(JTA) — Former President Barack Obama called out celebrities who post antisemitic conspiracy theories online. calling them “dangerous” while campaigning in Pittsburgh, the site of the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history.
Stumping for Democrats in tight statewide elections next week, Obama decried the recent assault on Paul Pelosi, the husband of U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, by an alleged assailant who spread falsehoods about the 2020 election and antisemitic theories. and warned that political leaders who make light of such violence put others at risk. He was alluding to a number of conservatives who have sought to cast doubt on the veracity of reports about the attack, or who have mocked it.
But he said the dangers of political discourse extended beyond politicians.
“Whether it’s out of malice or ignorance, we’ve seen recently big celebrities reposting vile antisemitic conspiracy theories online,” Obama said. “And you don’t have to be a student of history to understand how dangerous that is, and how unacceptable it is.”
Obama appeared to be referring to a slate of antisemitic conspiracy theories spread recently by popular Black entertainers and athletes, including rapper Kanye West, NBA star Kyrie Irving and former NFL linebacker K. J. Wright.
“I don’t know when we decided that we were just going to believe everything we read on the internet,” he said. “Here’s a tip for you. If you read or see something online that has some grand theory about how some particular group, whether it’s Black folks or white, or Jews, or Catholics or immigrants or gays, if you read or see someone says they’re the cause all your problems, then it’s safe to say it is garbage. It is a lie. It is a dangerous poison.”
Obama did not mention the 2018 massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue complex. Last month, the community commemorated the four-year anniversary of the attack, in which 11 Jews were murdered by an alleged white supremacist who posted antisemitic content online.
Obama is blitzing swing states ahead of what might be close midterm elections Tuesday. He was campaigning Saturday for Democrats, including Josh Shapiro, the Jewish attorney general who is running for Pennsylvania governor; John Fetterman, who is a candidate for U.S. Senate; and House candidates Summer Lee and Chris Deluzio.
Several of the races are notable for their Jewish involvement. Shapiro has made his Jewish identity a focus of his campaign, while his rival, Doug Mastriano, has been allied with the antisemitic founder of the Gab social network, where the alleged Tree of Life gunman announced his plans to attack the synagogue. Shapiro’s Jewish day school, where he sends his children, has also drawn attention as Mastriano has mocked it, and the Democratic candidate, as elitist.
Meanwhile, Fetterman is in a tight race against Mehmet Oz, the celebrity physician who has former President Donald Trump’s support. Oz counted among his prominent supporters celebrity rabbi Shmuley Boteach, until Boteach announced that he’d changed his mind and now saw Oz’s campaign as a “tragedy for the Jewish people.” (Boteach’s daughter sued Oz this week, alleging breach of contract over a donor list she shared.)
And Lee, a progressive, is the subject of millions of dollars in negative spending by the political action committee associated with AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby. The group spent $2 million in an unsuccessful effort to defeat her in May’s primary and last week spent another $1 million to defeat her in next week’s contest, marking the first foray for the new PAC, United Democracy Project, into a general election. PJC