Abdul-Jabbar began his remarks by echoing his recent blog post strongly condemning the repeated anti-Semitic comments of US rapper Kanye West. He also addressed the reactions he’s received for his criticism of West and of anti-Semitism in general. “The principal lesson is we can never go to sleep, we can never stop being vigilant and let bad things to fester,” said Abdul-Jabbar.
“I get condemnation from people who don’t want to see any progress, and I get support from people who understand that what people like Kanye West have to say is intolerable,” Abdul-Jabbar told the audience. “We can’t have our people who set the standards and who everybody wants to emulate… talking like that. That’s not what we’re supposed to be about, especially in America where we say that all men are created equal.”
He also spoke out about the delayed condemnations from celebrities and companies in response to West’s anti-Semitism, saying, “Look what happened in the time it took for all the people who ended up condemning Kanye, look how long it took for them to get around to saying what they had to say. In the meantime, Jewish kids were intimidated and bullied and had to deal with a whole lot of violence or violent thoughts directed at them because someone like Kanye West says it’s okay. It’s not okay.”
Abdul-Jabbar delved into some of his most prominent works – including his op-ed in The Hollywood Reporter, “Where Is the Outrage Over Antisemitism in Sports and Hollywood?,” his book Brothers in Arms, and the documentary film, for which he was the Executive Producer, for the History Channel called "Fight the Power: The Movements that Changed America," which focused on the impact that key protests have had on the evolution of the United States.
Before presenting Abdul-Jabbar with the Ally Against Antisemitism Award, FSWC President and CEO Michael Levitt spoke about the organization’s work in combatting anti-Semitism and hatred through education and advocacy as well as the importance of allyship.
“We know anti-Semitism is the proverbial canary in the coal mine,” said Levitt. “For millennia, we’ve seen how if a society isn’t safe for Jews, it’s an early warning sign of the danger ahead for others. Anti-Semitism isn’t a threat to just Jews but to our broader society. The hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews.”
He also issued a clarion call for all communities to join together in the fight against the growing tide of hate in Canadian society.
“Allyship is critical,” Levitt added. “The fight against hate is an all-hands-on-deck battle. To our allies, both Jewish and non-Jewish in this room, to the organizations we work with in the Jewish community and the broader community across Canada, please hear this from me. We are here to work with you. We are here to partner with you. Knock on our door because we know we are stronger together. We know the importance of communities standing side-by-side in times of need, and that time is now.”
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The Simon Wiesenthal Center is one of the largest international Jewish human rights organizations with over 400,000 member families in the United States. It is an NGO at international agencies including the United Nations, UNESCO, the OSCE, the OAS, the Council of Europe and the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino).