Malcolm Hoenlein on his burgeoning friendship with Nick Cannon

Fast friends

The pair have shared multiple conversations and meetings — including Shabbat dinner

Loren Javier/Flickr

Nick Cannon

Three months after coming under public scrutiny — and his highly publicized firing from ViacomCBS — for making antisemitic comments on his podcast, actor Nick Cannon has worked to make amends with the Jewish community: He has devoured Bari Weiss’s How to Fight Anti-Semitism, hosted rabbis on his podcast and toured a Holocaust museum. 

While much of Hollywood has moved on from the scandal, Cannon has continued his outreach to the Jewish community, including a growing friendship with Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The pair first began talking, Hoenlein said, shortly after controversy erupted over Cannon’s podcast with rapper Richard Griffin, who was kicked out of Public Enemy in 1989 for making antisemitic comments. Cannon and Griffin engaged in back-and-forth commentary that included clear antisemitic tropes. 

“Somebody close to him connected us, and then he reached out to talk to me and to begin a dialogue that has continued steady throughout this kind of for months now,” Hoenlein told Jewish Insider on Monday of their connection. “It’s led to many hours of discussion. He came even to Friday night dinner at my daughter’s house.” The Shabbat dinner in Teaneck, N.J., Hoenlein believes, was Cannon’s first. “He spent hours talking with my family — my children, grandchildren.”

Since then, Hoenlein has met with the actor numerous times, including a dinner at Manhattan’s UN Plaza Grill last week. Hoenlein and Cannon were also photographed holding up a poster that read “stop Jew hatred.”

In the interview with JI, Hoenlein praised Cannon for his commitment to not only engaging with the Jewish community, but also learning from his missteps. “He made a mistake,” Hoenlein said, “but he has faced up to what he did and publicly spoke about doing t’shuvah.” 

“This guy is anything but an antisemite,” Hoenlein added. “He fasted on Tisha B’av. Because he didn’t know it started at night, he fasted until the next morning.”

“He speaks whole Hebrew sentences, because he studies it,” Hoenlein said of Cannon. “I have fought antisemitism for five decades. I see one and I know somebody who is not.”

Hoenlein was hopeful Cannon could help not just educate younger generations about antisemitism and stereotypes, but also encourage other influencers to use their celebrity status to raise awareness about antisemitism. 

The Jewish communal leader cautioned against the reaction, observed in the aftermath of Cannon’s controversial comments, to immediately cast the actor as an antisemite. 

“We all react to these things, as we should, and we have to condemn antisemitism in whatever way when it appears,” Hoenlein suggested. “But not to jump to a conclusion that this is some ingrained ideology or hatred of a [certain person]. We have to be very careful about the use of the term and not have the term so misused and thrown around in careless ways.”

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