Beware the Anti-Defamation League’s Efforts to Partner with Progressive Orgs

The Anti-Defamation League has a long history of smearing Black activists, working with police, and evoking “hate speech” to demonize the peaceful BDS movement.

Sarah Lazare and Adam Johnson July 21, 2020

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, speaks at the ADL Shana Amy Glass National Leadership Summit at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, May 6, 2018. (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Most every­one can agree that Face­book and oth­er social media giants should work to delist and deplat­form hate speech, but the essen­tial ques­tion as to what con­sti­tutes hate” receives sur­pris­ing­ly lit­tle scruti­ny — and even less clar­i­ty. A new cam­paign called #StopHate­For­Prof­it was recent­ly launched by a coali­tion of pro­gres­sive groups to pres­sure large cor­po­ra­tions to boy­cott Face­book until the com­pa­ny takes con­crete steps to com­bat hate speech. #StopHateForProfit’s seem­ing­ly siz­able P.R. roll out has, in recent weeks, seen major cor­po­ra­tions from Coca-Cola to Pfiz­er to Ver­i­zon co-sign demands for Face­book to stop pro­mot­ing hate, big­otry, racism, anti­semitism and violence.”

The ADL’s decades-long embrace of American police departments and anti-immigrant federal agencies is firmly at odds with the current moment.

Aside from pro­vid­ing some of the most odi­ous cor­po­ra­tions on earth with a low-effort rep­u­ta­tion-laun­der­ing P.R. win in the wake of the George Floyd protests, the cam­paign itself cer­tain­ly has its heart in the right place. Pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions like Col­or of Change, the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion for the Advance­ment of Col­ored Peo­ple (NAACP), Free Press, Sleep­ing Giants and League of Unit­ed Latin Amer­i­can Cit­i­zens (LULAC) have co-spon­sored the effort and are using their social media to solic­it oth­er cor­po­ra­tions to join the effort. They are under­stand­ably eager for some­thing to be done. From anti-Black racism, anti-Semit­ic bile involv­ing George Soros tak­ing over the world, and anti-immi­grant hate, to Pres­i­dent Trump’s overt use of white nation­al­ist pro­pa­gan­da on social media, any­one who’s spent time on Face­book can tell you it’s a cesspool of dis­gust­ing, racist paranoia.

Which is what makes the inclu­sion of the Anti-Defama­tion League (ADL) in the coali­tion so troubling.

Despite its pub­lic por­tray­al of itself, the ADL isn’t a civ­il rights group in any mean­ing­ful sense, but rather, a veiled pro-Israel lob­by­ing orga­ni­za­tion that uses super­fi­cial lan­guage of inclu­sive­ness and anti-racism to defend Israel from crit­i­cism from the left. The ADL already assists large social media plat­forms in deter­min­ing what is and isn’t hate speech, and by team­ing up with the #StopHate­For­Prof­it effort, the group will like­ly have even more say in deter­min­ing what con­tent is wor­thy of pub­li­ca­tion. The prob­lem is that the ADL has made it clear on a num­ber of occa­sions that it con­sid­ers the entire basis of the peace­ful Boy­cott, Divest­ment, Sanc­tions (BDS) move­ment — embraced by vir­tu­al­ly all of Pales­tin­ian civ­il soci­ety — to be hate speech, specif­i­cal­ly any claim that denies Israel’s exis­tence as a Jew­ish state” (e.g. its claim to eth­nona­tion­al suprema­cy over non-Jews liv­ing in Pales­tine). The ADL’s web­site clear­ly states, Anti-Israel activ­i­ty cross­es the line to anti-Semi­tism” with any state­ment that Israel is denied the right to exist as a Jew­ish state,” and that the found­ing goals of the BDS move­ment and many of the strate­gies used by BDS cam­paigns are anti-Semitic.”

Put anoth­er way, if Pales­tini­ans don’t co-sign their own eth­nic cleans­ing by agree­ing with the rad­i­cal premise that the land of their birth, or where their fam­i­lies are from, is axiomat­i­cal­ly meant for Jews, they are, accord­ing to the ADL, engag­ing in racist speech. So too will non-Pales­tin­ian allies of Pales­tine be paint­ed as racists: Recent­ly, the ADL’s deputy nation­al direc­tor took to the New York Times to accuse Peter Beinart, who was once among the most promi­nent lib­er­al Zion­ist writ­ers in the Unit­ed States, of anti-Semi­tism for announc­ing that he now sup­ports one state based on equal rights.

The use of anti-hate-speech laws and reg­u­la­tions to snuff out calls for equal rights in Pales­tine is not the­o­ret­i­cal — it’s com­mon prac­tice already in France, which has used such laws to effec­tive­ly make the BDS move­ment ille­gal. While these are laws, not social media rules of con­duct, the prin­ci­ple is the same: Any speech that calls into ques­tion Israel’s right to exist as a eth­no-suprema­cist state is de fac­to anti-Semitic.

