By DEEPA BHARATH
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft faced the camera during a video call, pointing to a small, sky-blue lapel pin on his blazer.
The pin is the symbol of a $25 million “Stand Up to Jewish Hate” campaign launched Monday by the 81-year-old billionaire through his Foundation to Combat Antisemitism, aiming to raise awareness nationwide about soaring incidents of antisemitism online and in person. The campaign will feature emotive ads to be introduced by stars of top television shows such as NBC’s “The Voice,” and the “Kelly Clarkson Show,” and Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen.”
“This little blue square represents the Jewish population in the United States – 2.4%,” said Kraft, who was raised in Brookline, Massachusetts, in an observant Orthodox Jewish family. “But we’re the victims of 55% of the hate crimes in this country.”
The ads are intended to tug at the heartstrings of non-Jewish Americans, said Matthew Berger, the foundation’s executive director. One of the ads, set to premiere Monday, shows a non-Jewish neighbor painting over a garage door vandalized with the Nazi swastika and the words “No Jews,” concluding with the message: “Hate only wins if you let it.”
Another ad focuses on online hate: A Jewish teen is shown crestfallen as he is trolled after posting a video of his bar mitzvah. Soon after, he sees a Harlem choir tag him with their version of his worship song. He sings along with the choir as these words pop up on screen: “Voices of support are louder than words of hate.”
Berger said the foundation worked with its creative team to find scenarios “that would be specifically impactful and showcase what antisemitism looks like.” He said the ads will be featured during the NFL draft and the NBA and NHL playoffs, as well as on social media, promoted by prominent influencers.
The campaign’s launch follows last week’s release of a report by the Anti-Defamation League asserting that antisemitic incidents in the U.S. rose 36% in 2022. The report tracked 3,697 incidents of harassment, vandalism and assault aimed at Jewish people and communities last year. It’s the third time in five years that the annual total has been the highest ever recorded since the group began collecting data in 1979.
The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, based at California State University, San Bernardino, reported last week that Jews were the most targeted of all U.S. religious groups in 2022 in 21 major cities, accounting for 78% of religious hate crimes.Brian Levin, the center’s director, said he is concerned about brazen, public expressions of antisemitism, and the proliferation of antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories online. A campaign against antisemitism which solicits the support of non-Jewish people can help create awareness, he said.
“It is so important to show that antisemitism is un-American,” Levin said. “If we can show non-Jews as allies, that could be powerful.”
In October, Kraft’s foundation aired a 30-second ad during a Patriots-Jets game urging the public to speak out against antisemitism. That ad came after antisemitic comments made by the music mogul formerly known as Kanye West and basketball star Kyrie Irving’s apparent support for an antisemitic film.
“The rise of antisemitism, to me, is the real breakdown of what this society stands on,” Kraft said. “In my lifetime, I have never seen the way things are right now with this hatred against Jews.”
The mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, 2018, in which 11 people were killed in the nation’s deadliest antisemitic attack, was a catalytic moment in his life, said Kraft. Two months after the shooting, he attended a Shabbat service at the synagogue, the day before his team was to play the Steelers.
Kraft established the foundation a year later, after he received the $1 million Genesis Prize, awarded to Jews who have achieved significant professional success and are committed to Jewish values. The annual award is given by the Genesis Foundation in partnership with the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Over the past decade, Kraft has encountered much turbulence in his personal and professional life.
In 2015, he and his team got caught up in the so-called “Deflategate” scandal. The NFL issued a 243-page report after an investigation found that Patriots employees violated the league’s rules covering game balls and that the team’s star quarterback, Tom Brady, was “at least generally aware” of plans to deflate the footballs to his liking. Kraft accepted the team penalty of a $1 million fine and loss of two draft picks.
In 2020, Florida prosecutors dropped a misdemeanor charge against Kraft after courts blocked their use of video that allegedly showed him paying for massage parlor sex. He issued a statement saying he “hurt and disappointed” his family, friends, co-workers, fans and others who hold him “to a higher standard.”
“I expect to be judged not by my words, but by my actions. And through those actions, I hope to regain your confidence and respect,” Kraft said at the time.
In recent months, he has become a powerful voice against antisemitism. Kraft says he treasures the spiritual values he inherited from his parents, especially his father who skipped television and other pastimes to read the Torah.
“I was privileged to receive that upbringing,” he said. “It gave me a spiritual core no amount of money can buy.”
Kraft hopes the ad campaign will help “educate and empower all Americans to stand up against Jewish hate” and the blue square he wears on his lapel will become “a unifying symbol of solidarity” in that quest.
“I hope this campaign calls out hate against all communities – Black people, the LGBTQ community – just anyone who is experiencing hate,” he said. “My hope is this will become an effort that builds bridges with all Americans.”