As someone who has worked in media for the better part of the last decade, I've been quite disappointed at the way certain figures who have demonstrated themselves to be bigots with tremendous amounts of prejudice have been normalized. None have been as effective in their bids for normalization and acceptance by mainstream society, as the "Reverend" Al Sharpton. Besides for his maintenance of a considerable media presence on MSNBC and his hosting of his own program on the network, he is still routinely introduced on various programs as a "civil rights activist." Indeed, the accolades continue being sent his way, even given his troubling background.
My public relations agency has represented a myriad of interests promoting minority communities. In fact, over the years we have represented a number of individuals who are significant donors to the Anti-Defamation League, the latest organization working together with Sharpton. Civil rights issues in the African American community are indeed serious; and they should be taken seriously by leaders of the Jewish community. Indeed, it is important for there to be a united front among those in other minority communities in calling out racism in any way it may manifest itself. It's incumbent upon us as Jews to call out racism - and I've been personally heartened by the participation of members of the Jewish community in some of the peaceful demonstrations that have taken place.
But that does not and should not ever take place at the expense of promoting anti-Semites or bigots of any stripe. Indeed we are doing a disservice to the African American community by propping up someone like Al Sharpton by doing so. There are many decent and impressive civil rights activists within the African American community who deserve our support, and certainly deserve a platform. Al Sharpton is not one of them.
For those that don't know, Al Sharpton has a long and storied history of Jew hatred, that has been well documented over the years. Sharpton played a central role in provoking the rioters in Crown Heights back in the summer of 1991. Riots that led to the death of Yankel Rosenbaum. "If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their Yarmulkas back and come over...," said Sharpton, during that three day stretch of riots.
Sharpton never properly offered genuine remorse for this sort of rhetoric. And his actual participation and fomenting of violence in the form of these riots is something that the Jewish community can never forget. Sharpton's list of anti-Jewish screeds go well beyond the rhetoric he employed during those riots. Sharpton has referred to Jews in the past as "diamond merchants," "white interlopers," and "Jew bastards."
It is not therefore unreasonable to ask why the ADL and Jonathan Greenblatt are proudly collaborating with Sharpton in the #StopHateforProfit campaign. This isn't about the merits of the campaign. It's about a figure who no Jewish lay leader ought to be working with when it comes to issues of civil rights. It's not only a disservice to the Jewish community; but a slap in the face to the African American community as well. The African American community deserves better.
Josh Nass is a communications professional specializing in media relations and reputation management