By: Dr. Yvette Alt-Miller
Dear Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,
Thank you for speaking out. Thank you for breaking the silence. Thank you for using your column in The Hollywood Reporter and your celebrity status to condemn the recent torrent of virulently anti-Semitic tweets, Instagram posts, and other social media expressions targeting Jews in the vilest terms. Thank you for being a rare Black leader and role model who’s not afraid to stand up and condemn hatred when it’s directed against Jews.
“Recent incidents of anti-Semitic tweets and posts from sports and entertainment celebrities are a very troubling omen for the future of the Black Lives Matter movement,” you wrote, “but so too is the shocking lack of massive indignation. Given the New Woke-fulness in Hollywood and the sports world, we expected more passionate public outrage. What we got was a shrug of meh-rage.”
That “meh-rage” hurts.
For the past few weeks, we Jews have watched in horror as a string of high profile celebrities accused us of “world domination”, repeated old slanders that Jews control the world’s banks and are the “richest” people, and quoted vile anti-Semites such as Louis Farrakhan and Adolf Hitler. (In the case of Hitler, the social media posts purporting to quote him – posted last weekend by Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson – turned out to be misattributed.) In many cases, their extreme posts have been met with mild indignation at best. Contrast Jackson’s slap on the wrist with the fate of Serbian soccer player Aleksandar Katai, who was fired by the LA Galaxy soccer club after his wife made racist social media posts mocking the Black Lives Matter movement.
A lot of ink has been spilled recently lamenting “cancel culture” where one false move – one insensitive post or racist comment – can cause people to lose their credibility or even their livelihoods. It’s a horrible development but given cancel culture’s sad prevalence today it’s all the more shocking that anti-Semitic statements or posts stir such meager responses.
Celebrity rapper Ice Cube spent June 10 tweeting that Jews are responsible for oppressing African Americans. (Since your supportive column came out, Kareem, he’s attacked you for betraying Blacks and supposedly cozying up to Jews for “thirty pieces of silver”.) On June 30, television star Nick Cannon publicly agreed with the rapper Richard Griffin, who called Jews “wicked” and said Jews are responsible for most of the evil in the world on Cannon’s podcast; Cannon called these slurs “the truth”. (Cannon was recently fired from Viacom CBS for his words and finally apologized.)
Then last weekend, DeSean Jackson posted that Jews are trying to control the world and “extort America” and that “Hitler was right”. Jackson’s odious messages received only a tepid rebuttal from the NFL and many fans: the Eagles fined him but he’s still playing for the team. On July 8, former NBA player and Black Lives Matter activist Stephen Jackson came to his defense, posting that Jackson was “speaking the truth” and that the Jewish Rothschild family owns “all the banks”.
It’s not just athletes. “So many of the people I follow on Instagram have been quoting Louis Farrakhan,” my daughter recently lamented. She stopped following celebrities who support Farrakhan, the hateful leader of the Nation of Islam who has called Jews “Satanic,” “termites,” liars, the “master of the bankers,” slave-owners and liars. It’s hard to believe that anyone would publicly support or willingly quote Farrakhan, yet that’s what Philadelphia Eagles Lineman Malik Jackson did July 9, when he defended DeSean Jackson and called Farrakhan “honorable.” Comedian Chelsea Handler posted an old clip of Farrakhan claiming that Jews, Whites and Blacks can never “come together”; “I learned a lot from watching this powerful video” she commented in a June 21 post. (She has since deleted the video and apologized.)
Where’s the outrage? Where are the protests in the streets? After all, this time was supposed to be different.
For the past two months, so many of us have had the feeling that something was really shifting in America. I felt hopeful about race relations in the US, and energized that I could take part in this change. Was I wrong? Does the hatred that so many Americans harbor towards Jews mean that when it’s our turn for support – when we Jews are being attacked and it’s time to say no to hate on our behalf – our allies aren’t willing to stand up for us?
Jews have never faced so much hate in the US. 2019 saw the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents in the US since records began. The Anti-Defamation League reported a 12% jump in attacks on Jews from the already high level the year before. Within a year, over a dozen Jews were murdered in anti-Semitic attacks, including the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018; the attack on Chabad of Poway, California on April 27, 2019; the shootout at a kosher grocery store in Jersey City on December 10, 2019; and a frenzied knife attack at a Hanukkah party in New York on December 28, 2019.
The killers in these attacks came from radically different walks of life: hateful white supremacists, members of a Black Hebrew cult that taught African Americans are the “true” Jews, and a deranged African American man. They awoke us to the fact that extremist ideologies on both the right and the left demonize Jews and foment violence against us.
A recent poll finds that while about 14% of Americans in general harbor hate towards Jews, a much higher percentage of African Americans – about 23% – hold anti-Semitic views. The poll also found higher than average levels of anti-Semitism among Hispanic respondents: 19% of American-born Hispanic respondents and 31% of foreign-born Hispanic respondents revealed they harbor negative attitudes towards Jews. The flurry of offensive posts in recent weeks illustrates these dismal numbers: millions of our fellow Americans, from various walks of life, seem to hate us simply because we’re Jews.
No matter how many marches we go on, how many signs we put in our windows, how much we try to support our fellow Americans and proclaim loudly that we all stand together against hate – when that hate is directed against us, all those grand promises seem to ring hollow. Too often, we stand alone.
Kareem, that’s why your column is so important. You’re a role model – an athlete, author, and outspoken critic. We need more voices like yours calling out the double standard, reminding us that tackling racism and anti-Semitism together is still possible. We need more voices like yours calling out African American leaders – and white leaders too – who are quick to rightly condemn racism but remain quiet when it’s Jews who are under attack.
As you wrote, Kareem, “The lesson never changes, so why is it so hard for some people to learn: No one is free until everyone is free. As Martin Luther King Jr. explained: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.’”