Robert Kraft and Super Bowl LVIII

By Bill Simons

Linking Robert Kraft to Super Bowl LVIII might prompt expressions of incredulity from many football fans. Once upon a time Kraft’s now hapless New England Patriots dominated the National Football League. In the prime of quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick, the Kraft-owned Patriots won six Super Bowls. By Sunday, February 11, 2024, the 82-year-old Kraft appeared irrelevant to many of the record 123 million Super Bowl viewers. However, Kraft, always assertive in matters related to his Jewish identity, managed to insert serious issues of rising antisemitism and generic hate into the football extravaganza.

For $7 million, Kraft’s Foundation to Combat Antisemitism purchased 30 seconds of Super Bowl commercial time. Given the high production and entertainment values typical of Super Bowl ads, “Silence,” the title of the Foundation’s video, maintained most of the game’s audience. Moreover, YouTube gives “Silence” a second life. (The video can be found on YouTube here.)

The ad opens on Clarence B. Jones, identified as a draft speechwriter for civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., draped by a buttoned sweater while sitting at a large desk in a room lined by books. Jones, an African American, remains, at age 93, strong of voice and impressive in demeanor. Dignified and authentic, he is the voice of the ad. Referring to his “dear friend Martin,” he ponders what he would write today for Dr. King. Then, Jones calls out the central issue of our day, breaking the silence against resurgent hate. A burning cross, evoking the Ku Klux Klan, and a swastika, reminiscent of the Nazis juxtaposed to a snuffed candle, are amongst the symbols of hate sequenced across the screen. Hate is confronted by more hopeful images in the commercial – “Say Their Names” emblazoned across the front of a Black woman’s shirt, signs hoisted at a rally with the legend “stand up to Jewish hate” and, most powerfully, a Jewish man, identified as such by his kippah, and a woman, attired in traditional Islamic headwear, partnering to scrub “No Muslims” graffiti from an outdoor wall. 

As the montage progresses, Jones stands so he can address viewers more directly to deliver the ad’s climactic message: “I’d remind people that all hate thrives on one thing: silence. The people who will change the nation are those who speak out, who refuse to be bystanders, who raise their voices against injustice. When we stand up to silence, we stand up to all hate.” The video’s penultimate image merges the particular with the universal as the words “Stand up to Jewish hate” morph into “Stand up to all hate.”

Bereft of the humor and celebrity cameos of memorable Super Bowl ads, “Silence” elicited mixed reviews. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Jacob Gurvis questioned, “Was the first antisemitism-themed ad to air at the Super Bowl tactful or tasteless? How much did it have to do with Israel? And what is ‘Jewish hate,’ anyway?” Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an influential social commentator and erstwhile Republican congressional candidate, dissed the ad: “Why were they focusing on Islamophobia, racism, bigotry… when the issue of the hour is antisemitism? What a wasted opportunity.” From the Forward, Arno Rosenfeld faulted “Silence” for its lack of clarity: “[T]he ad, which used the slogan ‘stand up to Jewish hate,’ left some viewers confused.” Avi Mayer, ex-managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, quipped, “The ad was referring to antisemitism – that is, hatred *of* Jewish people – but some folks seem to think it meant hatred exhibited *by* Jewish people. Yikes.” 

Certainly, the Kraft message lacked the simple clarity of the video “Jewish Big Leaguers Support Israel,” produced by Nate Fish, Kevin Youkilis and Josh Lamberg soon after the October 7, 2023, Hamas-inflicted carnage in southern Israel. In “Jewish Big Leaguers Support Israel,” posted on X by the Israel Association of Baseball, 19 Jewish big leaguers state their names, look directly into the camera, and individually and collectively exhort listeners to “Stand against antisemitism. Stand with Israel.”

Within my own circle, responses to the Kraft ad varied considerably. David, a New York City social studies teacher, reported, “We were at a party at my brother-in-law’s house last night for the game and it was a very large, and mostly Jewish, crowd. That was the only ad that got a round of applause from the people in attendance.” An academic and an inventor, Eric observed, “A major issue implicit in the ad is solidarity across attacked groups.”  Phil, a surgeon, asserted, “The Super Bowl had a big audience; money well spent!” Larry, a prominent attorney and former president of the Boston City Council, termed the video “short but effective.” Indeed, the video was so short that some kibbitzing viewers, such as Armand, a historian, missed it. Later, viewing the ad on YouTube, he found it “repugnant and disgraceful. The phrase ‘Jewish hate’ divisive, especially when the ad is directed to Blacks.” 

Watching the Super Bowl with his two sons, Joe, founder of a law firm and a synagogue president, confided, “I don’t even remember the ad, although I’ve seen some of the ads from Robert Kraft with the blue square. It’s good that the ads exist, though, in light of prevalent antisemitism across the world.” A journalist, Mark, provided an affirmative appraisal of “Silence”: “[I]t had a very broad view of the need to stop hate of all kinds. I liked the way it mixed the visuals… It was very well done. But it was only 30 seconds … But it was a powerful effort that could be applicable to many affected groups.” A physician, Rich expressed caveats: “I don’t think it was very helpful. In the context of the Super Bowl, ads go by fast and this did not have time to sink in… I think it helped Kraft’s conscience more than anything. If it had been repeated, as were several other ads, it may have hit home better.” Sam, a former newspaper editor, suggested, “Mr. Kraft’s $7 million would have been put to better use spreading it around local outlets around the country.”

Marilyn, a retired teacher, presented an aspirational perspective: “What a great ad. Paying Super Bowl ad rates put it out there where a lot of people who would not watch ‘liberal’ outlets were exposed to it was genius.  I doubt many closed minds will be touched immediately, but it may leave subliminal markers, hopefully.” Employing size 18 font, Bernie, an E-searcher and workforce specialist, responded to my request for an appraisal of the ad from an oppositional flank: “Kraft has money... It got him out of this charge in FL. I know his motives. I don’t need to see the commercial to know its contents. But I will watch and respond when you send me your definition of ‘anti-Semitism.’” My cousin Robert also found fault: “That ad was so cringy… It is an utterly tone deaf, condescending appropriation of people of color. And since it is (apparently) only people of color who are being slaughtered by the Israelis, it was doubly gross.”

Clearly, dispute over the Kraft ad will continue, a discussion that reflects the larger debate over antisemitism and Israel.