May 27, 2024
Robert Kraft’s Fight Against Antisemitism Began Long Before Oct. 7

Robert Kraft’s Fight Against Antisemitism Began Long Before Oct. 7

Protests at Columbia University have attracted national headlines, prompted congressional hearings and led to the arrest of more than 100 students. This week, the New England Patriots owner, Robert K. Kraft, one of the school’s most famous and wealthiest graduates, stepped into the fray.

Mr. Kraft, who graduated from Columbia in 1963 and has donated millions of dollars to the university, said he would stop giving money to the school until it took action to curtail the hate speech that had been directed at some students and staff members.

“I am no longer confident that Columbia can protect its students and staff, and I am not comfortable supporting the university until corrective action is taken,” Mr. Kraft said in a statement on Monday.

Protests have roiled the campus in Upper Manhattan this month, with students arrested after refusing to leave a pro-Palestinian encampment and crowds of protesters outside the school gates at times harassing Jewish students or shouting antisemitic comments.

Mr. Kraft’s attempts to fight antisemitism have become increasingly public in recent years, well before the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel and the war in Gaza. In 2019, Mr. Kraft, who was alarmed by attacks on Jews and synagogues in Pittsburgh, Poway, Calif., and elsewhere, created the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism, a nonprofit group trying to counter the surge in violent language on social media.

The foundation is in the midst of a $25 million television campaign that has included running ads during the Academy Awards telecast on ABC this year. Similar ads were played during the N.F.L. season and the Super Bowl.

“This isn’t a two- or three-year problem; this is a problem that has been going on for thousands of years,” Mr. Kraft said in an interview in December in the foundation’s office down the hall from his own at the Patriots’ complex.

Many of the ads involve re-enactments of antisemitic attacks and a message that Jews and non-Jews must help one another fight back.

The one-minute ad that ran during the Academy Awards was based on an incident in Massachusetts. It began with a 13-year-old boy about to read the Torah at his bar mitzvah. A statistic flashes on the screen: “895 Jewish temples received bomb threats last year. This is one of those stories.”

A group of Christians meeting across the street sees the police lights and invites the congregation to finish the ceremony in their church. As the boy resumes his Torah reading, another message appears: “Hate loses when we stand together.”

The foundation’s mandate is to track hate speech in a systematic way and use the findings to motivate people of all backgrounds to help fight antisemitic behavior, especially when it comes to misinformation online. That work has grown exponentially in recent months as criticism of Israel’s military actions in Gaza has led to fierce debates that have, in some cases, led to antisemitic rhetoric.

At the foundation’s headquarters, computers in real time monitor key words, phrases and hashtags on up to 300 million publicly available sources, including social media sites like X, Instagram and TikTok, as well as blogs, online forums and websites.

To help fund the foundation, Mr. Kraft works the phones and exchanges emails and texts with people in his expansive Rolodex. One set of conversations led the Norman and Ruth Rales Foundation to donate $100 million in December to the foundation, which Mr. Kraft matched.

He has hosted “convenings” of leaders from the sports world, including Jewish athletes like the former Patriots receiver Julian Edelman. In late January, Mr. Kraft helped bring together commissioners of the major American sports leagues at N.F.L. headquarters in Manhattan.

University presidents, politicians and executives have sought his advice, including the chief executive of Adidas, which last year cut ties with Kanye West after the sneaker giant was accused of tolerating his inflammatory remarks targeting Jews and disparaging Black Lives Matter. Mr. Kraft worked with Adidas on a plan to sell the remaining apparel and sneakers designed by Mr. West and donate some of the profits to organizations including the Anti-Defamation League.

One friend Mr. Kraft has not spoken with recently is former President Donald J. Trump. The two men were close for decades, but the language Mr. Trump has used on the campaign trail appears to be at odds with the mission of Mr. Kraft’s foundation.

In recent months, Mr. Kraft has been trying to strengthen bridges between Jewish and Black communities. The ad that the foundation ran during the Super Bowl featured Dr. Clarence Jones, a speechwriter for Martin Luther King Jr. and chairman of Spill the Honey Foundation, a nonprofit group that highlights the long alliance between African Americans and Jews.

In March, Mr. Kraft and Dr. Jones shared a stage at the 92NY in New York, where they discussed ways their two foundations could work together.

“The fierceness, the dedication of the Jewish people can be translated in simple, practical terms,” Dr. Jones said. “There would not have been a Civil Rights Act of 1964 nor a Voting Rights Act of 1965, none of that would have happened but for the alliance and support of the Jewish community. So I’m not going to sit by.”

Source link