Most Yeezys stay home as students respond to Kanye’s, Kyrie’s antisemitism

Shalhevet students are avoiding Kanye’s apparel but mostly not his music after star’s antisemitic tweets

MERCH%3A+From+left+to+right%2C+Kai+Belhassen%2C+Alfie+Drucker+and+Adam+Westerman+wore+Kanye%E2%80%99s+Yeezy+Slides+at+school+last+week.+Out+of+20+students+surveyed+who+have+them%2C+11+said+they%E2%80%99d+stopped+wearing+them+because+of+the+rapper%E2%80%99s+antisemitic+tweets.+BP+Photos+by+Evan+Beller+and+Tali+Liebenthal

MERCH: From left to right, Kai Belhassen, Alfie Drucker and Adam Westerman wore Kanye’s Yeezy Slides at school last week. Out of 20 students surveyed who have them, 11 said they’d stopped wearing them because of the rapper’s antisemitic tweets. BP Photos by Evan Beller and Tali Liebenthal

More than half of Shalhevet students surveyed who own Kanye West (Ye) apparel have stopped wearing it in response to his Tweet about going “death con 3” on Jews, but a majority of students who have listened to his music continue to do so, according to a Boiling Point survey conducted Nov. 22 – 24.

“I’m obviously not wearing his clothing, I’m not representing him,” said freshman London Brakha. But London said he would not go “completely out of my way” to stop listening to the rapper.

“If I hear it on the radio I’m not gonna turn off the radio,” London said. “But I grew up with Kanye, it’s a bit difficult to completely shut away from him.”

The Boiling Point survey, hosted on a Google Form and sent on Shalhevet’s Schoology platform, received 100 student responses out of 235 enrolled in the school.

Seventy-four said they had previously listened to Kanye’s music, and 48 – about three-quarters of those 74  – continue to, with the rest saying they’d stopped.

If we keep buying his stuff and we keep listening to his music, then people are gonna be like ‘Oh, if the Jews are ok with it then why should I care?”

— Josh Askari, 12th grade

The greatest shift in behavior was among students who have worn Kanye’s apparel. Of 20 students who own his clothing, 11 – 55% – no longer wear them.

“If we keep buying his stuff and we keep listening to his music then people are gonna be like ‘oh, if the Jews are ok with it then why should I care?’” said senior Josh Askari, who owns two pairs of Kanye’s Yeezys, and has stopped wearing them.

As for Irving, the NBA Brooklyn Nets star point guard who tweeted a link to an antisemitic film two weeks after Ye’s Tweet, the poll found seven out of 33, or 11 percent, of students that watch basketball said they’d changed their watching habits because of Irving.

Irving, like Kanye, has his own shoe brand, known as “Kyries.” Freshman Ari Ben-Naim wears Kyries on the JV basketball team.

In addition, last week Ari also bought Yeezy Slides and wears them to school.

“They are very comfortable shoes and the money wasn’t going to Kanye,” said Ari. He said he’d bought them from a friend, “so I was supporting his business.”

Ari said he has always been a Kanye fan and it’s difficult to step away from something that’s such an accustomed part of his life. He doesn’t think wearing Kanye or Irving apparel in a Jewish school spreads a negative message, but he refuses to wear his Kanye slides outside of his house except for school.

“I don’t think wearing Kanye shoes to a Jewish school really does anything, because at the end of the day we are all Jewish [here],” said Ari. “And me wearing red-and-white Kyrie’s for basketball at Shalhevet athletics I don’t really think is a big issue.”

RUN: Ari Ben-Naim wears Kyrie Irving Nikes on the JV Shalhevet basketball team. Nike has cut ties with Irving and his shoes are now selling for 50% off on the Nike website. (BP Photo by Noah Elad)

Yeezy Slides vary in price, with some designs selling for more than $200 and others for less than $100. They look similar to Nike Slides but are a bit thicker and have a zig-zag design on the sole. They are solid in color and are known for their lightweight comfort.

Freshman Alfie Drucker wore Yeezy slides to school last week even though he’s stopped listening to Kanye’s music.

“I don’t think wearing Kanye shoes to a Jewish school really does anything, because at the end of the day we are all Jewish.”

— Ari Ben Naim, 9th grade

“It’s a comfortable slide, I have to say, and I spent a lot of money on it,” said Alfie. “It’s not like I’m supporting him now, and I can’t take back the $200 I spent. So what’s the point of just keeping them in my closet?”

He added that he doesn’t support Kanye as a person and thinks people shouldn’t try to separate his music from his opinions and actions.

