(August 19, 2020 / JNS) One of my guilty pleasures in life is the TV show The Masked Singer, in which celebrities—ranging from T-Pain to Sarah Palin to Tommy Chong—compete by singing anonymously in ridiculous costumes to incredible pyrotechnics and other remarkable displays. A fascinating aspect is how these well-known individuals use the cover of the mask to get viewers to look past their self-perceived defects of public image and get to know them better.
Nick Cannon, the show’s host, recently had to undertake his own journey to protect his public image, but out in the open without a mask. It started when he produced a podcast in which he and his guest engaged in a very problematic dialogue that included Cannon saying “we the true Hebrews” and that “we are the same people that [the Jewish people] want to be,” while quoting notoriously anti-Semitic conspiracies, literature and personalities as if they were credible sources on Jewish history and culture. When this happened, I was ready to delete the show from the auto-record list.
I have seen many public figures—such as Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and conservative commentator Anne Coulter, to name a few—unapologetically slander Jewish people and institutions. But recently, a wave of black celebrities, headlined by Cannon, have shown some remorse, effort and accountability for their hurtful and damaging comments and tweets.
With a growing number of high-profile Jewish apologists, who would rather give up on a Jewish Israel than take the uncomfortable step of standing up for it, Cannon easily could have found a well-known Jewish person like now-disgraced Seth Rogen, Marc Maron or Bernie Sanders to speak out on his behalf to the satisfaction of many. But Cannon did not take the easy road that so many have taken.
Instead, he spoke with Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Similarly, following their recent displays of anti-Jewish bigotry, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson spoke with Holocaust survivor Edward Mosberg, and rapper Ice Cube spoke with Zionist Organization of America head Mort Klein.
I have had the privilege of hearing all three of these men testify in person: Cooper on Capitol Hill, Klein at the United Nations and Mosberg from inside the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, as he pointed to the gas chambers and crematoria where his family members were slaughtered and incinerated. All three of these men are knowledgeable and emotionally powerful speakers, dedicated to fighting against anti-Semitism and for the Jewish people, and are most certainly not apologists.
Notably, Cannon’s well-intentioned work towards correcting his thinking and modifying his ways, speech and attitudes did not stop with his conversations. Earlier this month, he posted on Instagram to his 5 million followers that he had completed “a full day of fasting, meditation, study and prayer honoring for the first time Tisha B’av,” reporting that he ”learned that this Jewish day of mourning religiously recognizes the fall of both of Solomon’s Temples[:] The first to the Babylonian Empire and 700 years later the second by the Roman Empire on the same day.”
These are not just words. In educating his followers about this holiday—one that too many American Jews regrettably decline to observe themselves—Cannon publicly acknowledged a deep, long-standing Jewish historical connection to the land of Israel, specifically validating and addressing the pain that his ill-presented words triggered on the podcast.
Cannon then proceeded in the same post to discuss how he had read Bari Weiss’s book, How to Fight Anti-Semitism, which he calls an “insightful read,” and from which he cites in analyzing why his own conduct was misguided.
He also strongly agrees with Weiss as she “blames the Left and the Right, Intersectionality, and the lack of historical education for the cause of the baseless hate.”
While politics and education are important recognitions, that Cannon includes intersectionality on this list is the most noteworthy. Intersectionality has recently emerged as a tactic to spread hatred against the Jewish people, and against Israel, among the marginalized minority groups.
Unlike the concept of diversity, which encourages people of different backgrounds to come together to promote societal growth through mutual learning, intersectionality—as it exists in social circles today—regrettably drives a wedge by urging people to feel an identification with others who are presented as if they were similarly situated, and thus forming a coalition of groups that on its face qualifies as collectively oppressed in a fight against perceived common oppressors. Among the targets lumped in with white supremacists and neo-Nazis are the Jewish people; and the main thrust is blatant anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and hatred toward Israel.
A progressive American college student who wants to be involved with the activist community in supporting human rights, the environment, the LGBTQ+ community, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Women’s March or a myriad of other social-justice issues is told that he, she or they need(s) to support others who are perceived or claimed victims of oppression, specifically the Palestinian Arabs, and therefore all are encouraged to leap from their own circle into the circle of others regarding these issues and stand together against Israel.
The person encouraged to be intersectional, and encouraged to support others the way they would want to be supported, is then fed false, misleading or out-of-context information about Israel and Zionism, categorically blaming both for all the ills and suffering of Palestinian Arabs, thus manufacturing the belief that calling for Israel’s demise is a stance for racial justice, when in fact the opposite is true.
The leap is enormous, but is persuasive and has proven effective. Moreover, the defamatory narrative is substantiated by professors (many of whom are not so secretly funded by Qatar and other anti-Semitic governments, foundations, people or entities). The attempt at this demonic cross-identification often plays out on campuses in urging the adoption as student government policy—courtesy of intersectional coalitions led by anti-Israel students who look to cancel Zionist students and cast them as racists–a boycott of companies that do business both with Israel and the university.
By no accident, the forces of intersectionality have created an identity crisis for the Jewish people whose commitment to social justice and to speaking out against the oppression of others is placed at odds with the spiritual connection that they may feel towards Israel. These days, repairing the world is more important to many in the Jewish community than is preserving Judaism and its inherent ties to the ancient homeland of the Jewish people, the modern State of Israel.
The Jewish people are welcomed by some but not all in intersectional circles, but all too often only if they deny any “loyalty” to or support for Israel or the movement of Zionism, the commitment of the Jewish people to rebuild its national homeland in its ancient lands. Intersectional groups, indeed, are strongly demanding that Jewish students check their Zionism at the door if they want to be a part of the social-justice community.
Because of the perceived power imbalance and with little concern for context, Israel and the Jewish people who support it are labeled as the white privileged racist oppressors. No amount of good done by Israel, and no amount of evil perpetrated by the Palestinians, has worked thus far to change the practical realities of this dynamic.
By recognizing intersectionality as an abusive tool and cause in promoting anti-Semitism, Cannon has put thought into the Jewish experience of today that even so-called Jewish celebrities like Rogen and Maron would rather ignore. Cannon’s continued efforts have emerged as the new gold standard of taking responsibility for one’s errors in thinking, speaking and acting, as well as in seeking to make amends for intentionally or unintentionally encouraging anti-Semitism in the cancel-culture era.
Many Jewish people remain skeptical of Cannon, but I believe that it is unfair and undeserved; quite to the contrary, Cannon deserves applause and recognition for taking steps to do the right thing. I would invite the naysayers to point to others who have done more in recent times to right their wrongs with the Jewish community.
As a Jewish person who aims to be vigilant in the fight against anti-Semitism, I feel like I can keep watching The Masked Singer without feeling like I am betraying my moral values.
Of course, what matters most remains what happens next.
Joseph H. Tipograph is a lawyer with the Washington D.C.-based firm Heideman Nudelman & Kalik PC, where he represents victims of terror and their families in lawsuits against state and other sponsors of terrorism. He is also a founding director of HaShevet, a new watchdog group focused on reinvigorating support for Zionism, Israel and Jewish pride in the United States.
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