It’s hard to draw a different conclusion from the saga of Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson. In a series of Instagram posts, Jackson praised the noted anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group for its hostility to Jews. He also posted a text attributed — mistakenly — to Adolf Hitler claiming that “white Jews” are exploiting black Americans and resorting to blackmail and extortion to advance “their plan for world domination.”
Jackson’s post was not vague and did not speak in generalities. The text he shared with his 1.4 million followers touted age-old conspiracy theories about Jewish manipulation and encouraged others to study Nazi ideology to confirm that Hitler was right about the Jews.
For everyone who has ever expressed outrage about a public figure suspected of covertly dog-whistling to neo-Nazis: A star athlete with a massive following overtly praised, and tried to spread the teachings of, the genocidal leader of the real Nazi Party. He asked others to learn from a monster who also persecuted and murdered black people, gay people and other minorities. Where is the outrage now?
The subdued reaction to Jackson’s comments has been alarming. Yes, the Eagles organization fined Jackson an undisclosed amount and issued a statement saying the posts were “absolutely appalling.” But it made only a vague promise to continue “to evaluate the circumstances” and “take appropriate action.” The NFL said the comments were “highly inappropriate,” yet punted the matter back to the team. Jackson himself attempted an apology, but implausibly claimed that he “really didn’t realize what [the purported Hitler] passage was saying.” In some corners of social media, Jackson has been appropriately excoriated for his actions. But other prominent athletes — former NBA player Stephen Jackson and Eagles defensive lineman Malik Jackson — have defended his comments, saying he was “speaking the truth” in one case and praising Farrakhan as “honorable” in the other.
There has been no massive backlash, no outpouring of denunciations from celebrities, and no real accountability — in the form of a suspension or, ideally, termination. As former Eagles team president Joe Banner suggested, it’s hard to imagine that the response would be as muffled if Jackson’s vile posts had targeted any other minority group.
This is how anti-Semitism works: It starts with horrific lies about Jews that legitimize hate and then grows more entrenched when no one takes a firm stand against it.
Unfortunately, anti-Semitism is a very real problem in our country. Each year since 1979, the Anti-Defamation League has published a report measuring the number of anti-Semitic acts in the U.S. In 2017, there were 1,986 reported incidents, a 57 percent increase over the previous year, and the biggest annual jump since the organization started tracking these numbers. In 2018, there was a 105 percent increase in the number of recorded physical assaults, including the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. In 2019, the total number of anti-Semitic incidents increased 12 percent over the previous year, with a 56 percent increase in physical assaults. There were, on average, nearly six anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. each day.
According to the FBI, the majority of religiously motivated hate crimes in the United States are committed against Jewish people, despite the fact that they make up less than 2 percent of the population. On campuses around the country, anti-Semitism has become rampant, with recent studies showing that the number of Jewish students experiencing anti-Semitism on campuses across the United States had spiked to nearly 75 percent.
These trends are terrifying, and there is much work to be done to reverse them. It starts with calling out anti-Semitism for what it is: hate speech that, while legally protected, should never be acceptable in decent society. If DeSean Jackson avoids meaningful censure, it sends the dangerous message that the kind of hatred he espoused is tolerable — and that, in a moment when we are making impressive strides toward greater equality for people of all races and creeds, it’s somehow okay to leave the Jews behind.