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What Happened to the Anti-Defamation League?

July 4th 2017

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Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. Photo: ADL.

And even the ADL’s belated criticism of Sarsour, penned by its CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, was weak. The ADL statement rejected Sarsour’s support of BDS, but it supported CUNY’s decision to invite her, citing her “right to free speech. But, as former CUNY trustee Jeffrey Weisenfeld has pointed out, allowing someone to speak and giving them one of the most honored platforms that a university can provide are two different things. Even Abe Foxman himself, the legendary ADL leader who reportedly selected Greenblatt as his heir, unblinkingly told reporters that CUNY should not have invited Sarsour.

The ADL’s problem is that it has never figured out what to do about “the new antisemitism” — which is exactly what Sarsour represents.

When the enemies of the Jewish people were only Nazis, neo-Nazis, Christian antisemites and skinheads, the ADL did just fine. They exposed, they warned, they scolded and they sued. In every city with a sizable Jewish population, the ADL functioned as the Jewish “Civil Defense Department.”

But sometime during the late 1960s, the virus of antisemitism began to morph. Age-old accusations against the Jews and their religion were re-directed toward the Jewish state, and its Jewish supporters. Antisemitic smears were used to paint Israel as “the Jew among nations” an art that the United Nations has perfected. And much of this hate comes from liberals and leftists, along with the traditional antisemites (white supremacists, neo-Nazis, etc.)

But the ADL and its donors stuck in the past, like old generals fighting the last war –– cannot or will not adjust.

The ADL was born on the progressive side of politics, fighting right-wing Jew-hatred, and supporting social justice. The group has chosen to stay there, even when — in my view — the threats from the “left” now eclipse those of the right in their intensity and reach. And so the ADL kept sending those (fundraising) postcards with swastikas found in bathroom stalls in Iowa, and campaigned against Pat Robertson, whom it painted as the same sort of right-wing threat that we all once knew — even though many people now believe that Robertson and Christian evangelicals are Israel’s, and the Jews’, best allies.

And as it ignores antisemitism from the left, the ADL has similarly shrunk from confronting Islamic Jew-hatred — the biggest threat to Jewish life on the planet — for fear of being labelled “Islamophobic” by its left-wing allies. Some scholars now describe the new antisemitism as being propelled by a “Red-Green Alliance” — of radical leftists and radical Islamists. The ADL hesitates to defend the Jews against either threat.

Morton Klein, of the Zionist Organization of America, and others like him who pressured the ADL to condemn Sarsour were right, and they deserve credit for shining a light on the Sarsour/ADL scandal. ADL’s weakness on this controversy is emblematic of its failure to adopt to the new antisemitism. And it is a timely reminder to American Jewry of the need for a new, and bold, leadership that is up to the challenge of confronting these dangerous times.

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