Nick Cannon apologizes to Jewish community for hurtful words

Media personality says his comments ‘reinforced the worst stereotypes’ and that he’s undergone a ‘minor history lesson,’ in apology tweeted after ViacomCBS canned him from podcast

Nick Cannon (R) and Richard 'Professor Griff' Griffin, the former Public Enemy member, talk during an episode of 'Cannon's Class' released July 2020 (Screen grab/YouTube)
Nick Cannon (R) and Richard 'Professor Griff' Griffin, the former Public Enemy member, talk during an episode of 'Cannon's Class' released July 2020 (Screen grab/YouTube)

Nick Cannon apologized to the Jewish community late Wednesday for his “hurtful and divisive” words, hours after ViacomCBS severed ties with him for the remarks made on a podcast.

The Anti-Defamation League and some Jewish leaders had condemned what they called anti-Semitic theories expressed by Cannon and demanded the apology.

“First and foremost I extend my deepest and most sincere apologies to my Jewish sisters and brothers for the hurtful and divisive words that came out of my mouth during my interview with Richard Griffin,” Cannon said on his Twitter account.

“They reinforced the worst stereotypes of a proud and magnificent people and I feel ashamed of the uninformed and naïve place that these words came from. The video of this interview has since been removed.”

“While the Jewish experience encompasses more than 5,000 years and there is so much I have yet to learn, I have had at least a minor history lesson over the past few days and to say that it is eye-opening would be a vast understatement,” Cannon added. “I want to express my gratitude to the Rabbis, community leaders and institutions who reached out to me to help enlighten me, instead of chastising me.

“I want to assure my Jewish friends, new and old, that this is only the beginning of my education—I am committed to deeper connections, more profound learning and strengthening the bond between our two cultures today and every day going forward,” he said.

ViacomCBS cut ties with the TV host and producer Tuesday in response to his comments on a podcast where he discussed racial bias.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean, told The Associated Press that Cannon reached out to him Wednesday and during a 30-minute telephone conversation he apologized to the Jewish community and Cooper asked him to post it on social media.

“He started out the right way, he said the right things. Half an hour is a long time, and we’ll probably meet tomorrow in the LA area,” Cooper said.

“He understood that the words and references that he thought were based on fact, turned out to be hateful propaganda and stereotypical rhetoric.”

The TV host and producer had previously written a lengthy Facebook post defending himself and criticizing his firing for what the company deemed “bigotry” and “anti-Semitism.” Prominent members of the US Jewish community said the post fell well short and demanded an apology.

In this Dec. 10, 2018 photo, Nick Cannon poses for a portrait in New York to promote promoting his new show, “The Masked Singer.” (Amy Sussman/Invision/AP)

“It’s not enough to say, ‘I’m not a racist, I’m not a bigot,’” Cooper had told the AP earlier. “The statements he made are hurtful, and they’re false.”

Cooper said Cannon should read and heed the words of Martin Luther King Jr., who “dedicated his life for civil rights for all and a color-blind America.” Cooper also had advised him to seek out the guidance of basketball Hall of Famer-turned-writer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has condemned several sports and entertainment celebrities for anti-Semitic posts.

In the hour-plus episode of “Cannon’s Class” released last month that prompted his firing, Cannon and Richard “Professor Griff” Griffin, formerly of the rap group Public Enemy, contended that Black people are the true Hebrews and Jews have usurped that identity.

Cannon then argued that lighter-skinned people — “Jewish people, white people, Europeans” — “are a little less” and have a “deficiency” that historically caused them to act out of fear and commit acts of violence to survive.

Cannon also discussed anti-Semitic conspiracy theories involving “the Rothschilds, centralized banking, the 13 families, the bloodlines that control everything even outside of America.”

“They had to be savages,” he said, before going on to praise the anti-Semitic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

“It’s never hate speech, you can’t be anti-Semitic when we are the Semitic people,” Cannon said. “When we are the same people who they want to be. That’s our birthright. We are the true Hebrews.”

Inductees Chuck D, left, Flavor Flav, center, and Professor Griff, standing right, of Public Enemy perform during the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Nokia Theatre on April 18, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP)

“When I first heard about the comments Mr. Cannon made, it was very, very disappointing,” said Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. “We’re in a time where hatred of all kinds is very much apparent. It’s in the news every day.”

“Anti-Semitism in particular over the past several years has been something that we’ve seen in increase , as well as racism and other issues,” Segal added. “So when you hear an individual who has a public profile, who has influence over people, make statements that are highly offensive to the Jewish community, the first reaction is disappointment.”

Anti-Semitic violent attacks rose worldwide by 18% in 2019 compared with the previous year, according to a report published in April by Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary Jewry.

Segal said some members of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement see themselves as the true “chosen people,” and believe that Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans are the true descendants of the 12 Tribes of Israel. He noted that not all spew hateful rhetoric, although many adhere to an extreme set of anti-Semitic beliefs.

Bruce D. Haynes, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Davis, who has been studying Black Jews for more than two decades, agreed that the remarks echo the ideas of extreme Black Hebrew Israelites and of Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader who last year referenced “Satanic Jews” in a speech denying allegations of anti-Semitism. But Haynes took a more nuanced view.

“The danger is that those groups get confused with other self-identified Israelites like (Rabbi) Capers Funnye, who has a congregation in Chicago, and who is very much involved with the Ashkenazim Jewish community. So I want to make clear that the term ‘Israelites’ is a tricky term,” he said.

“Is it anti-Semitic to say Black people are the real Israelites or the real Jews? I’m not sure I’d call it anti-Semitism,” Haynes said. “It’s not a good reading of history, but I wouldn’t call it anti-Semitism. On the other hand, some of those groups that call Jews impostors certainly cross the line.”

Until his firing, Cannon produced “Wild ’n Out,” a comedy improv series for VH1, the ViacomCBS-owned cable channel.

In an earlier Facebook post, he had said that he welcomes being held accountable and takes responsibility for his words, while also accusing the company of trying to silence an “outspoken black man” and demanding full ownership of the “Wild ’n Out” brand.

“I do not condone hate speech nor the spread of hateful rhetoric. … The Black and Jewish communities have both faced enormous hatred, oppression persecution and prejudice for thousands of years and in many ways have and will continue to work together to overcome these obstacles,” he wrote.

Cooper had said that Cannon should reject Farrakhan’s hate speech and “reduce the long statement to two sentences” — a simple apology, which he did after their conversation.

“I just had the blessed opportunity to converse with Rabbi Abraham Cooper director of global social action @SimonWiesenthal. My first words to my brother was, I apologize for the hurt I caused the Jewish Community,” Cannon tweeted.

“On my podcast I used words & referenced literature I assumed to be factual to uplift my community instead turned out to be hateful propaganda and stereotypical rhetoric that pained another community For this I am deeply sorry but now together we can write a new chapter of healing.”

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