The following open letter was shared with Mondoweiss.
Friday, Feb 17th, 2017
We have written this letter in the hope that we can discuss the issues raised below with others from Jewish social justice groups and communities. We hope you will consider them as relevant and worthy of discussion as we do.
We very much appreciate that this moment calls for a strong, broad, united front against the Trump administration’s agenda and actions and the vilification of immigrants, refugees, and Muslims, among many others. However, we question whether there are groups within our communities with which, in good conscience, we cannot and should not stand. We know similar questions have been asked in many different contexts over the years; we find it particularly salient at this moment.
Specifically, we refer to the February 12 rallies in support of refugees in which Jewish social justice groups cosponsored the action with, among others, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC), two organizations that have toxic anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian policies. The rally, protesting the President’s “recent actions against refugees” (although, notably, the word “Muslim” is absent from the February 12 call to action), included these two groups among the most prominent national co-sponsors.
We can only begin to address this issue if we know about the ADL and AJC’s long history of Islamophobic and anti-Arab actions.
Here are some specifics:
- During the many years in which the NYPD engaged in surveillance of Muslim communities, the ADL, despite its stated mission of protecting “civil rights for all,” was notably silent. Even after 2011 AP revelations made public the NYPD surveillance operations, the ADL gave an award to the commanding officer of the NYPD Intelligence Division that had implemented the discriminatory surveillance program. This is perhaps not surprising, given that the ADL has its own history of “illegal spying against Arab-American and other civil rights groups,” going back to the 1950s, including sharing information about these groups with the FBI. They also labeled Muslim community groups as “terrorist sympathizers” and tried to exclude them from the public sphere.
- The AJC has helped normalize Islamophobia by lauding anti-Muslim books on the airwaves written by such pillars of the Islamophobia network in America as Steve Emerson, author of Jihad in America, who has claimed that Islam “sanctions genocide, planned genocide, as part of its religious doctrine”; and Daniel Pipes, author of Militant Islam Reaches America, who believes that “militant Islam” is “infiltrating America” and supports student monitoring of professors for their views on Israel and Palestine.
- The AJC has also supported legislation like the Patriot Act that targeted and disproportionately criminalized those in Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian communities; backed the 2011 anti-Muslim congressional hearings led by Representative Peter King that perniciously equated Islam and terrorism; and failed to oppose white nationalist and key presidential advisor Stephen Bannon.
- The ADL and AJC backed the appointment by President George W. Bush of Daniel Pipes to the board of the United State Institute for Peace.
- Both the ADL and AJC routinely smear and try to silence groups speaking out for justice in Palestine/Israel and students doing pro-Palestine organizing at their college campuses.
- Both the ADL and AJC have taken money from funders of anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian hate: for example, $550,000 to the ADL from the Sheldon Adelson Foundation (2007-2013), which funds groups like Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the Endowment for Middle East Truth (MEET), and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA); and hundreds of thousands of dollars to the AJC from several of the main funders of the Islamophobia-Israel network in America.
Neither the ADL nor the AJC has ever publicly renounced or apologized for these actions or disassociated themselves from these virulently Islamophobic individuals, groups and funders.
We understand that the ADL and AJC, along with the majority of Jewish groups, support the welcoming of refugees and that the ADL also articulates positive positions on issues such as hate crimes and (for the most part) building local mosques. ADL has also spoken out and worked with a number of communities against bigotry. But the issues we are raising are not about co-sponsoring an event with an organization that has some good views as well as some that may be inconsistent with a more progressive agenda, but, rather, co-sponsoring with organizations that have long histories of demonizing and targeting Muslims, Palestinians, and other Arabs.
Co-sponsoring an event and signing statements with such organizations—ones that foment the very Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism we are committed to challenging—can serve to legitimize the ADL and AJC’s anti-Muslim, anti-Palestine history and policies and, in effect, obscure (or even unintentionally promote) their bigoted agenda.
This kind of co-sponsorship ends up hurting both the struggle against Islamophobia and those being targeted. The targets of ADL and AJC policies are not the Jews who cosponsor these events. The targets are Muslims and Palestinians and other Arabs. Members of Muslim social justice communities have articulated strong concerns about Muslim organizations joining forces with groups like the AJC and ADL that promote Islamophobia and are anti-Palestinian. As partners in this work, we believe those of us in Jewish social justice groups should be mindful of the impact of our choices on those with whom we stand in solidarity. (If an organization promoted anti-Semitism in the ways that the ADL and AJC promote anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian policies, the co-sponsors of the February 12 action would certainly—and correctly—be uncomfortable sponsoring an event with them.)
Some may roll their eyes and say that we are insisting on “political purity” or that we are being politically “rigid” or “divisive” at the wrong time. But we are raising these issues because we—like so many others—don’t want to be accomplices to injustice or to inadvertently perpetuate the Islamophobia we oppose. We also know that, because the current political moment requires those of us who are not being targeted daily to remain constantly vigilant, we must ask difficult questions and challenge ourselves critically.
We are deeply committed to building with new people and new communities. But, for us, this does not automatically translate into supporting a “big tent” with Jewish organizations actively promoting Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian positions. We know that all of us want to be certain that we do our work as Jews in this struggle as ethical, principled partners genuinely standing in solidarity with Muslims, Palestinians, and all targeted communities.
We welcome an open discussion on these issues.
Rabbi Brant Rosen
Rabbi Alissa Wise
Here is the action we refer to that took place on Sunday, February 12:
President Trump’s recent actions against refugees are an outrage and a betrayal of American and Jewish values.
Join HIAS, the refugee agency of the Jewish community, to demand that America’s doors are reopened to refugees fleeing violence and persecution. In the 1930’s, Jewish refugees were turned away from these shores in their greatest hour of need. Our community must stand up for refugees, and not allow history to repeat itself.
Join us for a powerful community action at Battery Park. Come raise up your voice to protect the Statue of Liberty and all that she stands for and recognize the many people whose lives are at risk if they are unable to find safety here in this country.
Sister actions will be held the same day around the country. See www.hias.org/day-of-action for the full list.
The event will happen, rain or shine!
National co-sponsors (list in formation): American Jewish Committee, American Jewish World Service, Anti-Defamation League, Avodah, Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation, Hebrew Union College, J Street, Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, Jewish Council on Public Affairs, Jewish Theological Seminary, Keys for Refugees, Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, National Council of Jewish Women, New Israel Fund, Rabbinical Assembly, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, T’ruah, Union for Reform Judaism, Uri L’Tzedek, Women of Reform Judaism, Workman’s Circle
Local co-sponsors (list in formation): American Jewish Committee – NY, Anti-Defamation League – NY, Bet Am Shalom Synagogue, B’nai Jeshurun Congregation, Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, Brotherhood Synagogue, Central Synagogue, Community Synagogue of Rye, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, Congregation Beth Elohim, Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York, Congregation Mount Sinai, Congregation Rodeph Sholom, Congregation Shaare Tzedek, Congregation Tehillah, Darkhei Noam, East End Temple, Educational Alliance, Jewish Congregation of New Paltz, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Kolot Chayeinu, Lab/Shul, Mechon Hadar, NCJW – NY, Park Slope Jewish Center, Progressive Temple Beth Ahavath Shalom, Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore, Repair the World NYC, Romemu, Shaarei Tikvah, Society for the Advancement of Judaism, Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, Temple B’nai Abraham, Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester, Temple Israel of Northern Westchester, Temple Emanu-El of East Meadow, Temple Sinai of Roslyn, The Reform Temple of Forest Hills, Town and Village Synagogue, Union Temple, Westchester Jewish Center, Woodlands Community Temple