Silent Smoke: The NBA Vanishes on Anti-Semitic Comments
“Do you know who the Rothschilds are? They control all the banks, they own all the banks.”
On Wednesday, July 8th, I watched an Instagram Live stream from one of my absolute favorite basketball media members, Stephen Jackson. Jackson went out of his way to defend NFL player DeSean Jackson’s incredibly vile antisemitic post from two days earlier.
DeSean’s actions were largely met with well-deserved condemnation from sports and media figures alike, but curiously, Cap’n Jack was one of the few NBA players to weigh in on the matter. His words hit me like a ton of bricks.
I had recently written about Jackson’s prominence in the world of NBA activism. He’s a man (and a podcast host) I had revered, but during that IG live, Jackson rehashed another piece of anti-semitic propaganda. Regardless of whether it was out of ignorance, hate, frustration, or simple misunderstanding, his words hurt.
I should mention here that I am ethnically Jewish, and though I'm not particularly religious, I do consider my Jewishness to be a fairly important part of my identity. In addition to this, I also unequivocally support the Black Lives Matter movement and everything they stand for. I have been to protests and tried my best to do the work of educating myself on the issues that Black Americans face every day, and though I still benefit from White privilege every day, I remain committed to the work of unmaking the violent white-supremacist state that we all are a part of. I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention that I fully support the work that Jackson and many other NBA community members have been doing particularly in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Jackson and others have gone to significant lengths to advocate for justice all across America, from protesting in the streets to using their enormous platform to advocate for justice.
This makes addressing Jackson’s misguided, painful statements all the more important.
Let’s start with the myth itself. Antisemitism is not a new phenomenon, and it presents itself in many ways. One specific conspiracy, which has endured for more than 200 years, centers on a Jewish family in Europe called the Rothschilds. There is an absurd belief that this family is behind all sorts of malfeasances including aims for control of the world's banking system, manipulating politicians, and just generally being bent on world domination and corruption. This is, of course, patently false.
For reference, check out some old school Nazi propaganda on the subject, courtesy of one of humanity’s most evil people, Joseph Goebbles. And while I myself think international finance is inherently shady, the Rothschild’s wealth and connections do not warrant the slander and violence associated with their names. Make no mistake, the Rothschilds conspiracy comes from the same place as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, propaganda designed to paint Jewish people as subhuman monsters worthy of scorn and hate and acceptable targets of violence.
Despite the world-altering tragedy of the Nazi holocaust, these myths have stayed with us. They are repeated by all sorts of people, other celebrities like Mel Gibson, white supremacist mass-murders like Robert Bowers, or even the current president. In the past few weeks, a particularly notable strain of antisemitism has been making waves in the media.
Much of this comes back to a uniquely controversial figure in American political life, the leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakahn. Farrakahn’s legacy is complex and challenging. On one hand, Farrakhan is a revered public speaker for many, and his criticisms of white supremacy and support for Black communities has garnered him hundreds of thousands of supporters. Under Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam has done enormously important work in American cities, helping to re-integrate formerly imprisoned people to their communities, supporting Black business infrastructure, and pushing back against gang violence. But in spite of this, Farrakahn himself remains virulently antisemitic and homophobic, all the while being embraced by numerous celebrities.
The legacy of the Nation of Islam is complex, so too is the current state of activism, especially from celebrities with large platforms. But hate is not. It is an ugly, dangerous thing that has real consequences for the lives of its targets.
We need look no further than all of the senseless murders of Black and brown Americans like Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin….and the list goes on. These were monstrous acts done out of hateful misconceptions, belief that the people murdered were less than human, that it didn’t count or didn’t matter as much, or that the killers could get away scot-free. As American society continues to break down, with police and paramilitary forces continuing to egregiously violate human rights and civil liberties all across this country with tactics that eerily mirror the SS and Gestapo of Nazi Germany, we all find ourselves at a crossroads.
We need to vocally condemn white supremacy and bigotry across all walks of life. The country is having a long-overdue moment of self-reflection as we address the injustices that Black Americans have suffered for generations. At the same time, prominent celebrities like Nick Cannon, Ice Cube, and both Stephen and DeSean Jackson have all been re-posting or sharing different forms of antisemitic garbage on their respective platforms. To say this is disappointing would be a tremendous understatement.
But perhaps even more disheartening is the lack of response to these harmful words and actions. Particularly in the NBA community. Outside of retired legends Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Charles Barkley the response from the NBA has been basically non-existent or worse. Intolerance begets more intolerance; the silence on this moment of open antisemitism is deafening.
Stephen Jackson offered something of an apology for his remarks. It was far from enough, in my opinion, but I do ultimately still believe that Stephen Jackson is a good person. He cares a great deal about Black lives and addressing prejudice and injustice; we should celebrate the good that he has done. But this kind of infighting will only break solidarity at a time when we need it more than ever. My hope is that we can continue to educate each other and build that necessary solidarity. There’s more work to be done.
The Jewish community has its own skeletons in the closet when it comes to the treatment of Black people all across the world. These must be addressed. But for my own comfort, as a Jewish NBA fan, someone who truly and honestly believes that Black lives matter and supports this movement on every level, I hope the day will come soon when more NBA players are ready to publicly condemn such hateful words. I’m reminded of something the great Elie Wiesel once said.
“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”
My message to the players involved in this summer of advocacy and change: we are on the same side and I will not be silent. I hope and believe that you will continue to not be silent for all of us.