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Pittsburgh Steeler Zach Banner Stands Up For the Jews

Now it’s time for us to follow his example and stand up for others

Yair Rosenberg
July 09, 2020
Katharine Lotze/Getty Images
Offensive tackle Zach Banner #72 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on following a game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Dignity Health Sports Park on October 13, 2019 in Carson, California.Katharine Lotze/Getty Images
Katharine Lotze/Getty Images
Offensive tackle Zach Banner #72 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on following a game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Dignity Health Sports Park on October 13, 2019 in Carson, California.Katharine Lotze/Getty Images

The NFL’s anti-Semitism controversy this week began with a Hitler quote that was not in fact a Hitler quote that claimed that Jews were not in fact the real Jews.

I see you are confused. Let me explain.

On July 6, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson went on an ill-fated Instagram spree, posting this quote to his 1.4 million followers, which was attributed to Nazi leader Adolf 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.
The[y] will extort America, their plan for world domination won’t work if the Negroes know who they were.
The white citizens of America will be terrified to know that all this time they’ve been mistreating and discriminating and lynching the Children of Israel...
After I die I will one day cause World War 3 by this message which will be like planting a seed in a people minds until it sprouts once they nurture that seed and seek more truth and learn Hitler was right.

Needless to say, a quick fact-check reveals that (a) Hitler was not actually right and (b) did not actually say this.

So where did Jackson get this bizarre material? Essentially, there is a religious theory that claims that today’s Jews are not the biblical Jews, while certain Black folks are. The benign version of this theology actually has a whole town of lovely adherents in Israel, whom I’ve met. (Here’s a profile of them by my colleague Armin Rosen.) The malign version of the “today’s Jews are not the real Jews” theory, however, sounds like Jackson’s post, and is used to justify abuse of Jews, most recently inspiring the brutal anti-Semitic massacre in Monsey this past Hanukkah, in which Orthodox Jews were carved up by a knife-wielding assailant at a menorah lighting.

One of the most prominent proponents of the malign version, who casts Jews as evil deceivers, is the notorious hate preacher Louis Farrakhan. The same day that he shared the misattributed Hitler quote, Jackson also posted an array of Farrakhan content, making the intellectual currents he was swimming in not hard to discern.

After some false starts, the Eagles receiver took everything down the next evening and apologized, committing himself to do better in the future. Unfortunately, this was not the end of the story. Rather than letting Jackson’s apology stand, several other athletes jumped in to defend his assertions—and heap additional anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on top of the original ones.

Former NBA champion and current Showtime podcast host Stephen Jackson took to his own Instagram, saying in a video: “He was trying to educate himself, educate people, and he’s speaking the truth. Right? He’s speaking the truth. You know he don’t hate nobody, but he’s speaking the truth of the facts that he knows and trying to educate others.”

He later doubled down in an Instagram live post:

Former NFL running back Larry Johnson also shared his thoughts with his 140,000 Twitter followers:

Confronted with such a sudden outpouring of bizarre bigotry, it was hard for many to know where to begin. Though quite vocal against racism in recent weeks, the NFL fell silent in the face of this anti-Semitic eruption. That is, until Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Zach Banner posted this response:

There’s a common misbelief that among Black and Brown people—and I know this from growing up and I’ve heard it and I’ve listened to it—that Jewish people are just like any other white race. You know, you mix them up with the rest of the majority and you don’t understand that they are a minority as well.
I didn’t know this until I went to USC and I had friends who are now family members, believe it or not, who are part of the Jewish community, current students and alumni. And also I was here on the team, my first year with the team a couple of years ago ... it’s just tough man … during that synagogue shooting in this beautiful city of Pittsburgh.
We need to understand that Jewish people deal with the same amount of hate and similar hardships and hard times. I’m not trying to get emotional right now but I want to preach to the Black and Brown community that we need to uplift them and put our arms around them just as much. When we talk about Black Lives Matter and talk about elevating ourselves, we can’t do that while stepping on the back of other people to elevate ourselves.
That’s very very important to me and it should be important to everyone. We can’t preach equality but as a result we’re just trying to flip the script and change the hierarchy, if that makes sense. Change your heart, put your arm around people, and let’s all uplift each other.

As someone who has reported on anti-Semitism for many years, you’d think I would not be moved by videos like this. But what’s so striking about Banner’s statement is how genuine it is. There are no platitutes or performative talking points. He does not try to tear anyone down, including Jackson, and simply attempts to build everyone up, and educate them through experience. Most impressively, there was no apparent gain for him in speaking out when so many weren’t. He just felt compelled to say what he believed.

Understandably, his statement touched many Jewish viewers, and evoked hundreds of appreciative responses on Twitter.

Many readers quickly discovered Banner’s B3Foundation, which provides support and opportunities to students in underprivileged communities in Tacoma, Los Angeles, and Guam. Donations quickly snowballed—I made one myself—with a uniquely Jewish spin:

If you’re able, you can donate to Banner’s foundation here. And all of us can repay him by carrying forward his example and standing up for other communities that are not our own, but need our genuine solidarity and support in this trying time.

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.