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November 18, 2020 5:29 am

Alton Brown — When Apologies for Antisemitism Aren’t Enough

avatar by Simon Butler


Alton Brown. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Last week, Food Network personality Alton Brown apologized for his antisemitic tweets referencing the Holocaust, a development that many of his fans — including those in the culinary arena — accepted. But to many Jews, his apparent remorse rings hollow. In this day and age, when antisemitism is running rampant on both sides of the political spectrum, are apologies for such bigotry enough?

The key to answering this question lies not only in the prospect of Brown altering his behavior, but also in the way the Food Network responds.

So far, Brown’s shows (including the one he’s best-known for, Good Eats) are still listed on the channel’s November TV schedule. Furthermore, the Food Network has not yet put out any communications relating to the possibility of disciplinary action — and they refused to even respond to my repeated inquiries on the topic.

That brings up questions as to why this issue hasn’t immediately been addressed, as well as why the network hasn’t sought to engage the community he hurt so much with his comments.

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The reaction from the Anti-Defamation League has been similarly perplexing. Asked for a comment, an ADL spokesperson said in an email: “We are glad Mr. Brown appropriately apologized for this Holocaust analogy. As we’ve said many times, Holocaust analogies simply have no place in civil discourse.”

There’s no question that this is true. Yet if that’s the case, wouldn’t it be more important to continue the conversation, especially given the fact that so many high-profile celebrities are revealing their complete ignorance of the Holocaust and the pain it still causes today?

We have a problem with insensitivity in our society, and, as always, antisemitism remains at the forefront. One personality submits a tepid, unconvincing apology, as Brown did, and others follow in kind — from CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour, who apologized for offensively using Kristallnacht to reference President Trump’s America, to former UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who apologized for his mishandling of the party’s antisemitism crisis.

The collective trauma of our past informs a tried-and-untrue traditional response. Jews are supposed to accept these half-baked expressions of remorse as if nothing had happened. We can’t speak out against them and request more stringent disciplinary measures, right? Because any protest would stir up antisemitism against us. So we should just let it go.

No. At this point, we can’t. With antisemitism surging around the world, our safety is at risk more than ever. As such, the Jewish people must be more vocal when demanding justice. Media companies, political parties, and other entities must tackle antisemitism more robustly, and that warrants stricter actions — including ending relationships with the personalities involved. More training on the subject could mitigate the chance of such problems occurring in the future. Government regulation might, too.

Whatever is instituted, it must be strong enough to stem the tide of Jew hate. We need resolution more than inaction.

And apologies just aren’t enough anymore.

Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor living in New York City. During his career, he has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek. His views and opinions are his own.

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