“When I listen to his music, I’m literally giving him like 0.1 percent of a cent or something but like I’m physically supporting him, like presently,” Alfie said.  “[Whereas] if I wear something I bought seven months ago… I’m not supporting him in the present time.’

 

The latest pop-culture antisemitism started Oct. 9, when Kanye tweeted, “I’m a bit sleepy tonight but when I wake up I’m going death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE.”

The world-renowned rapper had, at the time, more Twitter followers than there are Jews in the world – 32.2 million, compared to an estimated total of 15.2 million Jews worldwide according to Haaretz Israeli News. Kanye has been suspended from Twitter twice, first on Nov. 4 and most recently on Dec. 1 after he tweeted a photo of a swastika inside a Star of David. In his October tweet, Kanye referred to the DEFCON levels of readiness for the United States military, number three meaning “round house” – an increase in force. He altered the words, changing DEFCON to “death con.”

Then, on Oct. 27, Irving tweeted, without comment, a link to the 2018 film Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America! According to The Forward, it analyzes the belief that African Americans are the true descendants of the ancient Israelites and that Jews took their identity through telling lies. One of those lies, it says, is the Holocaust, and the film also sees contemporary white Jews as frauds.

At Shalhevet, reaction has reached beyond individual students into classrooms and events – for example, the annual Steve Glouberman basketball tournament, hosted by Shalhevet with 18 Modern Orthodox high school teams competing from around the country. Tournament officials have often played hip-hop music in the gym during game warm-ups and timeouts.

In previous years, the Glouberman playlist included many Kanye songs, including “Power,” “Stronger,” “Blood on the Leaves” and “All of the Lights,” among others.

This year, however, Dr. Jonny Ravanshenas, Dean of Student Life, prevented Kanye music from playing in the Shalhevet gym during the Nov. 2 – 5 tournament.

“It was a little bit of a boycott,” said Dr. Ravanshenas. “If he is going to make negative inflammatory comments about us, why in the world would we play him?”

If he is going to make negative inflammatory comments about us, why in the world would we play [his music]?”

— Dr. Jonny Ravanshenas, Dean of Student Life

Dr. Ravanshenas said playing his music would be giving Kanye more of a platform. But also, the school tries to follow certain criteria when playing music in the gym.

“One, the music has to be clean, meaning no explicit music,” said Dr. Ravanshenas. The majority of Kanye’s music contains expletives, but “clean” versions of the songs have been used in previous years.

“Two, we try to include more Jewish music,” he said. “It’s in line with our values.”

Mr. Sagi Refael, the 11th-grade Honors Hebrew Literature teacher, often holds class discussions on current events. Last month, they discussed Kanye.

“Do we continue buying music by Kanye?” said Mr. Refael. “Do we continue buying his shoes? Do we continue following him on social media or do we unfollow?”

Mr. Refael said some students thought Kanye wasn’t antisemitic while others disagreed.

“Some students said, ‘Yes, he was right. Jews are greedy, Jews are all about money,'” said Mr. Refael. “I don’t want everybody to think the same, ‘cause otherwise there is no discussion.”

Junior Leeyah Klyman said wearing his apparel was more problematic than listening to his music.

“I just feel like there’s a difference parading around a shirt that says Kanye’s name on it, and that’s sort of his brand, his words are his brand,” said Leeyah. “But I feel like with his music, it’s like songs, you know? I just don’t feel like it has as much importance.”

 

As the controversy caused by his Deathcon 3 remark has raged, Kanye’s antisemitism has continued, with praise for Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime in a Dec. 1 appearance with far-right radio host Alex Jones.

“I don’t like the word ‘evil’ next to Nazis,” said Kanye, later discussing Hitler’s innovations and his contributions to society. “Every human being has something of value that they brought to the table, especially Hitler.”

Junior Brooke Akka wore her Yeezy slides on Nov. 28 and said she bought them from a reseller before Kanye’s antisemitic statements. She said the question of how to handle the creative work of antisemites is an old one and gave as an example the Chanel brand of clothing, cosmetics and perfumes.

If we are gonna be honest, there’s a lot of brands that have said antisemitic stuff, there are a lot of artists who said antisemitic stuff, but people aren’t affected.”

— Brooke Akka, 11th grade

Some consider the company’s founder, Coco Chanel, an antisemite because historians found strong evidence that she was a spy for the Nazis in World War II. Her perfume company, however, has been owned by a Jewish family since it was first formed.

“If we are gonna be honest, there’s a lot of brands that have said antisemitic stuff, there are a lot of artists who said antisemitic stuff, but people aren’t affected,” said Brooke. Kanye hasn’t apologized for his comments, but Irving did apologize after receiving an eight-game suspension from the Nets. On Nov. 1, former Laker and Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, along with his reporting team, criticized Kyrie on Inside The NBA.

