Sorry, Not Sorry: Are Public Apologies for Antisemitism Disingenuous or Sincere?
Not all public apologies are cut from the same cloth. Some are heartfelt and life-changing while others are superficial and duplicitous.
By Chaim Lax, HonestReporting
In this era of proliferating social media and the 24-hour news cycle, there is a growing phenomenon of celebrity antisemitism — public personalities (such as athletes, celebrities, politicians and journalists) making antisemitic comments or posting antisemitic material on their social media accounts.
In many cases, following a public outcry, these personalities express regret over their antisemitic sentiments and issue a public apology. However, not all public apologies are cut from the same cloth. Some are heartfelt and life-changing while others are superficial and duplicitous.
It is important to discern between those public apologies that are sincere and lead to profound changes and those that are disingenuous and are mere sticking plasters for a wounded public persona.
Who are those public personalities who have made antisemitic statements and apologized for them, with a special focus on those who made profound changes, and who have sought to pull the wool over the public’s eyes?
Disingenuous Public Apologies
Here are the top 5 celebrities / public personalities whose apologies for their antisemitic statements were seemingly superficial and disingenuous (in no particular order):
1. Whoopi Goldberg
In January 2022, Whoopi Goldberg, famed actress and co-host of the daily ABC talk show The View, came under fire for claiming that the Holocaust was not about race but was rather about “man’s inhumanity to man.” Goldberg pushed the envelope even further when she clarified her remarks on Stephen Colbert’s “The Late Show” and asserted that the Holocaust was between two groups of white people. In the wake of widespread condemnations (including from the Auschwitz Memorial), Goldberg apologized and was subsequently suspended from The View for two weeks so that she could “reflect and learn about the impact of her comments.”
However, less than a year later, Goldberg became the center of controversy once again when she stated in an interview with The Sunday Times that the Holocaust was not originally about race since Jews were not visibly distinct from Germans, as opposed to other minorities.
After this second uproar, Goldberg apologized again and claimed that she only sought to explain her earlier comments and not “double down” on them.
Only time will tell if Whoopi Goldberg has truly learned the error of her statements or whether she is simply apologizing to protect her public position.
2. Jeremy Corbyn
Following an investigation into the proliferation of antisemitism within the UK Labour Party, then-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn apologized in December 2019 for the existence of antisemitism within his party on a morning talk show on British TV. Asked to apologize (following his failure to do so days earlier in an interview on the BBC), Corbyn responded that “Obviously I am very sorry for everything that has happened” and that he was dealing with it.
However, notwithstanding his seeming contrition, Corbyn was suspended from Labour a year later after he downplayed the final report on the existence of antisemitism within the party under his leadership and claimed that the antisemitism problem had been overblown by the media.
In response to his comments, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews stated that, despite his earlier apologies, Corbyn “remains part of the problem and is an obstruction to the resolution of the issue.”
3. Kanye West
In October 2022, famed American rapper Kanye West (now known as Ye) made a number of public antisemitic statements, the most famous of which was his October 8 tweet that he was going to go “death con 3” on Jewish people. In the fallout that accompanied his antisemitic outbursts, Kanye refused to apologize outright for his previous statements but did say on Piers Morgan’s talk show that he was “sorry for the people that I hurt with death con. That I caused hurt and confusion.” He said in the interview that he has no association with any hate group and gave a convoluted apology at the end of a two-and-a-half-hour interview with professor and podcaster Lex Fridman.
However, in the two months following these seeming expressions of contrition, West has only gone further with his antisemitic activity, associating with known antisemite and white supremacist Nick Fuentes, discussing a Jewish cabal at the center of media and banking on the Tim Pool podcast and going on an antisemitic rant on Alex Jones’s InfoWars.
4. Ilhan Omar
In 2019, Democratic Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar “unequivocally apologized” after tweeting that US support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins,” a reference to American currency. While some defended Omar’s comments (including the left-wing Jewish periodical Jewish Currents), her tweet was seen by many as playing into the age-old antisemitic trope of Jews using wealth to exert influence over national policies. Omar was immediately censured by both Republicans and Democrats.
A couple of weeks before her apology for this tweet, Omar expressed regret over a 2012 post in which she claimed that the Jewish state was hypnotizing the world while committing evil.
However, despite Omar’s repeated apologies, she continued to express sentiments that caused offense to the Jewish community. In 2021, she defended lumping together Israel and the United States with Hamas and the Taliban, claiming that the Jewish state is comparable to internationally recognized terror groups in committing “unthinkable atrocities.”
