December 12, 2021
According to a recently released report by ADL (The Anti-Defamation League), I have become an anti-Semite and a danger to the future of Jewish life.
Those who know me, but have not read ADL’s work, may think that sentence is a bit hysterical and hyperbolic. How could it be that someone who spent his entire professional life, almost 50 years, working to build a vibrant way of living as a Jew, allowing the practices and values of my religion to shape the way we live our lives, be an existential threat to the Jewish Community? How could those who say they are fighting hate for good see me as a target?
The ADL markets itself as an organization that fights hate. In its own words, it is a “leading anti-hate organization that was founded in 1913 in response to an escalating climate of antisemitism and bigotry. Today, ADL is the first call when acts of antisemitism occur and continue to fight all forms of hate. A global leader in exposing extremism, delivering anti-bias education, and fighting hate online, ADL’s ultimate goal is a world in which no group or individual suffers from bias, discrimination or hate.”
The report that jarred me, “The Anti-Israel Movement on U.S. Campuses, 2020-2021,” uses the ADL’s carefully cultivated image of a fighter for the rights of all who are marginalized and hatefully attacked to mask their support of Israel and its apartheid policies. For ADL, opposing the practices and policies of Israel has become synonymous with hatred of Jews, and with anti-Semitism. The report is carefully and cleverly written to conflate protest against Israel with anti-Semitism and to motivate those who want to fight hate to silence that protest.
This has been a year in which the Palestinian Community and their supporters have raised their voices loudly and demanded that their people and their national aspirations be respected. ADL recognizes that the level of support for Israel and its occupation of Palestinian lands and lives has slipped. ADL recognizes that the Palestinians have become more assertive in advancing their narrative of the Palestinian People and their demands for “Palestinian liberation & self-determination.” It is a vision that rejects many of the assumptions of Zionist thinking upon which the creation of the modern state of Israel is built. In doing so many of the assumptions that American Jews have been trained to accept as the TRUTH are made shaky, perhaps just indefensible.
That change has made life uncomfortable for many Jews who are being unwillingly confronted with a different telling of their story, one in which we are not pioneering heroes who have taken a desert and made it bloom. They are being forced to see that for many Palestinians, Israel and those who support it are invaders who displaced their community and now force it to live as second-class citizens or worse. The passion of the protest is unsettling. Being cast as the enemy in a fight for equal rights is disturbing.
I understand these feelings of discomfort. I have felt them when I walked the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem and saw disturbing differences between the new, modern homes of the Jewish Quarter and the rundown, neglected areas that made up the Arab Quarter. I have felt them driving down a road toward Jericho, one I had traveled numerous times, only to find it now ended at a wall. I have felt it looking out over the top of that wall to see a Palestinian farmer’s home cut off from his olive orchards with the only connection point requiring a long trip to a distant checkpoint to see if admission would even be permitted. I have felt it as I re-entered Israel from Jordan easily, while long lines of Palestinian citizens and residents of Israel waited in separate long, slowly moving lines hoping they would be allowed to return to their homes. I have felt it standing in the streets of Chicago as thousands protested Israel’s bombing of Gaza.
Each of these was a moment when the Israel of my past was shown to be a myth. Each of these was a moment when Israel was shown not to be the one place where Judaism as I understand it was real. Each of these was a moment when I was forced to learn more, think more, and reevaluate my position.
Each one of these was a moment when my desire for Israel to be that country that lives up to the values my tradition teaches me was shaken. I have had to clearly see a different reality. I had to see that the land was not empty in 1948. That hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had been forcefully displaced as the modern state was formed. That the dream of a “2-State Solution” had long ago died. And that Palestinians were being killed and brutalized by Israeli governments of all political persuasions. I needed to accept, as some Israeli Jewish voices have recognized, that modern Israel has become an apartheid state.
From these moments came the need to honor my heritage by coming forward to say, “not in my name” as a Jew can Israel continue to mistreat Palestinians.
As a firm supporter of Israel, this is what ADL fears. If the harsh light of reality makes those who support Israel uncomfortable, it may make them so uncomfortable that they too may begin to rethink their own support. If the harsh light of reality causes Jewish students on campuses across the nation to become uncomfortable with their support of Israel, they too might question what they have been taught and begin to raise questions. And this, as a strong, unquestioning supporter of Israel, ADL will not tolerate.
