On Tuesday, NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abul-Jabbar, a Muslim who has condemned President Donald Trump’s travel ban, condemned the horrifying trend of liberal celebrities — some black and even some Jewish — spouting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and praising notorious anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan. While Abdul-Jabbar made sure to slam Trump in his op-ed, he condemned the blatant double standard on racism, noting that offensive remarks against black people are met with outrage while anti-Semitism elicits merely “meh-rage.”
“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, but so too is the shocking lack of massive indignation,” Abul-Jabbar wrote in The Hollywood Reporter. “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.”
The retired NBA star cited many recent examples of anti-Semitism. He referenced Ice Cube’s June 10 tweetstorm implying that Jews were responsible for the oppression of blacks. He referenced Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson sharing a fake quote from Adolf Hitler warning that “white Jews” planned for “world domination.” He also noted former NBA player Stephen Jackson’s defense of DeSean Jackson’s posts. Both DeSean Jackson and Stephen Jackson praise Farrakhan. Stephen Jackson went on to spread the conspiracy theory that the Jewish Rothschild family owns all the banks.
“That is the kind of dehumanizing characterization of a people that causes the police abuses that killed his friend, George Floyd,” Abul-Jabbar warned.
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While the horrific police killing of George Floyd has galvanized police reform efforts and energized the Black Lives Matter movement — both the mainstream protesters and the Marxist official movement — Abdul-Jabbar warned that a coddling of anti-Semitism might undermine all efforts at “social justice.”
“When reading the dark squishy entrails of popular culture, meh-rage in the face of sustained prejudice is an indisputable sign of the coming Apatholypse: apathy to all forms of social justice. After all, if it’s OK to discriminate against one group of people by hauling out cultural stereotypes without much pushback, it must be OK to do the same to others. Illogic begets illogic,” the retired NBA star wrote.
Abdul-Jabbar also referenced the fact that Chelsea Handler, herself Jewish, had posted videos of Farrakhan to her 3.9 million followers. This allegedly sent the “subliminal message that even some Jews think being anti-Jewish is justified.”
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Naturally, the retired NBA star had to fit in a jab at Trump. He accused the president’s reelection campaign of “playing on the same Rothschild’s trope” by accusing “three billionaires of Jewish descent” — George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, and Tom Steyer — of trying to “rig the November election.” (In context, the Trump warning focuses on the left’s sketchy vote-by-mail push, which opens the electoral system to various forms of fraud. The campaign focused on those three billionaires because they are influential on the left, not because of their Jewish heritage.)
To his credit, even in this attack, Abdul-Jabbar noted that “Trump’s son-in-law and campaign honcho Jared Kushner is Jewish and his daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism before they married.” He did argue, however, that pointing the finger at Soros, Bloomberg, and Steyer — three massively influential leftist donors, two of whom ran for president this cycle — involved “pandering to hate groups.”
Abdul-Jabbar argued that Ice Cube, DeSean Jackson, Stephen Jackson, Chelsea Handler, and others were engaging in “the same scapegoat logic as all oppressive groups from Nazis to the KKK: all our troubles are because of bad-apple groups that worship wrong, have the wrong complexion, come from the wrong country, are the wrong gender or love the wrong gender. It’s so disheartening to see people from groups that have been violently marginalized do the same thing to others without realizing that perpetuating this kind of bad logic is what perpetuates racism.”
The retired NBA star noted that some of the celebrities have apologized, including both Jacksons and Handler. Yet “their arrogant and irrational response to accusations of anti-Semitism, rather than dissuade us, actually confirmed people’s worst opinions.”
Many “apologies” seemed “more attempts at spin than true contrition.” Abdul-Jabbar noted Stephen Jackson’s belligerent response. “I stated I could have changed my words. There’s nothing that I said that I support any of that. There’s nothing I said that I hate anybody. I apologize for my words and I could have switched up. That’s the end of it. I love everybody,” Stephen Jackson said.
“While it’s possible the words were wrong, celebrities have a responsibility to get the words right. It’s not enough to have good intentions, because it’s the actual deeds — and words — which have the real impact. In this case destructive impact. In 2013, there were 751 reported hate crimes against Jews, but by 2019 the number had nearly tripled to 2,107. That same year, a gunman in San Diego entered a synagogue and murdered one person while wounding three,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote, scathingly.
The retired NBA star concluded his article by noting Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” a powerful 1939 song condemning lynching. “Despite those who wanted to suppress the song, it went on to sell a million copies that year and became Holiday’s best-selling record ever. The song was written by a white, Jewish high school teacher, Abel Meeropol, who performed it with his wife around New York before it was given to Holiday,” Abul-Jabbar noted.
“The lesson never changes, so why is it so hard for some people to learn: No one is free until everyone is free,” he added. “If we’re going to be outraged by injustice, let’s be outraged by injustice against anyone.”
I don’t agree with everything Abdul-Jabbar wrote in that column, but I emphatically endorse his call for an equal standard on outrage.
On Wednesday, ViacomCBS fired Nick Cannon for claiming that black people are “the true Hebrews.” While Cannon apologized, he also attacked the company, claiming the “moment was stolen and hijacked to make an example of an outspoken black man.” He insisted, “I will not be bullied, silenced, or continuously oppressed by any organization, group or corporation.”
Although cancel culture has gotten out of hand, it is important for Americans to uphold an equal standard of tolerance. If people are fired and face national censure for racist remarks (in many cases rightly), then anti-Semitism should not be excused.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.