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Kyrie's Circus

Message stephen Bronner

Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets is a pleasure to watch on the basketball court: he has a sleek and elegant style, he is lightning quick, a magician with his dribble, a terrific finisher, and he comes through in the clutch. No basketball enthusiast can possibly forget the sensational buzzer-beating shot that handed his Cleveland Cavaliers the championship over the Golden State Warriors in the decisive seventh game of the 2016 playoffs. However, none of this has anything to do with Irving's endorsement of the seemingly endless, three-hour, hate-filled, pseudo-documentary, "Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America!" directed by Ronald Dalton, Jr. Initially unapologetic, then artificially contrite, then mumbling that he was sorry, Irving's press conferences turned into a circus accompanied by the kind of platitudes and posturing that only heighten public cynicism.

His endorsement of "From Hebrews to Negroes" touched a nerve. Its vicious anti-Semitic sentiments and tropes make the film something more than a mere micro-aggression just as, given the legacy of slavery, the "N-word" deserves to be treated as more than a simple slur. Involving himself with the film's message was, at best, short-sighted. Virulent anti-Semites can thereby claim Irving as one of their own. They can insist that only pressure exerted by the Jewish conspiracy made him suppress his true beliefs and, whatever his original intentions, his words can serve as a seal of approval for their own bigoted agenda. To their mind, and even those on the fence, Irving's forced contrition only confirms the existence of a powerful Jewish cabal.

Kyrie Irving has more than seven million social media followers, and he is the star of his own , circus. More has been written about him and his subjective opinions than about how , objectively, his conduct has reinforced the usual anti-Semitic claims that Jews control the media, the banks, and other institutions of public life for their own benefit. The situation is perhaps even more grotesque with respect to rumors about a Holocaust hoax that began circulating almost immediately after the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. It's hard to believe that Kyrie Irving was unaware of all this, that he never actually saw the film that he endorsed, or that he simply made a "mistake."

Is Irving really an anti-Semite? I don't know and, frankly, I don't care. No one can look into the heart of another person. What matters is that anti-Semitic groups like the "Black Hebrews, who consider Jews the children of "Satan," are using his circus to exploit subterranean strains of anti-Semitism among a minority of the African-American community. More generally, Kyrie Irving has provided positive publicity for bigots at a time when tolerance and democratic values are in short supply. Either this otherwise poised and articulate young man expressed a woeful ignorance of history in making a naà ve and woeful mistake or, more ominously, he is a hypocrite intent on stroking his ego with controversial publicity on the backs of a Jewish minority legitimately worried about increasing anti-Semitic attacks.

Nothing is more self-serving than Irving's claim that he cannot be anti-Semitic given the humble circumstances "where (he) came from." It's not clear who made him the definitive representative of the African-American community on this issue though, if he is, he should know that there are enough Jewish racists born into poor circumstances, enough poor African-Americans who hate Latinos, enough poor Latinos who hate gays and transsexuals, and enough among all these groups who hate Jews. Such utterly disingenuous talk by Irving insults those everyday people experiencing economic exploitation while resisting bigotry and maintaining a sense of common decency.

Commentators and former players like Charles Barkley, Ernie Johnson, Reggie Miller, Shaquille O'Neal, and a host of others forcefully used their platforms to criticize Irving's circus. The Anti-Defamation League rightly turned down Irving's cynical attempt to buy forgiveness with a $500,000 donation. President of the NBA, Adam Silver was understandably appalled and everyone expected that the Nets' owner, Joseph Tsai, would suspend Irving for his failure to "unequivocally apologize" and disavow anti-Semitism. It is a separate issue whether imposing a five-game suspension and calling upon Irving to donate more than $1 million to anti-hate programs is an excessive punishment; it's also worth considering, however, that Irving has often indulged his conspiracy fetishism and accumulated more than $17 million in fines over his ten-year NBA career with three different teams.

In any event, this much is certain: anti-Semites will keep attending Kyrie's circus employing him as a symbol of persecution by an avaricious Jewish cabal. It is both embarrassing and absurd that Silver, and then Tsai (with his family) "sat down" with Irving and use their psychological-social expertise to evaluate whether he is really an anti-Semite, and then decide definitively that he isn't, Please! But there is more: Tsai has insisted that Irving, like some naughty schoolboy, should finish his homework comprised of six tasks. These include issuing a full apology, ascertaining that he holds no anti-Semitic beliefs, talking with communities about tolerance, donating $500,000 to anti-hate groups, and completing anti-Semitic, anti-hate, and sensitivity training as designed by the Nets.

This agenda is breath-taking in its vacuity. The focus remains solely on Kyrie and his circus. There is no hint of furthering a public discussion about the ethical responsibilities of being a public figure, the intersectional character of anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry, the history and legacy of anti-Semitism, and - most important -the kind of new programs in diverse communities that might prove most effective in shattering the lethal myths and rumors associated with evil Jewish conspiracies and Holocaust denial.

Words are cheap and for Kyrie Irving, who has a 4-year $134 million contract, so is money. It would mean a great deal were Kyrie Irving to show contrition not by coerced words, opening the wallet, and giving a few talks, but by deeds that contribute to furthering an agenda for dealing with tolerance and fighting extremism. Perhaps there is still time. Kyrie still has a chance- but only if he closes down the circus and takes the shot.

*Stephen Eric Bronner is Co-Director of the International Council for Diplomacy and Dialogue and Board of Governors Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Rutgers University.

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STEPHEN ERIC BRONNER received his B.A. from the City College of New York and his Ph.D. from the University of California: Berkeley. Member of over a dozen editorial boards, Professor Bronner has also worked with US Academics for Peace and Conscience (more...)
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