In an ethical will, Robert (“Bob”) Kraft’s father directed him to make sure that every night when he went to bed that the people with whom he had interacted that day were richer for having known him.
“That symbolizes tikkun olam to me,” Kraft, the philanthropist and billionaire owner of the New England Patriots said on July 30 at a plenary session of the NAACP’s 114th National Convention in Boston.
He spoke on a panel titled “Hate Has No Home Here” about racism, antisemitism and “building bridges to fight all hate,” moderated by Joy Taylor of Fox Sports. Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, was part of the panel, as were Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, and musician and activist Meek Mill, with whom Kraft developed a noted friendship.
“I love this country with all its faults because I was a young man who went to school on full scholarship. I didn’t have my first car on my own until I was 25. I’ve been able to live my dream,” Kraft, chairman of the Kraft Group and founder of the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism, told the audience.
“I had a greater chance of being a starting quarterback in the NFL—there are 32—than of owning a franchise in my hometown,” he said. “What does that mean? It means this country has been open to everyone to have great opportunities, and I’m very worried about the country right now, what’s going on.”
There is a need to unify against hatred, which is on the rise and which first manifests as antisemitism, according to Kraft. “It starts with the Jewish people. It will go to every other minority group,” he said. “We have to stand together and stand proud, and push back on this to keep the vibrancy of this country.”
Kraft and Mill talked about the friendship that developed after Kraft visited Mill in jail and learned about the rapper’s life experience. Mill subsequently joined Kraft in Poland to learn more about the Holocaust. Kraft said that it was important to have a prominent artist visit Holocaust sites following comments of Holocaust denial by rapper and musician Kanye West (Ye).
“He has 50 million followers. More than three times the population of Jewish people in the globe,” Kraft said.
Kraft discussed the blue square campaign, which his foundation organized. “This blue square is a symbol of unity and solidarity that all of us can stand together and push back,” he said. “It’s a little emoji that you can have on your phone. I’m not very technologically savvy, but even I can put it on every email.”
Gates told the audience that many of the NAACP founders in 1909 were Jewish, saying
“without Jewish support, the NAACP would have never gotten off the ground.”
He added that Jewish professors who fled the Nazis were often embraced and hired at historically black colleges and universities. He also noted that Julius Rosenwald, who was Jewish, created schools that educated many black people, including Maya Angelou and longtime Georgia Rep. John Lewis.
“I tell my students at Harvard that under the floorboards of Western culture run two streams. One is anti-black racism, and one is antisemitism,” Gates said. “Any time a demagogue wants to stir up people, they just lift up the floorboards and dipper out all that hatred against our people and against our Jewish brothers and sisters.”