In the wake of Kanye West’s recent antisemitic rhetoric – that Diddy is “controlled by the Jews” and that he’s going “def con 3 on the Jews,” for example – brands have dropped the rapper in droves.
As displays of antisemitism continue to rise, people from all walks of life have denounced West and offered support and compassion. During Sunday’s slate of NFL games, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, himself a Jew, aired a powerful PSA in partnership with the Foundation for Combatting Antisemitism. Fighting hate of all forms, including antisemitism, should be an easy lane to take.
That is unless you are Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, the self-proclaimed “free-thinker” and wannabe contrarian who last week promoted a documentary to his 4.5m Twitter followers called Hebrews to Negroes. The documentary is based on a book that claims, “that many high-ranking Jews have reported to worshiping Satan and Lucifer,” according to Rolling Stone. At one point, the film’s narrator claims he’s quoting history’s most notorious antisemite. “Because the white Jews know that Negroes are the real Children of Israel and to keep America’s secret, the Jews will blackmail America. Their plan for world domination won’t work if the Negroes know who they are,” Hitler supposedly uttered in an attempt to spread the ‘truth’ about Jews.
The mere existence of these works is disturbing enough. What is more terrifying is a household name like Irving having zero awareness of the fact that he is stoking the flames of antisemitism that continue to burn in the United States.
Hate is everywhere. Extremist groups are everywhere. Kanye’s comments have already incited a new wave of antisemitism. Last week in Los Angeles a banner was flung from a freeway that said, “Kanye was right about the Jews.” The same message was displayed electronically at TIAA Field in Jacksonville as fans entered Saturday’s Florida-Georgia college football game.
Jews have lived with antisemitism for thousands of years. And in America it is on the rise. In 2021, 2,717 incidents of vandalism, assault, and harassment rooted in antisemitism were reported to the Anti-Defamation League, an all-time high.
Unlike West who, disturbing as his bigotry may be, has at least been very clear about where he stands on Jews, Irving has been vague. Irving has attempted to hide under his fake philosopher cloak, offering non-apologies and turning the table on anyone who questions him.
In a shitshow of an exchange on Friday with the excellent ESPN NBA reporter Nick Friedell, Irving had the audacity to play the victim. Friedell first questioned Irving about his recent Instagram post starring Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who has been ordered to pay families of the victims almost $1bn for his very public claims that the mass shooting never happened. Irving defended the post saying it wasn’t about Sandy Hook, it was about the “secret societies of America, which is true.” Irving showed zero compassion, or understanding of how triggering even the optic of Jones is, for these still grieving families.
Then, as Friedell pressed Irving on his promotion of the antisemitic documentary, the player pivoted and contradicted himself again. Instead of answering the straightforward question, he argued with the notion that tweeting a film to millions of people is the same as promoting or agreeing with it. Then moments later he told Friedell, “I put it out there just like you put stuff out there.” Irving’s rage-meter continued to rise, resulting in perhaps the most infuriating statement of the press conference when he shouted to Friedell, “Don’t dehumanize me!” He then asked for other questions and a different reporter happily obliged. (Note to aspiring journalists, if your colleague is doggedly trying get an answer out of a star athlete about prejudice, please don’t suck up to said athlete by sticking to sports.)
Irving’s faux intellectual act is as tired as it is dangerous. Here he was offered a chance to explain some of his theories in detail, to quote some of his ‘sources,’ to let people decide for themselves. Instead, he turned the tables and played victim. Unfortunately, there are people who will watch the documentary after Irving’s promotion, and believe some of the poison it espouses. Blind hero worship of athletes and celebrities is dangerous.
It’s hard to ascertain whether Irving believes the messaging put out by the film or if he’s just being a contrarian for sport. He kept the tweet up despite it being widely condemned, including by Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai.
It wasn’t until West posted a photo of Irving on Sunday night calling him a “real one” that the tweet was deleted.
Tsai’s response was nice, though a bit tepid. If a notable player on the team you own is promoting that level of hate, saying: “I want to talk with him” feels soft. But there’s no right answer for Tsai. Irving has been espousing conspiracy theories for the past six years, including calling Covid-19 mandates, “a historic violation of human rights,” with little blowback. But because Irving is one of the most famous players in the NBA, and increasingly controversial, a legitimate ramification such as a suspension or even being dropped by the team would most likely inspire more rage.
And maybe Irving, a man who notoriously likes to “do his own research” into topics such as Covid and the shape of the Earth, should explore the history and consequences of antisemitism. It’s already a terrifying enough time to be Jewish in this country. Kids shouldn’t have to be greeted by a swastika upon entering school. Synagogue congregates shouldn’t feel nervous despite beefed up security during High Holiday services. But they do. We do. I do.
Irving has escalated the problem. And he doesn’t even have the decency to explain whether he cares, or what he even believes. Until he does, we can only assume he agrees with the antisemitic tropes in the film he promoted or that he’s the worst wannabe contrarian possible.