Off Key: How Some Popular Music Spreads Anti-Semitism

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Jay Z. Photo: Joella Marano via Wikimedia Commons.

While the number of hate crimes targeting Jews around the world skyrockets, one area that receives less attention is the existence of anti-Jewish stereotypes in the music industry. In this article, I’ll explore how Judeophobia has subtly crept into lyrics and live concerts, how musicians are abusing their fame to spread anti-Jewish conspiracies, and how online music platforms are impacting the spread of anti-Semitism in the 21st century. .

One of the most egregious ways in which crude stereotypes influence the mainstream music industry is through the inclusion of harmful lyrics about Jews in popular songs.

Here are some of the most egregious examples of anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish bias in contemporary music:

  • Michael Jackson’s 1996 hit “They Don’t Care About Us”, which features the lyrics “Jew me, sue me, everyone do me / Kick me, kike me, don’t you black or white me.” Jackson later apologized for the lyrics and re-released the song with the words “Jew” and “kike” removed. Nevertheless, contemporary covers of the song still retain some or all of the original lyrics. American rock band Saliva’s cover 2016 kept the words “Jew me, sue me” and the 2021 version of European hit band Beast in Black kept both offensive lyrics.
  • famous hip hop artist Jay-Z’s 2017 song “Story of OJ” features the lyrics: “Wanna know what’s more important than throwing money at a strip club? Credit / Have you ever wondered why Jews own all the property in America? That’s how they did it.
  • Described as “what the Protocols [of the Elders of Zion] would sound like with a sax accompaniment”, Van Morrison’s 2021 song “They Control the Media” implicitly references the classic anti-Semitic trope of Jews controlling the media, with lyrics such as “They own the media, they control / the stories we’re told / If you ever go against them / you’ll be ignored”.
  • Rapper BoB’s song “Flatline” in 2016 included the lyrics, “Do your research on David Irving / Stalin was way worse than Hitler / That’s why POTUS have to wear yarmulkes.”
  • In his 2016 song “NERD”, rapper Lupe Fiasco includes the words: “Artists are being robbed for posting by dirty Jewish leaders who think it’s handouts for the covenant.
  • Even the world of opera is not immune to anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish stereotypes. “The Death of Klinghofer”, which is based on the 1985 hijacking of Achille Lauro by the Palestine Liberation Front and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, has been accused of glorifying terrorism and perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes.
  • Antisemitism in popular music is a global problem. In 2018, the German equivalent of the Grammys sparked controversy when it awarded a prize to the hip hop duo Kollegah and Farid Bangknown for a song that includes the words, “My body is more defined than those of Auschwitz inmates.”
  • In 2022, the popular K-pop group EPEX released a song which included lyrics containing the words “Crystal Night,” a reference to the Nazi pogrom of Kristallnacht. In the accompanying music video, the band members wore Nazi-style uniforms.

Besides popular song lyrics, another way that anti-Semitic bias has entered the world of mainstream music is through the use of anti-Jewish symbols and tropes at concerts and live performances. Here are some notable examples:

As influential role models, musicians can be a force for good, bringing attention to important causes and helping those in need.

However, some famous musicians have used their fame and influence to peddle anti-Semitic conspiracies and anti-Jewish prejudice. Examples include:

  • Roger Waters, member of Pink Floyd, has previously expressed his point of view that the United States was controlled by Jewish American billionaire Sheldon Adelson, that the “Jewish lobby” controls the music industry and that Israelis are like aliens.
  • In 2020, during a Twitter rant full of conspiracy theories, the rapper Ice Cube released several controversial imagesincluding one who links the Jewish people to the attacks of September 11 and another that depicts a group of Jewish bankers playing Monopoly on each other’s backs.
  • In 2021, the rapper Wiley has been suspended from social media after posting a number of antisemitic posts which included the tweet, “Actually there are 2 groups of people no one really wanted to challenge #Jewish & #KKK but being in business for 20 years you’re starting to understand why,” as well as an image of him in Hasidic garb next to the words “Jewish faces that control hip-hop and mainstream black music.”
  • Chuck Maultsby, frontman of country band Chuck Wagon and the Wheels, has expressed a number of conspiracy theories including that Jewish CDC members are responsible for “COVID terror,” and that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by Jewish agents.

And other trends are just as alarming.

With the rise of music sharing platforms like Spotify and SoundCloud, it’s never been easier for independent artists to share their music with the world. However, this expansion of the music industry also provided fertile ground for anti-Semitic musicians to spread their hatred to a wider audience than before.

In a 2021 survey by the UK-based Israel Advocacy MovementSpotify was found to allow tracks containing obscene anti-Semitic lyrics to be shared on its platform.

One such example is the song “Secret War” by rapper K-Rino, an artist with over 50,000 monthly subscribers, which features the lyrics “And fly you through the circle of Zionist rights / Top rabbis and pedophile Jews / Get their Babylonian Talmud values.The song was later removed, but K-Rino still exists on the platform as a verified artist.

Another example is the song “Goy Boy” by Spotify-verified artist Payday Monsanto. This song includes the lyrics “Prove to me the Holocaust ain’t a fraud / And I’ll give you a six million dollar reward.”

These are just two examples of what some experts have called Spotify’s “dark side”.

As we have seen, the modern music industry is no stranger to anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish prejudice. Whether it’s musicians turning classic Jewish conspiracy tropes into songs, performers displaying anti-Jewish symbols during live performances, or artists using their influence to spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories online, the he industry should be concerned about the relationship between anti-Semitism and popular music.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog that focuses on anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias – where a version of this article first appearance.
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