Hey, NFL: Take up the mantle and combat anti-Semitism

Jewish history now runs through the NFL (axios.com).

Somewhat unexpectedly, the National Football League stands astride a pivotal moment in Jewish history. How do the Philadelphia Eagles (and the league more broadly) think about anti-Semitism? This week marks a turning point for Jews (and for American culture more broadly) as the NFL decides whether anti-Semitism is vile bigotry that must be stigmatized or something to be more or less tolerated.

Nobody would have asked about the NFL’s anti-Semitism policy had the Eagles’s DeSean Jackson not encouraged his social media followers to watch Louis Farrakhan’s three-hour anti-Semitic rant on July 4 or approvingly posted a fake quote from Adolf Hitler demonizing Jews on Instagram.

Jackson has now apologized twice. His initial posting that “anyone who feels I have hate towards the Jewish community took my post the wrong way” went over poorly. But does he understand why it’s dangerous for someone with his large platform to share such content?

Based on the Eagles’s official statement (which notably neglected to mention either “anti-Semitism” or “Jews”), the team’s management clearly attributes Jackson’s posts more to ignorance than malice. They describe themselves as “disappointed” and tell us that they “take these matters very seriously.” Indeed, they describe themselves as “committed to continuing to have productive and meaningful conversations with DeSean, as well as all of our players and staff, in order to educate, learn, and grow.”

Considering how many schools have failed to teachstudents about the Holocaust, ignorance is a real possibility. It would also help explain why Jackson believed that Hitler wrote anything warning that “white Jews” would “blackmail” and “extort” America. Students of history know that while the Nazis embraced dehumanizing conspiracy theories about Jews, they never considered Jews white. That’s a characterization preferred by some of the modern Left.

It’s a positive that Jackson “will [now] be educating himself” with the help of a local Chabad rabbi and has accepted “an education session & tour of the plaza” from the head of the Philadelphia Holocaust Memorial. But is that as far as this will go?

If the Eagles’s management is committed to education, it should invite Holocaust survivors to address the team and explain the disastrous places to which anti-Semitic language has led within living memory. The team’s management should schedule a full tour of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and maybe encourage Jackson and his teammates to volunteer this summer and help needy survivors through Blue Card or 333 Charity. Surely, the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous could help introduce the team to righteous souls who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Perhaps Pittsburgh Steeler Zach Banner should also be invited to talk about living through the October 2018 attack on Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, since he clearly hasn’t forgotten that day.

Beyond that, it’s important to lay down a marker for everybody in the league. The failure of the House of Representatives to treat anti-Semitism with unique condemnation in March 2019 has set the tone for the rest of this congressional term. So, too, will this week’s response set an important precedent.

Making the right move means, for starters, encouraging more education about anti-Semitism. It would also be helpful if more players and teams condemned anti-Semitism without calling Jackson’s remarks “hurtful.” This isn’t a personal squabble. This is about curtailing incitement in an already combustible atmosphere of resurgent anti-Semitism. It’s ultimately about ensuring the physical safety of American Jews.

The two attackers who ended three lives in a kosher grocery in Jersey City, New Jersey, last December reportedly listened to recordings of Louis Farrakhan. The man who used an 18-inch machete to attack five men in Monsey, New York, celebrating Hanukkah that same month, killing one, Googled Hitler beforehand. And while New York City’s attacks haven’t garnered nearly as much media attention, they are numerous and have become increasingly violent. Of the 80 hate crimes reported to the New York Police Department in the first quarter of 2020, 45 were motivated by anti-Semitism, outpacing attacks on every other vulnerable group.

Even if the quote wasn’t his, promoting Hitler is never commendable, nor is promoting Louis Farrakhan. Neither man represents harmless ideas. Anti-Semitism is not simply another opinion. It’s blatant bigotry trailed by a history of genocide. Maybe some typically talkative football players and sports media can join BannerJulian Edelman, and Mitchell Schwartz to let fans know that Jew-hatred deserves no home in football.

This article appeared in the Washington Examiner.

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