One of the great ironies of this moment is that the role of police is being debated while too many are becoming cancel culture cops, alert to infractions of tone or language, eagle-eyed and quick to punish.
But this new regime has a curious blind spot, a category of infraction where enforcement is lax and the response indulgent. And that is hate directed against Jews.
Marches for racial justice have become staging grounds for the nastiest strain of anti-Jewish prejudice. Synagogues are regularly defaced. Five years ago a Black Lives Matter-affiliated group accused Israel of “genocide,” and a week ago an event made it clear that “Zionists” were not welcome.
The latest entry in this disturbing pattern occurred when wide receiver and former Pro Bowler with the Philadelphia Eagles DeSean Jackson posted a quote to his Instagram stories (wrongly) to Hitler: “Because the white Jews knows that the Negroes are the real Children of Israel and to keep Americas secret the Jews will blackmail America. They will extort America, their plan for world domination won’t work if the Negroes know who they were.”
He has 1.4 million Twitter followers.
The range of responses to this hate have ranged from morally obscene to deafeningly silent to one bright instance of heroism. In the former category, Stephen Jackson, a former NBA player who has been a vocal supporter of BLM and knew George Floyd personally, offered the classic defense to slander: DeSean Jackson was “speaking the truth,” he tweeted approvingly. Evidently, he saw no contradiction between his civil rights work and affirming the truth of pseudo-Hitlerian ideology.
On the other end of the spectrum, Steelers player Zach Banner took to Twitter to speak the truth that the Jewish community is just as deserving of support as any other minority.
I’m gonna leave this up thru the weekend. Simple, but strong representation of my squad.
But before I go to bed, I want to personally ask @NFL for more attention to this situation. Help put this group of people at ease after a crappy week!
-Zach “mensch” Banner pic.twitter.com/cCt3bWSo1a Zach Banner (@ZBNFL) July 9, 2020
These days and perhaps any day, that is heroic. A former NFL executive made the simple point that if a comment of this character had been made by a white player about a black one, that player would be likely to find himself unemployed.
If a white player said anything about AA’s as outrageous as what Desean Jackson said about Jews tonight there would at least be a serious conversation about cutting him and a need for a team meeting to discuss. Which would be totally appropriate. Absolutely indefensible. Joe Banner (@JoeBanner13) July 7, 2020
The Eagles organization has condemned the comments, but thus far taken no action, and Jackson has since apologized and has plans to meet with a rabbi. But we should be less concerned with whether he has seen the errors of his ways than the increasing stridency of a hate that is just as smugly at home on the activist left as on the seedier precincts of the right.
The double standard, where Jews are a no-fail target even as careers are being forfeited for infractions it would take a degree in intersectional talmudics to parse, is an outrage.
Opinion | Cancel culture comes for all sins - except anti-Semitism
What is curious is how few Jews feel that sense of indignity. The suggestion that anti-Semitism is present in this movement and in this moment is itself seen as a kind of bigotry. Dog whistles are detected with ever greater precision when they come from the wrong political party, but remain inaudible even at high volume when they come from the right — or rather, the left — side. For too many, there are only very fine people on their own side.
What this sorry episode reveals is that the problem with cancel culture isn’t only its cruelty; it is its capriciousness. Jews are perfectly situated to shout that truth from the rooftops. The moral witness required of Jews in this moment is not only to support those fighting for a better America. It is to denounce those agitating for a worse one. And we should be unafraid to do both, even if sometimes the heroes in this volatile moment moonlight as the villains.
Ari Hoffman is a contributing columnist at the Forward, where he writes about politics and culture. His writing has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Tablet Magazine, The New York Observer, Mosaic Magazine, The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, and The Tel Aviv Review of Books. He holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from Harvard and a law degree from Stanford.