NBA star Kyrie Irving left the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) with egg on its face after the group pledged to partner with Irving and his team, the Brooklyn Nets, to steer a $1 million donation to Jewish organizations following Irving promotion of an anti-Semitic documentary. Then, on Thursday, Irving said that — actually — he had nothing to apologize for.
Now, the ADL is backtracking, with CEO Jonathan Greenblatt pledging not to take any money from Irving but saying he is nonetheless willing to "engage in a process of healing and learning" with the unapologetic anti-Semite.
"Although we will not accept any funds from him, if Kyrie is open to direct dialogue to repair the harm that he has caused and to engage in a process of healing and learning in a sincere manner, [ADL] is open to engaging with him," Greenblatt said. "Time and action will tell."
Irving ignited a media firestorm last week by promoting a book and movie that denies the Holocaust occurred and portrays Jewish people as a nefarious bogeyman. Irving issued a statement admitting responsibility for the "negative impact" of his post but ultimately doubled down this week, saying during a Thursday press conference, "I cannot be anti-Semitic."
The brouhaha over Irving’s anti-Semitic beliefs is a blow to one of America’s oldest and most respected Jewish institutions. The ADL, under the leadership of former Obama administration official Greenblatt, has been plagued by accusations it provides cover to Democrats while only exerting pressure on conservative voices it sees as promoting anti-Semitic views. In recent years, the ADL has charged a litany of conservative groups with promoting anti-Semitism while ignoring similar instances on the left, prompting some in the Jewish community to call it an "echo chamber of left-wing Democratic politics." The ADL also has made overtures to the anti-Semitic Black Lives Matter movement despite its support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, as well as the far-left anti-Israel group J Street.
"This is another unfortunate misstep for an ADL that seems to have placed partisanship and even fundraising ahead of fighting antisemitism," Rabbi Yaakov Menken, managing director of the Coalition for Jewish Values, America’s largest rabbinic public policy group, told the Washington Free Beacon. "After curating a false narrative tying anti-Semitism to white supremacy above all else, it rushed to take a donation from Irving instead of the real consequences that, as ESPN sportscasters have pointed out, the NBA would immediately have levied against someone endorsing bigotry against any other minority group. The ADL bought into a double standard because Irving doesn't fit the narrative they painted. One can only hope they learn from this embarrassment."
The Nets suspended Irving indefinitely as a result of his refusal to apologize for spreading Jew hatred.
The star player first courted criticism when he promoted a movie called Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America, which promotes a slew of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and tropes. The Brooklyn Nets condemned Irving’s social media posts and, in a joint statement with the ADL, Irving said he opposes "all forms of hatred and oppression and stand[s] strong with communities that are marginalized and impacted every day."
The statement was issued with a pledge by the Nets and Irving to each donate $500,000 to organizations like the ADL that combat hate and anti-Semitism.
"In light of the events from the past week, we commend the Brooklyn Nets and Kyrie Irving for listening to the concerns of everyone who spoke out against anti-Semitism and taking it as an opportunity to learn and do better," the ADL tweeted on Wednesday.
That good will, however, crumbled by Thursday, when Irving stood his ground during a bizarre press conference in which he "refused to say he was sorry, refused to say he didn’t hold anti-Semitic beliefs, refused to say the Holocaust happened and cast himself as the victim in the entire saga," according to the New York Post.
Irving, during that press conference, claimed, "I cannot be anti-Semitic if I know where I come from."
The episode forced Greenblatt’s ADL to make an about-face on the issue. The ADL leader said on Friday that his organization will no longer accept any funds from Irving or the Nets but that it is open to further engagement.
"Although we will not accept any funds from him, if Kyrie is open to direct dialogue to repair the harm that he has caused and to engage in a process of healing and learning in a sincere manner, ADL is open to engaging with him. Time and action will tell," Greenblatt tweeted.
Greenblatt also said he supports the NBA team’s decision to indefinitely suspend Irving, writing in a tweet that the player "has been given ample opportunity to do the right thing, apologize and condemn antisemitism. He has failed at almost every step along the way. This suspension is well-deserved."
An ADL spokesman directed the Free Beacon to Greenblatt's tweets when questioned about the episode.
Charles Jacobs, president of the Jewish Leadership Project, an advocacy group, told the Free Beacon that the episode should serve as a wake-up call to the ADL.
"The ADL, the Jewish community’s most powerful defense agency, has been downplaying or ignoring Jew-hatred from politically incorrect sources—leftist anti-Zionists, Islamist preachers, and black supremacists—for decades, yet they’ll accuse right-wingers of anti-Semitism even when, sometimes, there isn’t any," Jacobs said. "They have abandoned their mission and become little more than another left-wing political organization, therefore losing credibility within the Jewish community that is suffering from the surge in Jew-hatred that built under their watch."
Irving explicitly apologized Thursday night after the suspension was handed down, saying he was "deeply sorry" for promoting false anti-Semitic narratives. The Nets, however, said the late apology is not sufficient to end the suspension, and Irving will not play until he takes concrete steps to address his anti-Semitic views.
"Such failure to disavow antisemitism when given a clear opportunity to do so is deeply disturbing, is against the values of our organization, and constitutes conduct detrimental to the team," the Nets said in a statement issued on Thursday. "Accordingly, we are of the view that [Irving] is currently unfit to be associated with the Brooklyn Nets. We have decided that Kyrie will serve a suspension without pay until he satisfies a series of objective remedial measures that address the harmful impact of his conduct."