GUEST COMMENTARY - We shall state our position at the outset: The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) does not speak for all Jews, it certainly does not speak for us—the daughters of Holocaust survivors and refugees—and increasingly, it does not speak for anyone who cares about justice and human rights.
Despite some laudable activism historically, the ADL is losing credibility as a civil rights organization and with good reason.
In remarks made to the ADL Virtual National Leadership Summit, ADL’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, engaged in a range of misconceptions and distortions that are beyond the scope of this short piece to address. Early in his presentation, he equated antizionism with antisemitism, a strategy now used to deflect criticism of Israel’s gross violations of Palestinian human rights, shielding Israel from any accountability. However, perhaps most disgraceful was the false moral equivalence he drew between antizionism—which he regards as a form of extremism—and white nationalism. He states: “Antizionism as an ideology is rooted in rage. It is predicated on one concept: the negation of another people, a concept as alien to the modern discourse as white supremacy.”
Hence, in Mr. Greenblatt’s view, those of us—progressive Jews and others— who speak critically of Israeli policy, in defense of Palestinian human rights, and equality between Jews and Palestinians are antizionists and hence, antisemites and extremists, as evil in our intent and impact as white supremacists. If ever an argument existed that undermines the fight against antisemitism, it is this one with its false assertions, false equivalencies, and forced division within the Jewish community, and between Jews and other progressive groups.
Our personal histories and understanding of Judaism demand that we condemn the domination of one people over another, oppose Jewish supremacy in all its forms, especially its 2018 codification into Israeli law, and continue to struggle against the deliberate dispossession of the Palestinian people and the destruction of their society.
According to a 2021 poll by the Jewish Electoral Institute, twenty percent of American Jews support legal equality between Jews and Palestinians in one state. Twenty-eight percent think Israel is practicing apartheid. As the recent editorial in the Harvard Crimson shows, students increasingly understand the struggle for Palestinian liberation as the anti-apartheid struggle of their generation. Rather than engage with students and others in a campaign to end Israel’s abusive occupation and violation of human rights—which is also in Israel’s long-term interest—the ADL would rather cast accusations of antisemitism at anyone who criticizes Zionism in an attempt to weaken widening popular support for the Palestinian cause.
In his speech, Mr. Greenblatt said the following: “We will not stop speaking out against injustice whether against Orthodox Jews or the unaffiliated; Ashkenazi or Sephardi or Mizrahi; but also will not stop speaking out on behalf of all minorities, Mormons and Muslims, Bahai and Buddhists, AAPI and LGBTQ, and anyone who is targeted and victimized because of their identity.”
Does this mean the ADL is prepared to speak out against the expulsion (read: forcible transfer) by Israel (with the sanction of Israel’s High Court of Justice) of at least 1,000 Palestinian Muslim residents of Masafer Yatta in the West Bank’s South Hebron Hills, who have been living there for generations, so that the Israeli army may use it as a firing zone? Up to twelve Palestinian villages will be destroyed and with them, a living Bedouin culture.
We believe that the best way to fight antisemitism is for Jews to join with other groups that are fighting racism and the rise of white supremacy. Especially now, when minority rights in particular are under siege on so many fronts, attacking justice organizations in the name of Jewish safety makes us all less safe. Throwing charges of antisemitism at anti-racist organizations weakens what should be a common struggle. Mr. Greenblatt’s statement seems to be solidifying progressive condemnation of the ADL. Major Muslim, Jewish and social justice organizations are beginning to distance themselves and calling on other progressives “to reconsider the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as a partner in social justice work.”
Towards the end of his address to the ADL Summit, Mr. Greenblatt said, “We will not be silent. We will not be deterred. We will not be passive in the face of prejudice.’’
Neither will we, Mr. Greenblatt.
(Elsa Auerbach, Professor Emerita, Department of English, University of Massachusetts Boston, Sara Roy, Senior Research Scholar, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University and Eve Spangler, Associate Professor of Sociology, Boston College.)