Clarence Jones in an ad from the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism that will air during the Super Bowl on Feb. 11. (Photo/Courtesy of FCAS)
Clarence Jones in an ad from the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism that will air during the Super Bowl on Feb. 11. (Photo/Courtesy of FCAS)

Civil rights icon Clarence Jones stars in Super Bowl ad about racism and antisemitism

As a lawyer and adviser to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Clarence Jones often worked behind the scenes of the Civil Rights Movement. At age 93, he is getting a moment in the spotlight — in a Super Bowl commercial.

On Sunday, an ad featuring Jones speaking out about the evils of racism and antisemitism will air during the broadcast of the game between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs. The 30-second spot, produced by Robert Kraft’s Foundation to Combat Antisemitism (FCAS), is believed to be the first Super Bowl ad to broach the topic of Jew hatred. More than 100 million people are expected to be watching.

“The message is silence in the face of racism and antisemitism is not an option,” Jones, director of the Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice at the University of San Francisco, told J. on Friday. “I’m hoping that people will look at that commercial with an open mind and open heart.”

Jones worked closely with Jewish allies during the Civil Rights Movement and has been vocal about the importance of Black-Jewish solidarity. He is the chairman of Spill the Honey, a nonprofit that works to strengthen the alliance between Black and Jewish communities.

That alliance is “under siege” at the moment, Jones said, with renewed tensions caused by the Israel-Hamas war.

“Black people have an affirmative obligation to not remain silent in the face of obvious antisemitism, and Jewish people have an affirmative obligation to not remain silent in the face of obvious racism against Black people,” he said. “To be silent in the presence of hate makes you complicit in that hate.”

Jones met Kraft, the billionaire philanthropist and owner of the New England Patriots, for the first time just a few weeks ago. Kraft already had a Super Bowl commercial in the can, but after the meeting he decided to enlist Jones to appear in a new spot, according to Jones. FCAS paid around $7 million to run it during the Super Bowl.

Jones worked with King from 1960 until his assassination in 1968 and helped draft King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In the commercial, Jones reflects on what he would write for King to say today about the surge of hate in America. He wears a blue square pin, a symbol of the FCAS #StandUpToJewishHate media campaign.

In a press release, Kraft said he chose Jones for the commercial because he is the “embodiment of FCAS’ mission to build bridges and stand up to Jewish hate and all forms of hate.”

He added, “With this ad, we hope to continue to spread Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of unity and equality at a time in which the country needs it most.”

Earlier this month, FCAS posted a video on X of Kraft calling to break the news to Jones that the ad would be running during the Super Bowl. After hearing the news, Jones began to cry.

“I was crying because I know the reaction that Martin King would have,” he told J. “My tears were his tears.”

Asked if he had seen the Netflix biopic on Bayard Rustin, the architect of the 1963 March on Washington at which King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, Jones replied, “I thought it was very well done. I knew every major person that was portrayed, including Bayard himself.”

Since Jones lives in Palo Alto, he must be rooting for the 49ers … right?

“I’m going to keep quiet on that,” he said with a laugh. “But I played football in college at Columbia. I love football.”

Super Bowl LVIII will be broadcast on CBS starting at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten

Andrew Esensten is the culture editor of J. Previously, he was a staff writer for the English-language edition of Haaretz based in Tel Aviv. Follow him on Twitter @esensten.