In its press release announcing the study’s disturbing findings, the ADL slyly moves their target from fighting hate to fighting Jewish discomfort. “ADL experts identified a pattern of anti-Israel groups and activists blatantly demonizing pro-Israel and Zionist students, which disproportionately impacted Jewish students. Occasionally, these activists espoused antisemitic tropes, such as those alleging Jewish or Zionist power and control over the media and political affairs. Such language can create a corrosive climate for many Jewish students on campus.”
The report itself tells its readers that unsettling Jewish students and pushing them to hear another perspective is the issue. “…during the 2020-2021 academic year, much of the anti-Israel activist movement on campus continued to vilify Israel and Zionism and ostracize pro-Israel and Zionist students. This action disproportionately impacts large percentages of Jewish students, for whom a connection with Israel is an integral component of their religious, social, or cultural lives and identities. Many Jewish students reported feeling compelled to hide aspects of their identities.”
These are uncomfortable moments for those being exposed to powerful expressions of a challenging perspective. It rings resonantly with those who have found the 1619 Project’s recasting of American history as disturbing. It rings resonantly with those who have chosen to take that debate from one about historical perspective to one about hate couched as “anti-whiteness.” And the ADL has found itself a victim of the very tactics it is now using on those who dare to challenge Israel. Anti-Critical Race Theory (CRT) policies have been passed by state legislatures at the urging of those who find reading alternate views of American history, like the 1619 project, disturbing and causing their children to ask uncomfortable practices. The ADL has found itself no longer welcome in one Georgia school district! “In June, the Cobb County School District passed a resolution banning CRT and the New York Times’ 1619 project from being taught in district schools. The resolution didn’t specify what CRT was. The Cobb County School District has also dropped ADL’s No Place For Hate initiative from district schools. No Place for Hate is a free educational initiative that helps create a welcoming school community committed to stopping all forms of hate, bias, and bullying.” No Place for Hate may be a good teaching tool but discomfort overrides engagement.
In crafting the report, the ADL wants its supporters and those who trust their brand to accept that being strongly opposed to Israel, questioning its existence as a Jewish, sectarian nation, and elevating Palestinian claims for their own nation are all evil and not a difference of opinion. Rather than focus on the “occasional” instance of actual anti-Semitism that they found, the report takes on effective political campaigning as their target. “Anti-Israel animus may be manifested in various ways, including calling for the end of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state; accusing Israel of committing genocide or ethnic cleansing; labeling Israel an “apartheid state;” calling for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel; supporting violence or a military confrontation with Israel; and opposition to Zionism and Zionists.”
For ADL positions that are present within the internal debates of the Israeli populace are unacceptable and must be quashed. “Much of the anti-Israel movement on campus continues to reject the ‘two-states for two peoples’ solution, which would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state of Israel as part of a mutually negotiated final status peace agreement. Instead, they often advocate for one democratic state in the region for all people regardless of religion or ethnicity—but one that rejects Zionism and the legitimacy of a Jewish state.”
The report goes beyond just advancing a political opinion. It uses all of the reputational and financial resources to brand individuals, organizations, and funders as bigots. Using tactics taken from the red-baiting, black-listing days of Senator Joe McCarthy and the House Unamerican Activities Committee, ADL identifies groups, individuals, and funders for targeting. Hoping, I assume, to build walls around them so that their voices can be silenced and their arguments dismissed along with that of other haters. They hope, in this way, to keep other members of the Jewish Community silenced and ostracized.
ADL and its supporters have every right to disagree with me, with my organization Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), and the other pro-Palestinian groups they have smeared. But they cannot be allowed to function as if they are a neutral voice focusing on hate speech and action. In masking their pro-Israel advocacy behind this veil, they can no longer be trusted. Their judgment of what is and is not hateful is now suspect. They no longer merit being allowed to speak as experts because they have chosen to become political advocates over defenders of values and principles. This is their right, but they should at least have the integrity to do so openly and not mask their political positions and bias behind the trappings of morality and justice.