March 28, 2023
I recently watched an ADL (Anti-Defamation League) Webinar, “Fighting Hate from Home” (3/29: here’s a link I just received to the full webinar) focused on their “2022 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents & the State of Antisemitism in the U.S.” The email I received inviting me to be in that audience stressed that it would diving into a “much-anticipated update on the state of anti-Jewish hate in the country and will show alarming levels of antisemitic incidents — ranging from vandalism to deadly violence.”
How could I resist such enticement?
As a regular critic of the ADL’s pernicious conflating of opposition to Israel’s suppression of the Palestinian people, I was interested in seeing if their position had changed. During the last months, as an ultra-right government has taken hold in Israel and made it impossible to ignore that as a Jewish state, Israel considered Palestinians unwelcome interlopers whose land and lives were of little importance. This had caused many Israel supporters in our country to shake their heads and open their eyes. Perhaps this might be so in the leadership of ADL.
Had the hundreds of thousands of Israeli protestors challenging the Israeli government’s oppressive policies made the ADL rethink their damning of protestors in our country? Had the news that Israeli businessmen were boycotting their own nation over a political dispute made ADL rethink its own accusations of antisemitism against those who support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement in a different light?
The answer was no.
ADL’s CEO Jonathon Greenblatt used the webinar to reprise a warning he had made a year ago. At that time, he used ADL’s status as a “respected” fighter of hate to rail against those supporting Palestinian rights by labeling them as “radical actors [who] indisputably and unapologetically regularly denigrate and dehumanize Jews…To those who still cling to the idea that antizionism is not antisemitism let me clarify this for you as clearly as I can – antizionism is antisemitism. I will repeat antizionism is antisemitism.”
His presentation of ADL’s current data about antisemitic acts was backed by a well-prepared deck of slides. His emphasis was on his belief that anti-Zionism is antisemitism and, from how he structured his remarks, you were being led to understand that this is where the greatest threats were coming from. The slide deck he had been quickly moving through as he spoke about the ADL’s research findings until it froze on the one page that showed the audience campus protestors with signs that challenged Israel. The message was clear about who Jews should fear. Greenblatt then reprised a script he had used a year ago.
Greenblatt used much of his presentation to decry the growing hostility felt by Jewish students on campuses. As he went on about the growing hostility to Israel on campus, the frozen slide ensured that his audience was looking at protestors speaking for Palestinian rights and freedoms and holding signs that challenged Israel as a Jewish state. The implication was clear, these are the real threats to the Jewish community; these are the real antisemites to be worried about.
But what does the ADL’s data actually tell us? A very different story, but not the one that Greenblatt seems driven to hold on to.
Here’s the story that the ADL’s own data tells us.
On the home page of the ADL website, the headline reads “Antisemitic Incidents Surge in 2022.” With an aura of fear and anxiety, they report that for all of 2022, “ ADL tabulated 3,697 antisemitic incidents throughout the United States. This is a 36% increase from the 2,717 incidents tabulated in 2021 and the highest number on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979. This is the third time in the past five years that the year-end total has been the highest number ever recorded.”
Of the 3,697 antisemitic acts, a number that was described as disturbingly high, only 241 related to incidents that referenced Israel and Zionism! That’s only 6.5% of the total! And, according to the report itself, this was “a decline from 345 such incidents in 2021, which was an unusually high year due to antisemitic reactions to the May 2021 military conflict between Israel and Hamas. This number is still 35% higher than the number of Israel/Zionism-related incidents in 2020. Of 2022’s 241 anti-Zionist/anti-Israel-related incidents, 70 incidents could be identified as having been perpetrated by individuals associated with hostile anti-Zionist activist groups, most commonly Witness for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine and its affiliates. Forty-six incidents took the form of white supremacist groups’ efforts to foment anti-Israel and antisemitic beliefs. For more on how ADL determines which Israel-related incidents to include, please see our Methodology section.”
In case you missed what the ADL had actually found, the total Israel-related acts they defined as antisemitic was less than in 2021. And of that number only a portion, 70 (less than 2%), related to those protesting for Palestinian rights and against the idea of Israel as a Jewish state, that is one in which are given a privileged status by law.
Ignored by Greenblatt and the propaganda his organization was spitting out was the very data that his organization was collecting. The data was clear that the largest threat was not coming from pro-Palestinian voices, it was coming from the neo-conservative-neo-fascists that make up the underbelly of the MAGA world. “Organized efforts by white supremacists to share antisemitic propaganda, mostly through distributing fliers with antisemitic messages, accounted for 852 incidents in 2022, up from 422 in 2021.”
But for the ADL, the data was not going to get in the way of the political message they wished to convey about who their audience should really fear in the light of this growing threat to Jews and the Jewish community. Despite the data, for ADL the important message is to fear Palestinian students on college campuses who have the audacity to challenge in the name of their families the meaning of a Jewish state that condemns them to second-class status at best.
.It was a dog whistle to be praised for its cleverness, and for its effectiveness. It was a dog whistle that deserves our condemnation.
I was reminded of Ronald Reagan dog-whistling to his audiences about a “welfare queen” in Chicago who just happened to be black. It reminded me of George H.W. Bush running ads about a black man, Willie Horton, to motivate his base to vote for him. Both did this to mobilize racist white voters without actually speaking about race. Greenblatt was using the Jewish community’s fear of another holocaust to support apartheid in Israel/Palestine and, perhaps, to stimulate donors to enrich an already well funded ADL.
ADL is so totally committed to their “Israel right or wrong” position. They are so sure that their status in the established Jewish community demands it, that they will ignore their own data.
And this is dangerous. From the perspective of one Jew, it makes me more vulnerable to those who are actually out to harm me. It moves the focus from where the real threat is coming from.
And it puts another marginalized community at risk. By labeling political speech as antisemitic, by doing this specifically in the attack on Palestinians, it makes it easier for ADL’s and Israel’s supporters to ignore the horrors of the occupation and Israel’s growing brutality. It allows American Jews to ignore the violence, the stealing of land and the destruction of homes and fields that Israel is doing in name of the Jewish people.
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