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The Two ADLs
Mon, 12/06/2010 - 19:00
Special to The Jewish Week

The Anti-Defamation League claims, in its mission statement, to “fight anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry in the U.S. and abroad,” a cause that one would expect almost all of American Jewry to support. Indeed, the organization garnered almost $60 million last year to do that work.

Some of the ADL’s recent actions, however, have not advanced the goal of combating anti-Semitism and have led to controversy in the Jewish community. This month, the group’s national director, Abraham Foxman, rebuked former President Jimmy Carter over recent anti-Israel remarks and for “going back on his word” to the Jewish community. In October, the ADL included a Jewish organization, Jewish Voice for Peace, in its “Top 10 Anti-Israel Groups.” This summer, the ADL opposed the location of Park51, the planned Islamic center near Ground Zero, prompting a widespread backlash of criticism.

In my role as the editor of a national Jewish student magazine, I’ve seen these stories hurt the ADL’s reputation among young Jews. Mainstream blogs for young Jews have admonished the organization, and a study by historian Jack Wertheimer suggests that the ADL’s recent actions do not resonate with most Jews under 40.

All of this controversy stands in contrast to the ADL’s communal work. In cities nationwide, the group — with a range of local partners — sponsors No Place for Hate, an anti-bias program active in hundreds of schools. The program mandates that the schools form anti-bias committees, sign “Resolutions of Respect” and complete three activities celebrating diversity. In Chicago, the group organizes the African-American/Jewish Freedom Seder with the Chicago Urban League, an event that unites the city’s black and Jewish communities and that, according to the ADL, drew more than 500 people last year. At the group’s annual meeting in October, Foxman delivered an address decrying Islamophobia, and in December — seven months before the Park51 controversy — the ADL advocated against a Swiss ban on minarets.

It seems as if there are two organizations within the ADL. One focuses on Israel’s detractors and the second carries out the ADL’s mission: fighting bigotry and anti-Semitism. Decades ago, when Jews were marching with blacks for civil rights, the fights against anti-Semitism and bigotry were obviously consonant. Without those unifying causes, the ADL needs to show that those fights are still the same today.

The former of these two ADLs, however, gets most of the attention — both from the media and from the group itself. The anti-Israel list’s mention of Jewish Voice for Peace, a student-driven group that promotes boycotting the settlements, has provoked criticism among some young Jews. Ben Murane, editor of the popular Jewish blog Jewschool, wrote on his personal blog that according to the ADL, “Unless Israel is portrayed in the most positive of lights, then one can be accused of being anti-Israel, which is not what the term ‘anti-Israel’ should mean.”

Murane is not alone. On Jewlicious, another popular Jewish site, a blogger — commenting on the TV show “Glee” — mocked the ADL’s penchant for declaring anti-Semitism by writing, “I’m not Abe Foxman and Jewlicious is not the ADL and I am not at all suggesting that Glee’s writers are anti-Semitic.” An Oct. 27 article in The Forward quotes a young employee at a Jewish organization as saying that the ADL’s policies “have looked grossly out of sync with its mission and its values.”

Young Jews may not even prioritize particularistic Jewish values anymore. The Wertheimer study shows that anti-Semitism and delegitimization of Israel are lesser concerns among Jews in their 20s and 30s relative to their parents’ generation. While Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, may still feel compelled to defend Israel, emerging Jewish leaders do not find his work so necessary.

Anti-Semitism does still exist, even in the United States. This month, the ADL introduced a tolerance curriculum into a California school where students had been playing a game called “Beat the Jew.” And much of today’s anti-Zionism may be a disguise for anti-Semitism. Jewish organizations fighting this bigotry, therefore, are no less necessary now than they once were. We cannot dismiss current anti-Semitism on the grounds that American Jews, as a group, are privileged and powerful.

The ADL needs to continue pursuing its mission, but it also must change its image by transforming its public persona. Instead of releasing statements admonishing Jewish student organizations, the group should focus its message on programs like No Place for Hate and Chicago’s Freedom Seder. Its public statements should reflect a group that universalizes the fight against bigotry — highlighting its work against Islamophobia and for gay rights, causes that will energize young Jews.

There should not be any dissonance between the two parts of the ADL’s mission. It can no longer take contradictory stances such as fighting Islamophobia while opposing the construction of an Islamic center. If the ADL can show young Jews, rather, that the struggle against anti-Semitism and the struggle against Islamophobia are part of the same fight against hate, it will have once again become the principled organization it was meant to be. 

Ben Sales is editor of New Voices, a national Jewish student publication.


ADL, anti-Semitism

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"It seems as if there are two organizations within the ADL. One focuses on Israel’s detractors and the second carries out the ADL’s mission: fighting bigotry and anti-Semitism." The ADL undermines its credibility by taking contrary positions on how it believes the Israel should act and how it believes the US and Europe should act when confronted with the same problem. The ADL, for example, considers it anti-Semitic to criticize Israel's building border fences to keep out illegal immigrants, terrorists, smugglers, and other undesirables. The ADL also considers it _appropriate_ to criticize what it sees as racist attempts by Americans to build a fence along our border with Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants, narco- and Islamic terrorists, drug smugglers, and other undesirables. Israel's fence is portrayed as a laudable effort to protect Jews, their culture, and their demographic majority; America's fence is seen portrayed as a physical manifestation of White paranoia and racism. At best, contradictions such as this confuse ADL's message and impugn its credibility, at worst it opens the door to accusations of hypocrisy and, in some circles, anti-White racism.
Despite it's core mission of fighting antisemitism and it's stated commitment to combating islamophobia, the ADL seems to be all too willing to drum up hatred against both Jews and Muslims in order to promote the Zionist cause. By trying to tie the fight against antisemitism to mandatory support for the Zionist apartheid state and it's crimes, organizations such as the ADL are not only guilty of bullying people into supporting an unconscionable regime in the most intellectually dishonest way, but also of actually discrediting their otherwise legitimate cause and jeopardizing the safety of Jewish communities and Jewish people around the world in the process. This isn't about 'liberalism' or 'conservatism.' It is about what was once a civil rights organization supporting the denial of people's civil rights. It is about dishonestly conflating anti-Zionism with antisemitism. It is about inexcusable intellectual bullying on the ADL's part as well as on the part of Zionists extremists in general.
Here Here to the death of conservatism. If this talented young writer represents the future of Jews... we are headed to one big enlightened assimilated mish mash! The ADL should never bow down to this liberal pressure or close down before being forced to do so. The Jewish people do not need ANOTHER organization that bends over to please the world that continues to trample over us and scape goat us for its troubles.
Israel is doing everything possible to deligitimize itself. I used to support Israel but no longer since a crazed group of religious fanatics have taken over. They are matching any thing coming from the ayatollahs. We now have Rabbis telling Jews not to rent or sell property to non-Jews. We have former Chief Rabbi Yosef, leader of the Shas, stating that non-Jews were created, like donkeys, to serve the Jews and therefore can be killed with impunity. A nice Hitleresque view of a Jewish "master race". Then we have a popular book, Torat Hamelech, that was written by two Rabbis and supported by many more is a justification to kill non-Jews and even their babies pre-emptively. Other Rabbis are saying that it's Ok to use Palestinian children as "human shields". Polls of Israelis show that racism is ingrained throughout. I pity the poor Palestinians having to cope with this.