By Joshua Runyan
For those few among us who have tended to labor under the false conclusion that by virtue of living in America, we are someone immune from the scourge of anti-Semitism, every so often — and it’s happening with frightening rapidity — a story comes along to remind us that while this isn’t 1930s Europe, the United States isn’t exactly a Jew-friendly utopia either.
Sometimes, it’s a torch-lit march of neo-Nazis proclaiming, “Jews will not replace us!” Sometimes, it’s a mayor singling out the Jewish community as the recipients of official wrath for failing to comply with coronavirus restrictions. But last week, it was a hometown hero — a Philadelphia Eagle! — who provided fresh evidence that anti-Semitism is alive and well in the City of Brotherly Love.
Just to be clear, by sharing on Instagram anti-Semitic quotes that were approvingly and falsely attributed to Adolf Hitler, along with a post lauding an anti-Semitic speech given by Louis Farrakhan, wide receiver DeSean Jackson engaged, in one of the most public ways possible in the 21st century, in the kind of hard anti-Semitism that leaves no room for argument as to what his statements meant. To put it in context, accusing Jews of “blackmailing” and “extorting” America in order to oppress Black people is akin to standing behind a lectern and calling the Black man next you the N-word.
But neither Jackson nor at least one comrade on the D-line — defensive tackle Malik Jackson took to Twitter to defend his teammate — are the only guilty parties in my book. Those who, while otherwise taking Jackson to task for his anti-Semitic display, have seen special meaning in the fact that Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and Executive Vice President Howie Roseman are themselves Jewish risk engaging in the kind of soft anti-Semitism that sees the American Jew as somehow apart.
One local sports columnist observed that Lurie’s grandmother is buried in a Jewish cemetery outside Boston and that Roseman is a recent inductee into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame to tee up a contrast between the Jackson incident and a 2013 video in which then-Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper was caught using the N-word in an argument with a security guard at a Kenny Chesney concert. Back then, the Eagles front office, over the protests of none other than Jackson, let Cooper go with a warning, fine and a commitment from the player to educate himself after the racist outburst. That decision was wrong then, argued the columnist, who seemed to imply that if a different decision was meted out against Jackson it might be rooted more in Lurie’s and Roseman’s personal identities than in their commitment to the fight against hatred and bigotry.
I’m sure the columnist didn’t intend it, but the argument he crafted placed upon Lurie and Roseman the kind of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t reality that many Jews in the United States live with every single day. If they defend Israel, they’re targeted as having dual loyalties; if they voice disagreement with an action of the Jewish state, they’re maligned as “bad Jews.”
The fact of the matter is that to condemn Jackson’s posts is not difficult, and you don’t need to be Jewish in order to do it. Anything that smacks of admiration for the man responsible for the Holocaust is universally regarded as beyond the pale of civil discourse. To back Hitler, as Jackson hopefully unwittingly did two weeks ago, is to endorse hate. Plain and simple.
Much more difficult to discern is what to do with the person who helps spread such hate. On the one hand there’s Farrakhan, who has labeled Jews as “termites”: His views are equally beyond the pale, and those, like Malik Jackson, who rise to his defense should also be shouted down. (His tweet has since been taken down.) On the other hand is the person who either doesn’t know any better or who just posts to social media without thinking things through, as might be the case with DeSean.
Perhaps a suspension is the right move, perhaps its better to release the offending player or perhaps, a fine is the way to go.
It’s difficult to know which particular transgressor we’re dealing with, so I’m inclined to give Lurie and Roseman the benefit of the doubt. And not because we’re part of the same community. They — and DeSean Jackson — have the opportunity to turn the wide receiver’s sin into a teachable moment. As Eagles, theirs is perhaps the largest platform in this city, and they can use the same bullhorn that has inspiringly raised money for autism research and inclusion to simultaneously fight against anti-Semitism, racism and all other forms of hate.
The real test is not what transpired over the last two weeks, but what transpires in the weeks and months ahead. Sadly, anti-Semitism can be found on the right and the left, in white America as in Black America, among the poor just as among the rich. DeSean Jackson may yet become our ally.
But, just as with Cooper, it will take a lot more than remorse to fix the damage he’s caused.
Joshua Runyan is the former editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent and a tax attorney in Philadelphia. He remains a diehard Eagles fan.