In 2021, ADL reported 2717 antisemitic incidents throughout the United States, a 34% increase over 2020. The recent mass shooting in Highland Park, Buffalo, Colorado Springs, and Virginia, are deplorable testimonies to the level of hate in this country. More recently, the New York Times YT has reported on the “unsettling stream of anti-semitism. [“Between Kanye and the Midterms, the Unsettling Stream of Antisemitism,” 11/4/2022] More recently, the NYT has reported on the “unsettling stream of anti-semitism].Then why does the online behemoth Amazon continue to sell material that profits from that hate? And more personally, why am I trying to be a David to Amazon’s Goliath?
Much has been written recently about the Kyrie Irving’s eight-game suspension after the Brooklyn Nets’ basketball star tweeted a link to a documentary containing antisemitic messages. Hebrews to Negros: Wake Up, Black America, is based on book of the same name by Ronald Dalton, Jr, which espouses virulent misinformation including Holocaust denial and claims of an international Jewish conspiracy.
Although too few members of the Nets team spoke out against Irving’s actions citing reasons as insubstantial as “I just want to play basketball,” other notable athletes spoke up.”Charles Barkley said that The National Basketball Association’s (NBA) commissioner, Adam Silver, himself Jewish, “dropped the ball” when the NBA didn’t immediately suspend him. Shaquille O’Neal said “we gotta answer for what this idiot has done.”
The most eloquent quotes came from Kareem Abdul Jabbar. In June 2020, the retired basketball player admonished celebrities who failed speak out against the antisemitic comments by Ice Cube, DeSean Jackson, and Stephen Jackson. “If we are going to be outraged by injustice, let’s be outraged by injustice against anyone.” He reiterated his concerns after what he perceived as a tepid response to the recent anti-Semitic comments by Kayne West and Kyrie Irving. “A number of Blacks expected support from Jews during the Black Lives Matter movement, and they got that help,” he stated. “But when the reverse was necessary, we ended up with silence…for weeks.” He went on to say, “If we don’t protect everyone, we don’t protect anyone. “
What many people, including myself until recently, may not be aware of is that Amazon offers both the book and DVD version movie on its website. The controversy has only caused a massive spike in sales. On November 4, Hebrews was the number one book in Amazon’s Religion and Spirituality and Social Sciences categories. As of Monday, November 28, the book was ranked #1 in the Christian education category in Kindle. What is even more disturbing to me is that Audible, a division of Amazon, is now offering the audio book as one of its free options with a trial membership.
Requests by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and other groups to stop its sale were first met with deafening silence. In a letter addressed to Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos, Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL’s CEO, stated, “By platforming this film, and other clearly hateful content, you are knowingly and willingly propagating antisemitism.”
Other influential groups have also taken on the fight. On November 10, over 200 leaders of the entertainment industry, including Mila Kunis, Debra Messing and Mayim Bialik, released a letter through the non-profit entertainment industry organization Creative Community for Peace urging Amazon and Barnes and Noble to stop its sale. “At a time in America where there are more per capita hate crimes against Jews than any other minority, overwhelmingly more religious-based hate crimes against the Jewish people than any other religion, and more hate crimes against the Jewish people in New York than any other minority, where a majority of American Jews live,” the letter reads, “it is unacceptable to allow this type of hate to foment on your platforms,” Soon after, Barnes and Noble, as well as Apple, removed the material. Amazon, however, had not.
As I read all this disheartening news on the days leading up to Ere of Yontiff, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the Jewish activist in me kicked in. In the midst of my husband Larry and I prepping a 22-pound turkey, assembling stuffing, and peeling five pounds of potatoes for our eleven guests, I got onto Amazon’s customer service chatline, expressed my concerns, and then was told that my remarks were being forwarded to the business department. I then hammered out a letter to the editor regarding the issue and emailed it my local paper, Orlando Sentinel, who published it on Saturday, December 3, issue with the headline, “Kyrie Irvings hurtful views still spreading.” A victory!
On Cyber-Monday, I upped the ante when, through the same Amazon chatline, I requested a callback from a real person with whom to speak about my concerns. Judging from the typing in the background, the representative took copious notes. After a couple of brief holds, I was told that the issue was passed to the appropriate channels. My comments regarding what I regarded as “offensive” material would be reviewed and someone would be in touch at an indeterminant date. Later that day, I got a follow-up email from the Amazon representative. “I am delighted for the warm and nice approach you gave me on the call,” she wrote. “It was indeed a pleasure helping you.” As gratified as I was by her lovely note, I rightfully held off pressing “Yes” to the “Did I solve your problem?” button.
I also Googled to find other outlets selling the book or DVD. Only one other retailer, BooksaMillion, has continued the sale. An Etsy seller removed its sale immediately after I wrote him stating that its sale was violating its anti-discrimination policies. Another victory!
Alas, in the end, requests by the Anti-Defamation League and other groups to stop its sale have been rejected. Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, himself Jewish, stated on 12/1/2022 that the online retail behemoth has “to allow access to those viewpoints, even if they are ….objectionable and they differ from our particular viewpoints.”
If the ADL and the Creative Community for Peace have not been able to persuade Amazon leadership, why am I entering the fray? I feel as if I am David battling Goliath, ending unknown. But stone by stone, I will keep using my slingshot. Or maybe, during this Hanukkah holiday, I should feel more like the Maccabees, who overcame incredible odds to vanquish a much larger enemy.
I got encouragement from a fellow SOLWriter and a dear friend, Ginny Campbell, who wrote in response a draft to my Orlando Sentinel submission, stating that my letter and work as a writer was “shining a light in a dark world. ” What a beautiful metaphor for me to contemplate as we celebrate the Festival of Lights! Ginny’s words will add an extra glow to my Hanukkiah candles.
In the midst of your holiday shopping please do your part to shine a light in a dark world. Please urge Amazon and other retailers to remove these titles and others that profit off attacks on targeted populations. Rather than give more stuff to people who already are overwhelmed with stuff, consider contributions to the ADL, which is fighting anti-Semitism every day. We all need to lessen the fire of hatred, not add to its flames.