In 2017, the ADL accused the Move­ment for Black Lives (M4BL), a grass­roots Black Lives Mat­ter orga­ni­za­tion found­ed in 2014, of anti-Semi­tism, a form of hate speech, because M4BL’s plat­form read, in part, The U.S. jus­ti­fies and advances the glob­al war on ter­ror via its alliance with Israel and is com­plic­it in the geno­cide tak­ing place against the Pales­tin­ian peo­ple.” It fol­lows that if the M4BL were to post this state­ment on social media, it’s like­ly the ADL would view it as hate speech and demand Face­book take it down. If the ADL views the foun­da­tion­al doc­u­ments of the M4BL as includ­ing hate speech, how can the ADL pos­si­bly assert itself as a moral author­i­ty in this moment? Has the ADL’s posi­tion changed since 2017, or does the ADL still to this day con­sid­er the M4BL’s plat­form anti-Semitic?

The ADL smear­ing Black activists who oppose Israel isn’t new. In the 1960s, the ADL harsh­ly crit­i­cized the Black-led Stu­dent Non­vi­o­lent Coor­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee (SNCC) and the Black Pan­thers for their crit­i­cisms of Israel, equat­ing these negro extrem­ists” with the KKK and Amer­i­can Nazi Par­ty. The ADL also worked with the Israeli gov­ern­ment in the 1960s, 70s and 80s to spy on Arab groups, as well as left­wing anti-South African apartheid activists. As Pulitzer Prize-win­ning author Glenn Frankel not­ed in For­eign Pol­i­cy mag­a­zine in 2010, The Anti-Defama­tion League par­tic­i­pat­ed in a bla­tant pro­pa­gan­da cam­paign against Nel­son Man­dela and the ANC in the mid 1980s and employed an alleged fact-find­er’ named Roy Bul­lock to spy on the anti-apartheid cam­paign in the Unit­ed States — a ser­vice he was simul­ta­ne­ous­ly per­form­ing for the South African gov­ern­ment. The ADL defend­ed the white régime’s pur­port­ed con­sti­tu­tion­al reforms while denounc­ing the ANC as total­i­tar­i­an anti-humane, anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic, anti-Israel, and anti-American.’”

The ADL’s past tac­tics and cur­rent actions com­pel clar­i­fi­ca­tion: Do pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions in the #StopHate­For­Prof­it coali­tion agree with the ADL’s def­i­n­i­tion of hate speech” that includes BDS advo­ca­cy? Does the coali­tion have an agreed upon def­i­n­i­tion of what con­sti­tutes hate speech? These ques­tions are not aca­d­e­m­ic — they could (and like­ly already do) deter­mine whether or not Pales­tini­ans and their allies who call for boy­cotts on Israel will be dri­ven off social media plat­forms for hate speech.” Is the ADL’s def­i­n­i­tion of hate speech” that includes dele­git­imiz­ing” Israel some­thing groups like Free Press want to endorse?

In These Times reached out to all the groups in the coali­tion, ask­ing if they agree with the ADL’s def­i­n­i­tion of hate speech, but none returned our inquiry except for the Mozil­la Foun­da­tion, which direct­ed us to their pub­lic state­ment which reads, We’re proud to join #StopHate­For­Prof­it.” The ADL also did not respond when asked for clar­i­fi­ca­tion on their work­ing def­i­n­i­tion of hate speech with regard to the BDS movement.

Social jus­tice orga­niz­ers con­cerned about the ADL’s track record were, how­ev­er, will­ing to go on the record. The ADL’s agen­da is to dele­git­imize Pales­tine sol­i­dar­i­ty,” Lara Kiswani, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Arab Resource and Orga­niz­ing Cen­ter, tells In These Times. Any­thing they’re doing, one should see from that lens.”

Sijal Nas­ral­la, cam­paign direc­tor for MPow­er Change, a Mus­lim-led racial jus­tice orga­ni­za­tion, agrees. The ADL is not an ally, and the ADL is not what it seems,” says Nas­ral­la. They’re not a pro­gres­sive leader in the move­ment we’re build­ing, espe­cial­ly in this cur­rent moment around an inter­na­tion­al rejec­tion of police vio­lence and mil­i­ta­riza­tion, which extends to the U.S. and oth­er coun­tries in the world, includ­ing Palestine.”

Aaron Jamal, who asked that only his first and mid­dle name be used, iden­ti­fies as a Black orga­niz­er and rev­o­lu­tion­ary, is part of the M4BL, and par­tic­i­pat­ed in the World With­out Walls” del­e­ga­tion to Pales­tine last Novem­ber. He told In These Times, What the Move­ment for Black Lives wants is a com­plete trans­for­ma­tion of soci­ety, [this] is in direct oppo­si­tion to pseu­do civ­il rights orgs like the ADL that claim to be for pro­gres­sive move­ment but actu­al­ly act in the oppo­site way.”

