Who ranks with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? In our view, nobody. But former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is certainly up there on the list of African-American—and American—greats. This is why his op-ed in The Hollywood Reporter denouncing the unanswered surge in anti-Semitic rhetoric and libel from African-American athletes and entertainers is so important.
Among the purveyors of hate: Ice Cube, responsible for a day-long Twitter marathon using anti-Semitic images and symbols to condemn Jews, and not just Israel. He refuses to apologize for “telling the truth.” This is the same Big Lie that Ice Cube’s apparent new hero, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, used to portray himself as the supreme “truth-teller.”
NFL player DeSean Jackson also tweeted anti-Semitic messages, including a quote he incorrectly attributed to Hitler that Jews had a plan to “extort America” and achieve “world domination.” Why did the wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles choose to quote this faux Hitler? “Because Hitler’s heart was in the right place,” he said. In his own voice, Jackson also claimed the Rothschilds owned all banks. He subsequently apologized, and after a therapy session with NFL great Julian Edelman of the New England Patriots has agreed to certain Holocaust memorials and may even go to Auschwitz with a Holocaust survivor. Fine, if sincere.
Performer Chelsea Handler, who is white and Jewish, chimed in earlier this summer with a testimonial video to Farrakhan’s greatness that she shared with her 3.9 million followers. She also apologized—too little, too late.
Just this week, Madonna didn’t let her embrace of Kabballah get in the way of using her Instagram account to channel Farrakhan’s speech to more than 700,000 online followers.
Unlike Madonna, prominent media personality Nick Cannon did own up after he posted a YouTube interview with rapper “Professor Griff,” chock full of anti-Semitism. Griff’s greatest hits about Jews from the 1980s include that: “If the Palestinians took up arms, went into Israel and killed all the Jews, it’d be alright”; “I think that’s why they call it ‘jewelry,’ because the Jews in South Africa, they run that thing”; Jews are responsible for “the majority of the wickedness that goes on across the globe”; and “Jews finance these experiments on AIDS with black people in South Africa.” When Griff claimed that “white Jews” are not “real Jews,” Cannon contributed: “The Semitic people are black people.” Initially, he, too, refused to apologize, but to his credit asked to speak with the Simon Wiesenthal Center about some of the details of Jewish history.
That led to a public apology to the Jewish community and recognition by Cannon that what he thought were facts were indeed “propaganda and rhetoric that harmed another community.” Cannon has since visited the Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, where he held an original 1919 signed letter by Adolf Hitler that blamed Jews for an earlier virus and called for their removal from society. Twenty years later, Hitler put those words into action when he launched World War II and the Holocaust.
Against this backdrop of apologies—real, faux and muted—Abdul-Jabbar’s op-ed, “Where Is the Outrage Over Anti-Semitism in Sports and Hollywood?” ignited suppressed discussions that have largely gone unchallenged.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been a voice against hatred in all forms since the 1970s. He may not dwell on it, he but knows firsthand how hate unanswered can explode into violence.
In 1973, the Hanafi Muslim Center in Washington, D.C., was attacked after Hamaas Abdul Khaalis—its head and Elijah Muhammed’s former right-hand man—criticized the Nation Islam for being anti-white. The assassins failed to kill Hamaas, but slaughtered his son, Daud. Then they forced Hamaas’s wife, Bibi Khaalis, to watch them drown two children in an upstairs bathtub and took her to the basement, where her 9-day-old daughter was drowned in a sink. Bibi was bound, gagged and shot eight times. Khaalis’s daughter, Amina, was shot three times in a closet. Kareem, who had endowed the Hanafi Center, was a pall bearer at the children’s funerals. When nine black Muslim extremists were tried for the crime, Farrakhan used his radio broadcasts to warn jurors of dire consequences if any were convicted.
As Americans struggle to sort out the post-George Floyd world, we should be increasingly concerned over selective outrage based on color and politics. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has endorsed the re-election bid of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). Even before her election to Congress, Omar tweeted: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” New York Times columnist Bari Weiss—whose public resignation from that paper exposed a biased and toxic environment replete with double standards—had correctly pointed out that Omar’s statement updated the age-old “conspiracy theory of the Jew as the hypnotic conspirator.” Omar wasn’t done. She disparaged historic congressional support for Israel, saying as, “It’s all about the Benjamins.” Then came another wishy-washy apology, followed by noises from House Democrats that they would condemn Omar for her anti-Semitic comment in no uncertain terms. Instead, they blinked. The House Democratic establishment, led by Pelosi, pushed through a toothless resolution condemning a laundry list of bigotries, but not anti-Semitism in particular, and failing to mention her name.
Our national political leadership, cultural and social media influencers, and corporate giants—not least the NFL and NBA—would be wise to follow Kareem’s slam dunk against anti-Semitism and restore a level playing field in the battle against hate of all kinds.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean and director of Global Social Action at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Dr. Harold Brackman is longtime consultant for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance, and co-author of “From Abraham to Obama: A History of Africans, African Americans, and Jews.”