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November 11, 2022 11:03 am
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‘Israel Is Part of Who I Am’: College Student and Activist Emily Austin Discusses Antisemitism, the NBA, and Jewish Identity

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Emily Austin. Photo: Richie Demel.

Rising antisemitism is raising the consciousness of an up and coming Jewish sports journalist and college senior from Long Island, New York.

Born a few months before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Hofstra University student Emily Austin skyrocketed to social media fame during the generational event of her lifetime, the Covid-19 pandemic. Stuck on the couch and in a rut of binge watching her favorite shows, Austin decided to hit the cellular waves and launch a live-stream broadcast, titled “Daily Vibes with Emily,” on Instagram.

“Daily Vibes” featured interviews with the world’s top professional athletes, many of whom doubted they would have a season in 2020, providing them alternative forms of exposure and a direct link to fans desperate for a connection to the outside world in a time when most Americans were quarantined at home.

Thousands of viewers tuned in, and the bigger the show became, the bigger the stars — Enes Kanter Freedom, Jalen Brunson, and Mitchell Robinson, to name few — who agreed to appear on it. Soon enough, she had befriended celebrities and companies like Puma and BoxyCharm were clamoring for her to model their products. It was a heady time, and working with athletes brought to fruition her childhood dream of being involved with the NBA. Austin attended her first New York Knicks game with her father at age 12. The players, towering over her five foot five frame, became heroes.

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This summer, Austin landed interviews with NBA players including 2022’s second overall pick in the draft Chet Holmgren, Scotty Pippen Jr, and Shareef O’Neal, when she hosted NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. The gig, which was followed by another in which she hosted a celebrity boxing match between Le’Veon Bell and Adrian Peterson, raised her profile and ambition in tandem.

Recent events have focused her attention elsewhere, however. In 2021, antisemitic hate crimes occurred across the world at the highest levels record in decades, peaking during Israel’s conflict with Hamas. Anti-Jewish hatred was especially palpable on social media, forcing her to speak out.

“I felt obligated to be someone who educated others about the conflict. Call it ego, call it pride — I don’t care,” Austin told The Algemeiner on Monday.” But I eased my way into it. My followers follow me because I love sports. I don’t want to inundate them with content about Israel, but they also need to understand that Israel is a part of who I am.”

Austin explained that she “posted blue and white cupcakes with the Star of David on them and immediately I noticed that a lot of people unfollowed me.”

“I got a lot of hateful DM’s [direct messages] over it. People called me ‘Zionist pig,’ ‘children murderer’ — I don’t even have to say how nasty it got. But at the same time so many also reached out to thank me for being a voice for the Jewish people,” she continued.

Over the last several weeks, controversy has emerged in the league Austin has followed closely since childhood, drawing her into the fray of contemporary politics and further into Jewish rights advocacy. On October 27, Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving promoted a documentary that promoted Holocaust denial and accused Jews of stealing their religion from the Black community. The incident trailed a series of antisemitic tirades by Kanye West, the most invective targeting Jews ever uttered by an American celebrity.

“I make sure to at least once a week post something like a statistic on antisemitism, and during the Kyrie Irving episode, I tweeted out that he has more followers than there are Jews in the world, and I don’t know why people hated that, but they did,” Austin said. “People said I’m racist because of it. And I don’t even know how to combat that allegation. I try not to let it hurt my feelings, but it does. I never would want all of my Black friends to read a comment like that and doubt my integrity or care for them.”

“I care about and love the Black community so much,” she added. “You know, during the pandemic, after George Floyd was killed, I protested, I put signs on my window. I made videos and posted on Instagram. I made sure I was a voice, because I believe that everyone deserves to be treated like a human being. If the Black community is being targeted, I will stand up for them. When the Asian community was being targeted, I stood up for them too.”

Austin said that Irving’s actions were hurtful and that his refusal to apologize was “disgusting.” She wrote him a letter on November 2 and posted it to social media. The note caught the attention of i24 News, an Israeli outlet based in Tel Aviv, which invited her to participate in a segment on the issue. It was her second appearance on the broadcast. A week earlier, i24 interviewed her about Kanye West.

“The truth is that he [Irving] hurt the Jewish people and spread disinformation,” she said. “So, he has to be a man, own his faults, own his mistakes, and just like he publicly, maybe accidentally, promoted a book that spewed hate and propaganda, he can publicly apologize. The fact that he wouldn’t really bothered me.”

These days, Austin splits her time between school, a new online show called “Debate Series,” and an internship at the United Nations, where she reports to Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan. On Saturday, she spoke at the Jewish National Fund’s annual conference, discussing the importance of showing Zionist pride on campus. She hopes her love for Israel and the Jewish people won’t close doors she worked hard to open.

“I have actually been worried about this recently, because in light of the Kyrie situation I’ve been branded as a racist merely for standing up as a Zionist and standing against Jew hatred,” she said. “I hope I can continue sports journalism and advocate for the Jewish community and Israel for as long as possible, and I don’t see a reason why I shouldn’t, unless the sports community gets sick of my activism.”

“I love sports, I’m obsessed with it,” she added. “I love being a bridge between the fans and the athletes. I have so much respect for them because I used to be one, but I’m also very proud of my Jewish identity and who I am.”

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