The recent surge in anti-Semitic outbursts from entertainment figures—most recently Nick Cannon—is troubling to people of goodwill.
As a Hollywood actor and entertainer who has starred in more than two dozen films and scores of television shows, Cannon is a high-profile cultural influencer. On a podcast released June 30, he chose to use his wide-reaching platform to share age-old conspiracy theories of Jewish deception and control.
ViacomCBS severed its ties with Cannon on Tuesday. He subsequently offered a public apology.
On the podcast, he decried “the Rothschilds, centralized banking, the 13 families, the bloodlines that control everything, even outside of America.”
Cannon even denied the Jewishness of those we know to be Jewish: “You can’t be anti-Semitic when we are the Semitic people, when we are the same people that who [sic] they want to be. That’s our birthright.”
The “birthright” is a reference to God’s promises made to the Jewish forefathers of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Throughout the podcast, Cannon, who is black, repeatedly referenced “the history given to me by my elders,” the teachings of various professors, and books upon which he based his warped sense of history.
The hate-stoking conspiracy theories enthusiastically shared by Cannon are symptomatic of the underlying problem of community and religious leaders and educators who disseminate anti-Semitism behind a veneer of scholarship and theology.
In the 21st century, an anti-Semitism previously hidden from general public consumption is now surfacing.
The idea that blacks are the “real Israelites”—and that actual Jews are imposters—is not a new idea, but it’s a form of anti-Semitism gaining broader public exposure as it’s popularized by the likes of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Regrettably, however, this isn’t just fringe stuff from the Nation of Islam; it’s becoming prevalent within other religious and academic communities.
Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, warned about this “new anti-Semitism” back in 1992.
“We must begin by recognizing what is new about the new anti-Semitism. Make no mistake: This is anti-Semitism from the top down, engineered and promoted by leaders who affect to be speaking for a larger resentment,” Gates said, adding:
This top-down anti-Semitism, in large part the province of the better educated classes, can thus be contrasted with the anti-Semitism from below common among African American urban communities in the 1930s and 1940s, which followed in many ways a familiar pattern of clientelistic hostility toward the neighborhood vendor or landlord.
Gates bemoaned the faux scholarship behind supposedly academic works, such as “The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews” published by the Nation of Islam and promoted by Farrakhan. The book twists the historical record into a screed of hate against the Jewish people. Farrakhan himself insists Jews are not the “real children of Israel.”
The problem identified by Gates nearly 30 years ago continues today.
For someone such as Farrakhan, this contorted view of the Jewish people isn’t merely an unsavory aspect of his personal belief system. It’s a core attribute of the message he delivers to millions of followers.
He infuses his sermons, writings, and appearances with falsehoods fostering hate. Yet supposedly mainstream politicians grant him credibility. The list is long: former Attorney General Eric Holder; former Democratic National Committee Deputy Chairman Keith Ellison, now the attorney general of Minnesota; Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.; and former President Barack Obama.
Don’t think that this animus fueled by conspiracy theories based on ignorance targets only Jews. Cannon’s diatribe against the Jewish people shares a common thread with the vandals engaged in riots across the nation in their attempt to upend our constitutional order and free-market economic system. They possess a passion fueled by a dangerously inaccurate historical narrative.
In Europe and the United States, Holocaust education is often proposed as a counter to rising anti-Semitism. But that’s wholly insufficient to countering the perversion of history peddled by too many influential leaders.
Education about the history of the Jewish people must expand far beyond the evils of the Nazi regime. As my colleague Adrienne Price often says, “Jews are the children of the Exodus, not the children of the Holocaust.”
Jews brought the day of rest for rich and poor alike, monotheism, a code of law to live by, and countless contributions to culture in every society.
What could inoculate people against the anti-Semitic tropes currently being swallowed and regurgitated by public figures? A good start would be a basic education about ancient civilizations, an overview of the fundamental religious texts of the monotheistic faiths, and an understanding of the history of the Jewish people following the beginning of their expulsion from their homeland more than 2,600 years ago.
The solution is not the so-called cancel culture. In a free society, bad ideas are defeated with good ideas, through reason and persuasion.
That requires action on the part of all of us. People of goodwill must boldly condemn those promoting this hate. Parents must better equip the next generation with a grounding in history in order to inoculate youth against philosophical poison seeking to corrupt their minds and destroy their hearts. Educators must dispel, rather than perpetuate, the myths.
Until then, no one should be surprised that a disciple of Farrakhan is parroting modern renditions of age-old anti-Semitic tropes. Without bare essentials of scholarship, even the intelligent fall prey to wild-eyed conspiracy theories.
Cannon’s belief in a grand scheme of Jewish deceivers controlling the world may indeed be sincerely held, but it’s a belief detached from reality, influenced by charlatans, such as Farrakhan, who almost surely know better.
Now is the time to counter this very public display of anti-Semitism through engagement and education.
This article has been corrected to reflect the full extent of a quote from Henry Louis Gates Jr.