Jonathan P. Baird: We must take anti-Semitism seriously

  • DeSean Jackson AP

  • Julian Edelman AP

For the Monitor
Published: 7/27/2020 6:20:17 AM

Like most NFL fans, I have my favorite players. As a lifelong Philadelphia Eagles fan, I admit DeSean Jackson is a favorite of mine. For speed, hands, and athleticism, there are not many players who can match DeSean. He is the proverbial deep threat. I could not believe it when Chip Kelly let him walk in 2014. His return to the Eagles was a very happy event.

I bet most Eagles fans remember DeSean’s game-winning punt return for a touchdown on the last play of the game against the Giants in 2010. The play has been called the Miracle of the Meadowlands II. In 2013, NFL.com readers voted Jackson’s punt return the greatest play of all time.

So I have to say that reading about DeSean Jackson’s anti-Semitic post was distressing to me. Not only am I an Eagles fan, I am Jewish.

Jackson posted a fake quote incorrectly attributed to Adolf Hitler saying that white Jews “will blackmail America. They will extort America, their plan for world domination won’t work if the Negroes know who they are.”

Jackson later apologized in an Instagram video saying he “knows Hitler is a bad person.” He went on to say: “I do not have hatred towards anyone. I really didn’t realize what that passage was saying. Hitler has caused terrible pain to Jewish people like the pain African Americans have suffered. We should be together fighting anti-Semitism and racism. This was a mistake to post this and I truly apologize for posting it and sorry for any hurt I have caused.”

The reaction to Jackson’s post was underwhelming. There were few posts in response by other NFL players. Former NBA player Stephen Jackson defended DeSean’s comments as speaking the truth as did DeSean’s teammate, Malik Jackson.

The best response to Jackson’s post was from New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, who is the NFL’s most prominent Jewish player. While acknowledging Jackson said ugly things, he looked at the anti-Semitic post as a teaching moment. He suggested they go together to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and the National Museum of African American History.

Edelman is a mensch. The usual tenor of social media response is vicious. I liked that Edelman did not get up on any high horse. He was not exiling DeSean from the human race over his comments. He noted that he respected DeSean Jackson and his game at the same time as he criticized the post. An engaged response like that is so rare and so positive.

Usually people are immediately thrown under the bus. The way people typically relate on social media is dehumanized. Denunciation and demonization precede disposal. If someone says something dumb, they are removed to an ideological trash heap. There is a denial that people can learn and change from their mistakes.

I find it disheartening, though, to see denial of anti-Semitism. Jackson’s Hitler post smacked of conspiracy theory of the “Jews control the world” variety. There is no shortage of these nutty theories. Let me name some of them: “George Soros is behind everything,” “Jews are ruthless capitalists,” “Jews are communists,” “Jews have an international conspiracy to control the world,” and “the Jews killed Jesus and their descendants should be punished for that crime.”

As someone from the 1960’s-1970’s generation of progressives, I think there has been a failure of understanding around anti-Semitism. Many more people in my generation took up the struggle against racism and sexism than against anti-Semitism. While it is good that millions of people self-consciously looked at their understanding of race and sex, the same cannot be said for anti-Semitism.

We are 75 years past the Holocaust and anti-Semitism has aggressively re-emerged. We need to ask why. And why is it back in force?

I believe we have not looked at anti-Semitism seriously enough and there are reasons for that. Many Jews have been very successful financially. That fact has probably short-circuited exploration of oppression against Jewish people. The success of some has likely stopped this inquiry.

If Jews were so all-powerful as suggested by anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists, how come they could not intervene to stop or lessen the Holocaust? And how come President Trump still defended white supremacists and neo-Nazis at Charlottesville?

The rabbi and activist Michael Lerner provides the best explanation I have seen. Lerner says Jews have been set up in intermediate positions between those with real power and those without. Jews can be a convenient locus of anger when the pain caused by capitalism becomes acute for people on the lower rungs.

To quote Lerner: “Because Jews are placed in positions where they can serve as the focus for anger that might otherwise be directed at ruling elites, no matter how much economic security or political influence individual Jews may achieve, they can never be sure that they will not once again become the targets of popular attack should the society in which they live enter periods of severe economic stress or political conflict.”

Lerner wrote those words almost 30 years ago and they ring true now. Anti-Semitism is rooted in people’s resentment of their oppression in daily life, but the resentment is misdirected against Jews rather than against the economic elite who do hold the levers of power.

As for DeSean Jackson, people can learn and change their views. Nobody is perfect, and I think DeSean’s apology was sincere. Hopefully he and Julian Edelman can collaborate in the struggle for social justice.

With the growth of the white supremacist movement and with the increasing trend of authoritarianism, more scapegoating of Jews is a safe bet. Taking anti-Semitism seriously is a moral and political necessity.

(Jonathan P. Baird lives in Wilmot and blogs at jonathanpbaird.com.)


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