The national media spotlight has been on the antisemitic rants and abhorrent antics by rapper and clothing designer Kanye “Ye” West. Say what you will about Ye and his lyrics, fashion choices, his mental illness, or just about anything else; the man commands and harnesses attention.
But why has it taken weeks—years, really—for corporate America to finally stand up in defense of Jews, and for once and for all publicly decry antisemitism?
Jewish people around the world just celebrated Simchat Torah, marking the conclusion of publicly reading the Torah in its entirety and starting the reading cycle once again. The very first portion in Genesis, that was read across synagogues on Saturday, begins with God speaking light into existence. As I sat in my temple listening to my Rabbi, I was struck by the paradox and the timing of this particular verse and line.
However, what I couldn’t comprehend—especially as someone who has been working in communications, politics and with the press for over a decade—is why Ye was willingly given a platform to spew his antisemitic hatred on.
Everyone from Fox News’ Tucker Carlson all the way to Chris Cuomo and Drink Champs welcomed him. What exactly were their expectations aside from going viral on Twitter? (Missions which were sadly accomplished, by the way.)
The blame for elevating his antisemitic rhetoric shouldn’t be exclusively put on the media. Time and time again, corporations have led the way in supporting diversity, equity and inclusion movements.
In fact, the private sector has often acted in a bigger and bolder fashion than elected officials or governments, which has garnered them immense trust with the public.
The largest brands in our country, and even across the world, were at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement in the summer of 2020, and stood shoulder to shoulder against Asian American and Pacific Islander violence in 2021.
When I advise clients through a media crisis or a reputation management moment, I encourage them to reflect on their organization’s values, act accordingly and ensure that the message we are projecting is poignant and above reproach, even from the staunchest of detractors.
However, somewhere down the line, Adidas made the decision to do the worst possible thing a company can do in a public crisis: take no substantive action at all (and no, the “investigation” which was likely suggested by their PR counsel to buy time wasn’t nearly enough).
The result was further emboldening Ye and the extremist voices looking to advance their agendas. What’s worse is that other major brands and corporations did and said nothing at all. Corporate social responsibility, at this moment, simply wasn’t convenient or on message.
What bystanders and culprits alike don’t seem to understand is that antisemitism is at the highest point it has ever reached in our country.
According to research from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), there were 7,343 antisemitic incidents in 2021, reflecting a 5 percent jump from 2020 and a staggering 55 percent increase from 2019. These reported cases only tell a fraction of the story for the 5.8 million Jews living in the U.S.
All brands, organizations, employers, communications professionals, elected officials and Americans must speak out and thwart antisemitism.
Simply posting an Instagram story and a Tweet is not enough. We must do more. Donate to groups aimed at rooting out antisemitism. Take the time to educate yourself and your community about the forms of antisemitism.
Use your public platforms like your website, blogs and social media to consistently decry violence, extremism, hate and antisemitism. Ask members of your local Jewish community to tell you their own stories and experiences.
Your Jewish colleagues, friends and neighbors do not deserve to live in fear and wonder when or where the next attack on our communities or institutions might be. Jewish children in America do not deserve to prepare for bomb threats. Jewish Community Centers do not deserve to be patrolled 24/7 by law enforcement. Jews attending synagogue do not deserve to walk through metal detectors or jump whenever there’s a loud noise during a holy service.
"Let there be light” is not a simple phrase from the Torah, as my Rabbi explained last Saturday. Rather, it’s an unspoken mission statement for how we should go about everyday life by bringing light, equality and peace to all. Let this latest public incident serve as the light that ignites real change.
Lilia Dashevsky is VP-Public Affairs at Clyde Group in Washington, DC, and a member of the Anti-Defamation League’s D.C. associate board.