ADL must listen to its critics

After a barrage of criticism over its failure to deal with the surge of anti-Zionist Jew-hatred, the ADL -- the Jewish people’s “defense agency” -- finally chose to respond to charges that it had embraced partisanship over its nonpartisan mission.  It took a column by North Carolina parent Kathryn Wolf published in the left-leaning Forward, whose audience the ADL cannot afford to ignore, laying out an instance where ADL erroneously warned of parents' statements at school board meetings (on COVID measures and other irrelevances) to elicit a refutation by the ADL’s senior vice president for policy, Eileen Hershenov.  
Ironically, every one of Hershenov’s responses lends credence to Wolf’s critiques.

In her letter to the Forward, Hershenov claims that Wolf distorts the ADL’s record, and that in fact the ADL is committed to an “unambiguously nonpartisan mission to fight antisemitism, regardless of whether the source is the political right or left -- or anywhere else.”  She makes her case by listing the few instances where ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt “called out” Democratic Party politicians for anti-Zionist and antisemitic rhetoric.  She boasts that “in November 2021, Greenblatt issued a clarion call against antisemitism from the far left in his annual state of hate remarks.”  And she points all the way back to 2017 when he wrote “Anti-Semitism Is Creeping Into Progressivism” in TIME magazine.

This is meaningless.  The scandal that Wolf points to is ADL’s failure for almost 30 years to understand anti-Zionism as the “new antisemitism,” let alone to combat it.  A few tweets and long-overdue, yet toothless, statements just won’t do.

It was in 1989 that the ADL first turned down a key chance to address the issue of anti-Zionism.  That was the year we were involved in forming the Boston branch of CAMERA (the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis) as a grassroots effort to combat the mainstream media’s incessant assault on Israel.  We were surprised to learn that two of Boston’s establishment Jewish leaders -- Lenny Zaikim, ADL’s chief in the Hub, and Steve Grossman, one time head of AIPAC -- wanted the ADL and not CAMERA to spearhead the effort against media bias, arguing that ADL speaks in the voice of American Jews so we should “Let the ADL be the ADL for Israel.”  

But ADL CEO Abe Foxman declined.  This was a significant, historic error.  It meant that neither the American public nor the Jews were told by the “defense agency” of the Jewish people that the media systematically promotes Palestinian propaganda about Israel as news.  Even today, after decades of media poison that falsely paints American Jews as supporters of a cruel “apartheid” nation -- and inevitably drums up violence against American Jews -- the ADL offers no analysis of media bias, let alone a strategy to correct it.

What’s more, since the start of the campus assault against Zionist students, dating roughly to the year 2000, the ADL has refused to support Jewish college students intimidated and harassed first by anti-Israel professors, and then by a panoply of leftist groups.  As with the media problem, Jewish students were helped by newer, grassroots organizations which came into existence when -- and because! -- the Jewish establishment failed them.  (The ZOA is the exception, being the only legacy organization which always fought anti-Zionism and was always there for Jewish students.)  The David Project, StandWithUs, Hasbara Fellows, SPME, CAMERA on Campus, manned the gap created by ADL’s reluctance.

Then anti-Israelism came to the high schools.  In Newton, Massachusetts, after grassroots groups organized to fight horrific, deceptive “lesson” plans, some funded by Saudi Arabia, the ADL told the Jewish community that there was no big problem in Newton schools. 

Finally, the ADL has yet to deal with Islamic Jew-hatred, much of it promoted in the guise of “criticism of Israel.”  Radical imams in mosques across America can be seen cursing Jews and radicalizing the historically moderate Muslim community.  In Boston, when we gave the ADL incontrovertible documentation that the largest mosque on the East Coast was run by the Muslim Brotherhood; they turned away.

Hershenov writes that ADL fights antisemitism whatever the source.  This claim is risible.  On April 9, 2019, Hershenov testified before a congressional hearing on racism and hate crimes and the rise of the White Nationalism.  Both her formal written statement, and her oral remarks focused almost exclusively on “white supremacism,” with no mention of Muslim antisemitism.  On the contrary, Muslims only appear in her testimony as victims of hate.  Earlier that day, the ZOA’s Mort Klein had testified to the same committee that Islamic Jew-hatred is a major problem, citing the ADL’s very own data showing that 34% of American Muslims and 49% of Muslims worldwide hate Jews.  Hershenov explained why the ADL did not act on its own alarming findings.  She said:

Um, one of the witnesses [Mort Klein] talked about global -- the global attitudes that we look at. That’s non-violent -- looking at attitudes -- and the ADL does track that.  We feel it is incumbent -- vulnerable, marginalized -- marginalized, ah, communities have bigotry within them.  It is incumbent first for members of those communities to call that out.  There are members of the Jewish community that are bigoted, that are Islamophobic, and we need to call that out…

It is ADL policy then, expressed by Hershenov herself, that Muslims are “vulnerable” and “marginalized,” that they need to call out Jew-hatred in their community on their own, there’s nothing for the ADL to do about it, and that Jewish “Islamophobia” is a parallel phenomenon.  She then cites rises in hate crimes against Muslims (third highest year) but not the much greater rise of hate crimes against Jews (68% of all religious hate crimes), many committed by Muslims.

ADL has been fixated on threats from the right because they are clinging to an outdated paradigm that supposes victim groups with a leftist orientation welcome Jews as allies, and they do not want to alienate those groups by criticizing them.  ADL seems paralyzed by the left’s shift to woke-think which casts Jews as undeservedly privileged and “white adjacent” oppressors who support “racism and genocide” against the “darker skinned” Palestinians.  Indeed, it signed a petition supporting the “Black Lives Matter Movement,” (which accuses Israel of genocide in its platform), a petition signed by violently anti-Israel (and hence antisemitic) groups like JVP and Anti-Zionist Shabbat.

Generals tend to fight the last war.  Here the ADL has shown an adamant reluctance to analyze leftist Jew-hatred like they do, should do, and have always done with white supremacist bigotry.  Recently, Jonathan Greenblatt has announced some dramatic changes in the ADL’s attitude towards left antisemitism.  But will Greenblatt walk the walk?

We need to see that ADL is developing a genuine strategy to combat modern antisemitism in all its forms, not just creating some catchy buzzwords.  Will Greenblatt re-educate ADL staff about leftist, Islamist and black supremacist antisemitism?  Will he revamp ADL workshops to include these forms of Jew-hatred, instead of focusing almost exclusively on the threat from white supremacists?  Will he take action based on his newer understanding about the left?  Will ADL, for example, seek to have frank discussions with black pastors about black antisemitism and urge them to educate their congregations?  There is so much to do, and so much ADL can do.

But until the ADL alters its strategy and begins to educate the Jewish community, and the black, gay, trans, feminist, Muslim, and Hispanic communities, about the rise and dangerous nature of modern-day Jew-hatred, they deserve all the criticism they are getting, and more.

Charles Jacobs is co-founder of The Jewish Leadership Project.

Image: ADL logo, via Wikimedia Commons // public domain

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