NBA Legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Receives Award for Being an Ally Against Antisemitism at Toronto Event

October 26, 2022

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar receiving Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center's (FSWC) Ally Against Antisemitism AwardL-R: FSWC Chair Fred Waks, FSWC President and CEO Michael Levitt, NBA legend and social activist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Toronto (October 26, 2022) – Last night, NBA legend and social activist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar received the first annual Ally Against Antisemitism Award, presented by Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) in front of more than 1,200 Jewish community members and allies in Toronto.

Abdul-Jabbar was presented with the award at Spirit of Hope - FSWC’s annual marquee fundraising event that raised more than $3.2 million this year for the organization's education and advocacy programs - at the Beanfield Centre in Toronto before he took centre stage to speak about his longstanding work in advocating for social justice and human rights, being a steadfast ally in the fight against antisemitism and building bridges between communities.

He began his remarks by echoing his recent blog post, strongly condemning the repeated antisemitic comments of US rapper Kanye West. He also addressed the reactions he’s received for his criticism of West and of antisemitism in general.

“The principal lesson is we can never go to sleep, we can never stop being vigilant and let bad things to fester,” said Abdul-Jabbar.

“I get condemnation from people who don’t want to see any progress, and I get support from people who understand that what people like Kanye West have to say is intolerable,” Abdul-Jabbar told the audience. “We can’t have our people who set standards and who everybody wants to emulate… talking like that. That’s not what we’re supposed to be about, especially in America where we say that all men are created equal.”

He also spoke out about the delayed condemnations from celebrities and companies in response to West’s antisemitism, saying, “Look what happened in the time it took for all the people who ended up condemning Kanye, look how long it took for them to get around to saying what they had to say. In the meantime, Jewish kids were intimidated and bullied and had to deal with a whole lot of violence or violent thoughts directed at them because someone like Kanye West says it’s okay. It’s not okay.”

Abdul-Jabbar delved into some of his most prominent works – including his op-ed in The Hollywod Reporter, “Where Is the Outrage Over Antisemitism in Sports and Hollywood?,” his book Brothers in Arms, and the documentary film, for which he was the Executive Producer, for the History Channel called Fight the Power: The Movements that Changed America, which focused on the impact that key protests have had on the evolution of the United States.

Before presenting Abdul-Jabbar with the Ally Against Antisemitism Award, FSWC President and CEO Michael Levitt spoke about the organization’s work in combatting antisemitism and hatred through education and advocacy as well as the importance of allyship.

“We know antisemitism is the proverbial canary in the coal mine,” said Levitt. “For millennia, we’ve seen how if a society isn’t safe for Jews, it’s an early warning sign of the danger ahead for others. Antisemitism isn’t a threat to just Jews but to our broader society. The hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews.”

He also issued a clarion call for all communities to join together in the fight against the growing tide of hate in Canadian society.

“Allyship is critical,” Levitt added. “The fight against hate is an all-hands-on-deck battle. To our allies, both Jewish and non-Jewish in this room, to the organizations we work with in the Jewish community and the broader community across Canada, please hear this from me. We are here to work with you. We are here to partner with you. Knock on our door because we know we are stronger together. We know the importance of communities standing side-by-side in times of need, and that time is now.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar speaking at Spirit of Hope, interviewed by manager Deborah Morales

Attendees at Spirit of Hope

Canada's Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism, Irwin Cotler, FSWC President and CEO Michael Levitt, NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Simon Wiesenthal Center Executive Director Rabbi Meyer May in front of FSWC's Tour for Humanity mobile education centre