“The game we used to love, and we promote, it brings people together,” said O’Neal. “And it hurts me sometimes when we have to sit up here to talk about stuff that divides the game. Now we got to answer for what this idiot has done.”

At an Oct. 31 Nets vs. Indiana Pacers game, Andrew Pearl, an Orthodox Jew who works in real estate and has been a Nets fan for about three years, sat court-side with seven family and friends, donning matching “Fight Antisemitism” t-shirts.

In an interview with the Boiling Point, Mr. Pearl – whose photograph near Irving during the Pacers game appeared in The Forward and other news media – said Black athletes don’t hesitate to call out racism and other social ills.

“I think around the NBA a lot of things they make a big deal about, over Black Lives Matter and other stuff, and when it comes to antisemitism it’s really never a big deal,” said Mr. Pearl Nov. 29.

“The players don’t come out and talk about it and the league rarely comes out and talks about it, so we just wanted to bring attention to it and we saw it work in a much bigger way.”

Mr. Pearl was sitting in his father-in-law’s seats Oct. 31 and said that since then, he has received backlash from people on social media, and someone attempted to report his account and change his password.

A direct message he received on Nov. 4, for example, said, “Kyrie did nothing wrong. His very actions are purposefully opening the eyes of millions of Black folks. It scares you guys but we will stand for what’s right. The truth is revealing itself and you’re terrified.”

On Nov. 2 Irving announced his plan to donate $500,000 to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish organization that specializes in civil rights law, but the ADL didn’t accept the donation.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL tweeted on Nov. 3, “We were optimistic but after watching the debacle of a press conference, it’s clear that Kyrie feels no accountability for his actions. @ADL cannot in good conscience accept his donation.”

Two weeks later on Nov. 19, Irving apologized in an interview with NBA Insider Ian Begley, “No, I am not antisemitic, I never have been,” said Irving. “I just want to apologize deeply for all my actions throughout the time that it’s been since the post was first put up.”

 

Another question Shalhevet has grappled with is what effect Kanye’s and Irving’s statements have beyond the Shalhevet community.

Kyrie, I feel like his words haven’t had as much power lately. People started to realize that he’s a little bit off in terms of his opinions. ”

— London Brakha, 9th grade

London Brakha told the Boiling Point that when comparing Kanye with Irving, Kanye is more influential and is one of the biggest names in the world.

“Kyrie, I feel like his words haven’t had as much power lately,” said London. “People started to realize that he’s a little bit off in terms of his opinions.”

There are still actions supporting Irving. On Nov. 20, when Irving’s suspension ended, a large crowd of Black Hebrew Israelites chanted “We are the real Jews” while marching to the Nets’ Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

There have been events throughout the United States showing support for Kanye as well. Last month, a banner was held over the 405 freeway in Los Angeles that read, “Kanye is right about the Jews.” On Nov. 14, in suburban Chicago, the Am Echod Jewish Cemetery was vandalized, with 39 headstones spray painted with swastikas and the misspelled statement, “Kanye was rite.”

Dr. Ravanshenas said that many people aren’t realizing how far-reaching antisemitism has become, and because of Kanye’s celebrity status people easily take his word.

“His comments are a risk to my life,” said Dr. Ravanshenas. “I can tell you on a personal level Rabbi Hier, who is the head of the Museum of Tolerance, that week of his comments he had to heighten security because of threats that are happening amongst Jews around the United States, probably in the world.”

Alfie Drucker agrees with Dr. Ravanshenas and feels Kanye’s impact personally.

“I don’t feel comfortable wearing a kippah outside the house anymore cause now he has a lot of supporters and it’s like normalizing antisemitic people,” said Alfie.

I don’t feel comfortable wearing a kippah outside the house anymore cause now he has a lot of supporters and it’s like normalizing antisemitic people.”

— Alfie Drucker, 9th grade

Junior Zion Schlussel now refuses to listen to his music or show any form of support. But he still thinks people can enjoy someone’s art regardless of what the person says or does.

“I still listen to Michael Jackson’s music even though there was that whole thing with him,” said Zion. “But for Kanye, it’s different for me because I was never that into his music, but also he’s relentlessly attacked the Jews.”

Jackson was charged with child sexual abuse but was acquitted in 2005. Zion also said he thinks Jackson created some of the best music of all time, and Kanye isn’t at that same level.

“I want to show that us as Jews are against antisemitism,” said Zion. “By not listening to his music, and if a bunch of people aren’t listening to his music anymore, it’s showing that you don’t mess with the Jews.”

This story originally appeared in the Boiling Point on Dec. 8, 2022