As David Harris, then CEO of the American Jewish Committee, pointed out in July 2021, Ilhan Omar’s behavior when it comes to Israel or the Jewish community is formulaic: she will make a statement that the Jewish community finds offensive and will first try to claim that she was misunderstood or belittle those who call her out before ultimately apologizing for her words and promising to learn from them. However, like clockwork, Omar inevitably then makes another derogatory statement, and the cycle begins all over again.
5. Marjorie Taylor Greene
Between accusing a Jewish space laser of causing a forest fire and insinuating that the Mossad killed JFK, Marjorie Taylor Greene is known for making outlandish and offensive statements.
In May 2021, the Republican congresswoman from Georgia made several comments comparing the COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. Although many called out the firebrand congresswoman for her trivialization of the Holocaust and diminishing of Jewish suffering, Greene initially denied any wrongdoing. In June 2021, Greene finally apologized for her remarks, saying that she had earlier visited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and was “very sorry” for her “hurtful” words.
However, it seems that any lessons that Greene learned have since been forgotten. In September 2022, Greene tweeted that US President Joe Biden was like Hitler and referred to him as #NaziJoe while later tweeting a video that had Biden appearing like Hitler, surrounded by Nazi symbols and a recording of a Hitler speech coming out of his mouth.
It looks like Marjorie Taylor Greene may need to make another visit to the Holocaust Museum.
Sincere Public Apologies
Here are the four public personalities whose apologies for their antisemitic statements were seemingly genuine and sincere (in no particular order):
1. Nick Cannon
In July 2020, American celebrity Nick Cannon made some antisemitic comments on his podcast, including that Blacks are the true Jews as well as that Jews are deficient and were historically “savages.”
In the aftermath of his comments and subsequent firing by Viacom, Cannon apologized for reinforcing “the worst stereotypes of a proud and magnificent people” and said that he was ashamed of his comments.
However, Cannon went beyond a mea culpa for his antisemitic remarks. Both before and after his apology, Cannon spoke with Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and engaged with the American Jewish Committee.
As part of his path of “atonement,” Cannon wrote a number of reports on books about antisemitism and helped initiate the Black-Jewish Entertainment Alliance.
2. Rick Sanchez
In October 2010, journalist Rick Sanchez was fired by CNN following his comments on a radio program about both then-host of the Daily Show Jon Stewart and the Jewish people. During this interview, Sanchez referred to Stewart as a bigot and implied that Jews control the media and are not an oppressed minority due to the power that they allegedly hold.
Like Nick Cannon, Sanchez did not suffice with a simple apology (which he initially gave to both Jon Stewart and the Jewish people) but engaged with Jewish community leaders and took part in a journey of learning and growth.
Along this journey, he met with Jewish leaders like Abraham Foxman, the then-head of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach; traveled to Israel on an ADL-sponsored trip and spoke at the ADL’s annual conference.
During this journey of repentance, Foxman told Sanchez that he could put the matter “to rest” and wished him well for his future.
3. Roald Dahl’s Family
Aside from writing such children’s classics as “Matilda,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach,” British novelist Roald Dahl was also known for being a staunch antisemite.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Dahl made a number of public comments about the Jewish people, including the claim that Jews control the media and the assertion that “there is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity.”
While Dahl’s descendants could have easily claimed that “the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father,” the Dahl family (along with the Roald Dahl Story Company) spoke out against the author’s hatred of the Jewish people in a public statement in 2020.
Although the initial statement apologizing for the “lasting and understandable hurt caused by some of Roald Dahl’s statements” was originally published quietly, the family further expanded on the topic in an interview with The Sunday Times, explaining that “apologizing for the words of a much-loved grandparent is a challenging thing to do, but made more difficult when the words are so hurtful to an entire community. We loved Roald but we passionately disagree with his antisemitic comments.”
4. DeSean Jackson
In July 2020, American football player DeSean Jackson ignited a controversy when he published several antisemitic social media posts, including a fake Hitler quote that “Jews will blackmail America” and another one featuring the antisemitic leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan.
In the months following the outcry over his post, Jackson apologized for them, saying that he was owning up to his mistake and was also “taking the proper steps to educate.” In addition, Jackson took part in a Zoom meeting with a 94-year-old Holocaust survivor and accepted invitations to visit both the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as well as Auschwitz.
As the above examples demonstrate, it’s very easy to say “sorry” when caught making antisemitic statements or expressing antisemitic ideas. However, to truly learn from one’s mistakes and understand the hurt caused by such remarks, it is important to not only apologize for these comments but to actively work with the Jewish community to ensure that these sentiments do not reappear in the future and guarantee that the apology is more than simply empty words on a page.
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