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Embracing the ADL

Embracing the ADL
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Growing up in New Jersey, I remember the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) working with our teachers (and students) to deliver diversity education. They did this when there were incidents of antisemitism at my school. They did this when there were anti-Indian and anti-Black incidents. I watched – and participated and benefited – from their fulfilling their mission to repair and foster a “world in which no group or individual suffers from bias, discrimination or hate.” Their goal was not to serve the Jewish people alone. I understood their goal was to eliminate hate from the world — a Herculean labor to say the least. To me, the ADL embodied the sentiments of German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller famous poem “First they came…”

For these reasons and more I was taken aback to learn that scores of leftwing activist groups have been promoting a campaign to “drop the ADL.” Their rallying motive: “a history and ongoing pattern of attacking social justice movements led by communities of color, queer people, immigrants, Muslims, Arabs, and other marginalized groups, while aligning itself with police, right-wing leaders, perpetrators of state violence.” Indeed, shockingly, there were Jewish voices among those groups. 

This challenge, unfortunately, carries no water.

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The political right and the political left have criticized the ADL over the years — which is a welcome indicator, perhaps, that the ADL is balanced and doing its job well. It would seem that the pendulum has again swung to shift to the left’s critique. This is unfortunate, but not surprising — and again, it lacks heft. 

Most recently, the ADL has regularly and repeatedly criticized Donald Trump — both as a candidate and as an elected president. The ADL criticized President TrumpDonald John TrumpGiuliani goes off on Fox Business host after she compares him to Christopher Steele Trump looks to shore up support in Nebraska NYT: Trump had 7 million in debt mostly tied to Chicago project forgiven MORE's use of antisemitic tropes, divisive and bigoted rhetoric, and his willingness to give voice to extremists (such as white supremacists) for partisan purposes.

When hate crimes affect Muslim, Black, Hispanic, Asian, immigrant and other minority communities and people of color, the ADL is often the first organization to speak out —and it does so loudly and definitively. And the world listens and generally responds. 

When there was discussion during the 2016 presidential campaigns of creating a “Muslim Registry,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt let the world know that: “The day they create a Muslim registry is the day I register as a Muslim.”

The ADL recently partnered with the NAACP and Georgia Equality, helping to secure the passage of hate crime legislation (in Georgia) in the wake of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks.

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The ADL has helped make the public distinction between Black Lives Matter and the Movement for Black Lives. They vociferously declared that BLM is not antisemitic. They did call out challenges with M4BL foreign policy, in their words, for using “incendiary language on Israel, accusing the Jewish state, alone among all the nations in the world, of committing genocide, among other things.” 

The left has criticized the ADL for aligning itself with “police, right-wing leaders, perpetrators of state violence.” Working with the police to do diversity education is not “aligning with the police.” Working with elected officials is not aligning with rightwing leaders — those are the elected leaders, irrespective of whether we want to see them removed from or replaced in office. Perpetrators of state violence is likely dysphemism for working with Israel. The ADL stands by Israel’s right to exist and defend herself, but it also actively pursues peace and a two-state solution — not to mention opposing the Israeli government’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank. 

The ADL calls out bigotry of those whose views they oppose and those with whom they work closely. The key to all of this is they also call out racism and harmful misinformation when it appears in the Jewish community.

We need the ADL. Jews and non-Jews alike need the ADL. They are one of the largest and oldest Jewish organizations in the United States and have been a beacon of hope, defense and unity, in so many ways. They will continue their important social justice work with many prominent civil rights groups, fulfilling their mission – and our sore need right now – “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.”

Rabbi Avi S. Olitzky is a senior rabbi of Beth El Synagogue in Saint Louis Park, Minnesota.