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Nick Cannon reveals Jewish ancestry as he ‘atones’ with rabbi for anti-Semitic podcast episode

The actor Nick Cannon, who said he is “atoning” for anti-Semitic comments made on his podcast, revealed on Monday that he has Jewish ancestry — a Sephardic great-grandfather who was a rabbi.

Cannon was talking to Rabbi Noam Marans, director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations at the American Jewish Committee, about the process of making up for the remarks he made, which has included both apologizing and study.

“My great-grandfather was a Spanish rabbi, a Sephardic Jewish man,” Cannon said. “As much heat as I’ve been catching from the public and the outside, this hit home in a real way, because I come from a Black and Jewish family on my mother’s side.”

Cannon is one of three Black public figures — along with the rapper Ice Cube and the NFL player DeSean Jackson — who were accused of anti-Semitism, the latter two for making social media posts with anti-Semitic content.

He talked with Marans about what it was like to understand the origins of the anti-Semitic tropes he invoked; the books he’s been reading about Judaism and atonement; Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan; and his own family’s Jewish history.

Cannon said that he was initially reluctant to apologize, but was convinced to do so after speaking with friends of his who are Black and Jewish, such as Amar’e Stoudemire, the former NBA player who has lamented the gap between Black people and Jewish people.

“They truly saw my heart, they saw my compassion and that I had no malice, but there were things I had questioned, there were things I was confused by, there were tropes that had been taught to me,” Cannon said.

In the end, he decided to apologize because he felt he was wrong, and that he has done that before in his life, but at other times, he has walked away, sacrificing jobs and money, rather than let anyone extort an apology from him.

Cannon added that Black Jews are important to have the kinds of conversations he has been having privately with Marans and others.

“We need you guys more than ever,” he said.

Though much of the conversation centered around how far Cannon had come, in both his own and in Marans’ view, in his Jewish education — as Cannon shouted out Bari Weiss’ book “How to Fight Anti-Semitism,” Marans held up a copy of the book — they disagreed on Cannon’s views on Farrakhan.

In response to a viewer question about why prominent Black public figures do not repudiate Farrakhan, Cannon said that it was in part because the Black community has few leaders who are not demonized.

“If I’m not for myself, then who will be for me,” Cannon said, quoting the Jewish sage Hillel. “I preface with that because, in the Black community, we often feel we have no one that will support us, and the people who do step up for us are instantly condemned.”

“We must condemn hate, we must condemn demagoguery and anything that separates us, but we are not in any position to throw any human being away,” he added.

“We appreciate the honesty of the answer, Nick, and I know it won’t surprise you that that still remains for us not fully satisfactory,” Marans said, implying that he believes that some of the anti-Semitic statements Cannon made about Jews came from Farrakhan.

Cannon said that he thinks the most important thing to help curb anti-Semitism is education.

“I thought I was just speaking facts, whether it was about centralized banking, whether it’s as about the ideas of where we come from,” he said.

In an Instagram post reviewing Weiss’ book, he quoted one section of it: “Anti-Semitism is fueled by the malicious but often feeds on the ignorance of the well-intentioned.” When he read that sentence, Cannon wrote, he asked himself, “is she talking about me?”

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As I rise after a full day of fasting, meditation, study and prayer honoring for the first time Tisha B’av. I have recently learned that this Jewish day of Mourning religiously recognizes the fall of both of Solomon’s Temples. The first to the Babylonian Empire and 700 years later the second by the Roman Empire on the same day. The day is often known as the saddest day in Judaism because many other travesties occurred on the 9th day of Av in the Hebrew calendar. Through fasting on this day the goal is to rid “Sinat Chinam” or baseless Hatred. Which is why it was put on my heart to deliver the book report on “How to Fight Anti-Semitism” by Bari Weiss. A strong progressive approach at erasing the baseless hate that we all now modernly know as Anti-Semitism. The author, who just days ago resigned from the New York Times for many reasons, one specifically being bullied on Twitter. Ironically I became aware of her from one of her retweets on July 12 of a harsh name calling article about myself with a thread that referred to me as a racist pig, brainwashed, ignorant and even a Nazi, and many other disrespectful things about me and my family. So I dove in her book immediately. In this insightful read, the words that stood out to me were “Anti-Semitism is fueled by the malicious but often feeds on the ignorance of the well-intentioned.” Asking myself, is she talking about me? Knowing that my intentions have never been hateful but recently I had fallen into the same category that the author despises and writes about like Henry Ford, Charles Coughlin, and more recently the abhorrent American Terrorist Robert Bowers, who on Oct. 27, 2018 murdered 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the author’s home neighborhood in Pittsburgh, which ultimately inspired her to write this book. Weiss blames the Left and the Right, Intersectionality, and the lack of historical education for the cause of the baseless hate and I would have to strongly agree. She states “A Jew is whatever the anti-Semite needs him to be; a grand unified theory of everything” Our society “turns Jews into the symbol of whatever a given civilization defines as its most sinister….” (continued below)

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Ari Feldman is a staff writer at the Forward. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @aefeldman

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