Com­pound­ing these issues is the awk­ward fact that, in a move­ment defined by oppo­si­tion to the police state, the ADL has a long track record of work­ing with police depart­ments, ICE and oth­er law enforce­ment orga­ni­za­tions, help­ing arrange and fund mis­sions to Israel for these enti­ties to learn about counter-ter­ror” tac­tics from the Israel Defense Forces and oth­er Israeli police and mil­i­tary forces. These inter­na­tion­al exchanges are so harm­ful that the pro­gres­sive Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tion, Jew­ish Voice for Peace, has an entire cam­paign ded­i­cat­ed to stop­ping them, apt­ly titled, Dead­ly Exchange.” Includ­ed with­in this cam­paign is an effort to pres­sure the ADL to stop host­ing Nation­al Counter Ter­ror­ism Sem­i­nars” and Advanced Train­ing Schools.” Jew­ish Voice for Peace writes in a sign-on let­ter to the ADL, made pub­lic well before the advent of the #StopHate­For­Prof­it coali­tion, Dis­patch­ing U.S. law enforce­ment to trade tac­tics with Israeli police and mil­i­tary agents defends and deep­ens Israel’s sys­tems of mil­i­tary occu­pa­tion, and exac­er­bates the exist­ing cri­sis of police vio­lence in the U.S.”

To be clear, polit­i­cal coali­tions are about tem­po­rary alliances, not ide­o­log­i­cal puri­ty. But the ADL’s decades-long embrace of Amer­i­can police depart­ments and anti-immi­grant fed­er­al agen­cies is firm­ly at odds with the cur­rent moment, and with the state­ments of groups like Free Press that con­demn police crack­downs and crit­i­cize news sto­ries that repeat police talk­ing points with no crit­i­cal analy­sis.” Do the pro­gres­sive groups in the #StopHate­For­Prof­it coali­tion think the ADL, which pro­motes counter-ter­ror” train­ing sem­i­nars with mil­i­taries that have a his­to­ry of racist vio­lence, should help arbi­trate what is and isn’t hate speech?

In 2018, ADL CEO and nation­al direc­tor Jonathan Green­blatt accom­pa­nied Pres­i­dent Trump’s daugh­ter, Ivan­ka Trump, his son-in-law and advi­sor Jared Kush­n­er, and hate preach­ers John Hagee and Robert Jef­fress, as part of a large del­e­ga­tion of Amer­i­cans sup­port­ing Trump’s mov­ing of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Green­blatt took self­ies in front of the embassy seal and praised the move by Trump, one opposed by the vast major­i­ty of coun­tries on earth. In ADL’s defense, it did vague­ly con­demn the pres­ence of Jef­fries (though it was mum on Hagee, a Chris­t­ian Zion­ist with a his­to­ry of racism and anti-Semi­tism), but it’s not at all clear what sup­port­ing Trump’s embassy move has to do with com­bat­ing hate.” Nor is it clear what ADL’s qual­i­fied defense of the far-right Israeli government’s annex­a­tion of large parts of the West Bank has to do with com­bat­ing hate,” or what the ADL lob­by­ing to oppose Obama’s Iran Deal, or sup­port Trump’s max­i­mum-pres­sure sanc­tions on Iran, has to do with civ­il rights.”

The answer, of course, is that the ADL is not an anti-hate speech orga­ni­za­tion or a civ­il rights orga­ni­za­tion. It is, rather, a pro-Israel lob­by­ing group specif­i­cal­ly tasked with pro­tect­ing Israel from left­wing crit­i­cism by co-opt­ing the lan­guage of anti-racism to smear crit­ics of Israel as bigots.

Obvi­ous­ly, there will nev­er be a per­fect def­i­n­i­tion of hate speech,” and the absence of one does not mean we should do noth­ing. But the issue here isn’t a lack of per­fec­tion — it’s that the ADL’s cur­rent, well-doc­u­ment­ed def­i­n­i­tion is designed to smear Pales­tini­ans attempt­ing to push for equal rights as no dif­fer­ent from 4chan Nazis. This is a tox­ic alliance, and one all of those fight­ing for equal rights should reject. There are plen­ty of pro­gres­sive, Jew­ish-led orga­ni­za­tions — IfNot­Now, Jew­ish Voice for Peace — that don’t work to deplat­form peace­ful boy­cotts of Israel, to say noth­ing of the dozens of Pales­tin­ian and Black-led orga­ni­za­tions work­ing to build bridges between those sub­ject­ed to racism in Israel and in the Unit­ed States. Lib­er­al activists can and should part­ner with these groups to pres­sure Face­book, not lend pro­gres­sive cred­i­bil­i­ty to a pro-apartheid front group try­ing to co-opt­ing civ­il rights dis­course to fur­ther silence Pales­tin­ian voices.

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