No place for the ADL

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In his recent OpEd in Mondoweiss, Robert Lord wrote that “To end [Israel’s] atrocities, we must reverse the dehumanization” of Palestinians. He cites many examples of how numbers and statistics fail to move anyone, whereas individual stories, such as those of Ahed Tamimi, Tareq Abukhdeir, or Razzan al-Najjar can have a great impact on Americans, who otherwise have no way to unlearn such “absurdities” as the myth that Palestinians teach their children to hate Jews, and want to throw Jews into the sea.  “The personal story of every oppressed Palestinian should be told, even if it’s just in a blog post or video that only a dozen Americans read or see. Those stories add up. They make it so much harder to buy in to the absurdities, and so much easier to reject them,” he concludes, as he pleads with justice-minded people to amplify the Palestinian narrative, so as to change American public opinion.

I agree with Lord:  painful as the need to “humanize” any people is, it is indicative of the magnitude of racism of the privileged classes—racism dehumanizes–and is indeed a strategy various oppressed communities use, as they ask us to “tell the names” and stories of murdered African Americans, disappeared Indigenous women and, more recently, asylum seekers dying in the border states concentration camps. (And I am thankful to Mondoweiss for the forum it provides for these stories, and urge its readers to contribute to the current fundraiser, so we can keep reading such stories).

In thinking of strategies to further change American public opinion and push an anti-racist agenda (on Palestine, and other oppressed communities),  organizers and activists must also be very intentional about shifting the narrative so as to expose not just Israel’s violations, but also, those US-based Zionist organizations that claim to be progressive, yet have a history of siding with white and Jewish supremacy.  Prime amongst these is the Anti-Defamation League  (ADL), which not only has a documented record of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism, but has also long partnered with racist police departments and promoted surveillance of communities of color. Nevertheless, the ADL is frequently the go-to for numbers and statistics about hate crimes, and anti-bias training.

Just as we already knew Israel for the oppressor, not victim, that it is, yet we had to toil to enlighten others about this reality, so we must work hard on educating well-meaning communities that the ADL is no friend of the oppressed. Still, a sobering number of progressive individuals, organizations, human resources departments, and media outlets have partnered with the ADL, because they do not know of its history of promoting racist practices, from providing a training booklet to police departments suggesting they plant spies and informers within activist communities protesting white supremacy, to criminalizing social justice activism.  An important report by IJAN (the International Anti-Zionist Jewish Network) also documents the ADL’s own record of spying on a large number of social justice organizations, from anti-South African apartheid activists to Black Lives Matter.

By citing the ADL, as they very frequently do (e.g., most recently, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, on the rise in hate crimes in Oregon), the media are validating this racist organization. Readers, then, should respond in brief yet pointed letters that the ADL is not a reliable reference on hate crimes, as it has consistently antagonized communities of color.  Indeed, these communities set a national example in 2017 when they successfully rallied Starbucks to drop the ADL from its mandated employee anti-bias training because, as Black Lives Matter co-leader Tamika Malloy observed:  “the ADL is CONSTANTLY attacking black and brown people,” and Cat Brooks, co-founder of the Anti-Police Terror Project, noted:  “You can’t be a piece of an anti-bias training when you openly support a racist, oppressive and brutal colonization of Palestine.”

Just as worrisome as the media validating the ADL’s credibility is recent state legislation requiring or “strongly encouraging” Holocaust education in public schools as of the 2020-2021 academic year.  The legislation is in no way problematic in itself; if anything, it is redundant, as practically all schools already do that. However, the wording of the Washington state bill, for example, is worrisome, as it  specifies that “the superintendent of public instruction, in collaboration with an expert Washington state non-profit organization that teaches the lessons of the Holocaust, must develop best practices and guidelines” for the curriculum.  Also in Washington, the Seattle area-based Holocaust Center for Humanity, which for years has been providing curriculum for public schools teaching the Holocaust, and is as such an “expert Washington state non-profit” fulfilling the requirements of the legislation, has announced on its website that it has a partnership with the ADL. Indeed, the ADL gloats, on its website, that it has partnered with 1600 schools nationally that have committed to making their campus “No Place for Hate.”

Again, that would be absolutely wonderful, if we could trust the ADL to provide genuinely anti-racist and anti-bullying training. Instead, as Emmaia Gelman, who is part of a national coalition seeking to debunk the ADL’s false claim to being progressive has written, the urgency of implementing anti-racism measures following the urban conflicts and race riots of the 1970s and 1980s “put the ADL in the position of writing essentially national curriculum not just on anti-Semitism, but on anti-black, anti-Asian, and anti-Arab/anti-Muslim racism,” and these curricula were often written and implemented “over the objections of black, Asian, Arab, and Muslim communities.” A similar national moment is engulfing the country today, as Trump’s presidency has emboldened white supremacists, and the ADL is once again coming to the fore, with little awareness amongst most of its toxic history.

In its determination to defend Israel (not “Jews,” generally) against any criticism, for example, the ADL has created a campus booklet with “proactive strategies to prevent anti-Israel activities on campus.” The very first strategy prompts Zionist students to consult with “off-campus organizations” like AIPAC.  The ADL equates criticism of Israel with anti-semitism and, according to Gelman, “counts calls for Palestinian rights,  and even criticism of the ADL itself, as anti-Semitic incidents.” Partnering with the ADL, then, is partnering with a Zionist organization that places the interests of Israel over the rights of Americans, (and Palestinians, of course), an organization that recommends students avail themselves of the resources provided by AIPAC, and an organization that celebrated President Trump’s move of the US embassy to Jerusalem, in violation of international law.

At this dangerous junction, we need to organize events exposing the practices of the ADL, such as the one last April at New York University on “the History, Function, and Political Impact of the ADL.”  And we need to let our schools and universities know that the ADL cannot provide curriculum on the cultures and histories of communities whose social justice activism it has been actively disrupting. It is imperative, then, for progressive organizers to be very intentional about educating our larger communities,  the media, educational institutions, and HR departments, about fake progressive organizations.  As fascism and white supremacy are emboldened in this country (indeed, globally), we must work on severing the partnership between spaces that aspire to be progressive, and the ADL.  If there is to be “no place for hate” in our communities, there should be no place for the ADL.

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The name “Anti-Defamation League” should be changed to the more-accurate “Selective Defamation League”.

NADIA ELIA- “…recent state legislation requiring or “strongly encouraging” Holocaust education in public schools as of the 2020-2021 academic year. The legislation is in no way problematic in itself; if anything, it is redundant, as practically all schools already do that.” I find this recent emphasis on Holocaust education very problematic, particularly in the US which should be much more concerned with American history in regards to the Native Americans, Blacks and other people of… Read more »

“they successfully rallied Starbucks against dropping the ADL from its mandated employee anti-bias training ” – this is confusing. Did you mean “including the ADL”?

I knew that the ADL has become little more than a shill for Israel. I did NOT know about its past history. That’s shocking.

In the era of Trump, #resistance supporters have routinely invoked ADL/SPLC “hate crime” data as if they are valid. In spite of the horrific events in Pittsburgh and San Diego, there is no evidence that anti-semitism has gotten worse, or was a problem in the first place in effective terms. ADL/SPLC data is unverifiable in terms of both “hate crimes,” and the alleged consequences, which are never verifiable. Groups like JVP and others (Amy Goodman)… Read more »

The ADL is Orwellian, in that it’s primary mission is to defame people that criticise Israel.