of our Synagogues whilst we are praying.
Does this seem extreme? Let me remind you of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh just two years ago, where 11 Jewish congregants were murdered. Didn’t hear about it? I’m not surprised, antisemitic attacks are regularly under-reported, or not reported at all.
I am incredulous as to why this most recent bout of antisemitism has been mostly avoided by the media and so-called anti-racist groups. In an age of standing up to and recognising racism, why are Jewish people excluded from acknowledgment and support? We are a minority group and the issues we face are largely aligned with the issues faced by other victims of racism and discrimination. According to the Board of Deputies, there are around 280000 Jewish people in the UK, making up just 0.5% of the population. Last year, 18% of all reported hate crimes in the UK were against Jewish people.
This number is astronomical and yet we are still denied support from parts of the anti-racist movement. My non-Jewish followers were silent when DeSean Jackson quoted Hitler and gave his support to antisemitism. They were silent when Nick Cannon told a known antisemite that he was speaking “facts” and that he was a “legend” for perpetuating antisemitism. They only spoke once the Jewish community and I filled our Instagram stories with our shared pain at the hands of Wiley. And still, the response was minimal. Just seven of my non-Jewish friends posted in response to Wiley, and the consequent need to include Jews in their activism.
What I find most disturbing is the amount of bolstering Wiley is receiving. His Tweets are being liked and retweeted; his Instagram is inundated with comments of support. Despite this viciousness, the majority of people are still viewing this as “not a big enough deal” to be vocal about. The poem ‘First They Came’ by Pastor Martin Niemöller has become synonymous with activism within the Jewish community, and it is particularly prevalent now. I include the final lines below:
‘And then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me’
And it’s not like I haven’t experienced antisemitism before – my brother and I were forced out of our schools because of aggressive and spiteful antisemitic attacks. My brother had his name written in chalk – and spelled incorrectly, he likes to add – on the road outside his school, surrounded by swastikas and “no foreskin” emblazoned next to it. It was there for a full day and left for the police to remove. I wonder how many people had walked by, saw swastikas, and ignored it? Amongst other aggressions, like being saluted at by boys with Hitler moustaches scribbled on their faces, he has been physically assaulted.
I’ve been called names, had classmates taunt me with Holocaust jokes, had my A-Level History teachers on multiple occasions vividly describe the systematic murdering of my family in front of me in completely unrelated lessons, with a glint in their eyes that always flickered back to me. One Rosh Hashanah – Jewish New Year – I was targeted in a group chat that was filled with antisemitic memes and gifs of the Holocaust.
I have known my history and felt “othered” because of it, but this is the first time I have actively and consciously thought of my escape plan. Which of my friends would hide me and my family? Where would we go? How would we escape? These questions may seem escalatory, but remember, they have been needed before. My dear grandparents offered their names for the byline of this article so that no one would come to find me. This is how serious antisemitism can be.
Some Jewish families have panic rooms in their households – a revelation I found through TikTok – because they know how quickly we can be turned upon. There was a meme I saw at the beginning of lockdown which joked how the creator’s Jewish family didn’t need to go panic-buying because they’d been well-stocked for years – “just in case they needed to disappear”. Its Jewish audience responded with a knowing, poignant laugh, and stared at their own pile of emergency supplies.
Antisemitism didn’t start with the Holocaust, and it didn’t end with the liberation of the concentration camps either. This is an incredibly Eurocentric view and diminishes the experiences of Sephardi, Mizrahi, and all other Jews who are not Ashkenazi. Right now in Yemen, Yemenite Jews are being murdered in an ethnic cleansing regime. Antisemitism is still rife, and who is talking about it? Yet again, it is only Jewish voices that speak loudest.