September 18, 2023
A few days ago I opened an email on my laptop from the ADL – ADL and their “Antisemitism Briefing”.
In these times, I expected to see new data about the rising level of anti-Jewish hatred on the internet, or an analysis of Elon Musk’s emerging role as a major facilitator of such hate. I expected that the ADL would be educating their large following about how they were combatting the growth of anti-Jewish words and actions in the world of right-wing politics or among neo-Nazi militias as they did in a recent ‘sign-on letter to members of Congress. (“In recent weeks, we have seen a dangerous spate of antisemitic incidents including swatting and bomb threats targeting houses of worship, online posts peddling ancient antisemitic tropes, hateful flyers dropped in neighborhoods by white supremacists, and extremists marching through the streets in Nazi gear.“)
But that’s not what the ADL was focused on. For them, it seems, antisemitism is only a secondary concern. They have more important work to do than to fight the real threats before the Jewish community. For the ADL, quashing pro-Palestinian voices and actors is more critical.
And I am not the only one who has reached that conclusion.
This is what the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin concluded when she reviewed the ADL’s earlier assessment of the rise of American antisemitism:
“Right-wing Republicans have their fingerprints all over the rise of antisemitism in the United States. The latest data make this clear. “Over three-quarters of Americans (85 percent) believe at least one anti-Jewish trope, as opposed to 61 percent found in 2019,” the Anti-Defamation League recently reported. “Twenty percent of Americans believe six or more tropes, which is significantly more than the 11 percent that ADL found in 2019 and is the highest level measured in decades.” The report continues: These tropes reference common anti-Jewish conspiracies theories that previous research has shown lead to hostility and violence. … Some of these statements [presented to respondents] view Jews as “clannish,” with 70 percent and 53 percent of Americans saying that Jews stick together more than others and go out of their way to hire other Jews, respectively. Other tropes relate to the concept of “dual loyalty,” with 39 percent of Americans saying that Jews are more loyal to Israel than the United States. Finally, we see over 20 percent support for several statements relating to Jews being too powerful in business and Wall Street.”
The newest Antisemitism briefing is actually their “Anti-Israel Activism on U.S. Campuses 2022-23”! Its agenda is pernicious. It seeks to stoke fear in the Jewish Community about the threats they are now feeling and turn it into a weapon of support for the brutality of Israel. Their report ignores the real threats Jews and their place in society, in order to attack campus voices who have the temerity to speak up for Palestinian rights and to challenge Zionism!
The cover email that brought me this ‘critical’ information from the ADL gets right to their bottom line: “Anti-Israel incidents on campus often marked by vilification of Zionists, support for terror.” ADL wants you and your children to be scared. That fear, they hope, will keep you from hearing the pain of those who are confronting your vision of Israel as a noble bastion of democracy and human rights with a very different story about modern Israel, especially those whose protests may leave you very uncomfortable. And the best way to do that is to equate that challenge with antisemitism. ADL wants to use your fear to blot out the real-life problems of Israel/Palestine and the conflict between the peoples who call it their homeland.
A terrorist is outside the bounds of a political dispute. They are evil incarnate and can and should be fought with all means possible. They are not patriots or noble freedom fighters. By ignoring their own data and their own reports, by using their reputation as a fighter against hatred as their cover, they think they can slander those they disagree with and feed on the fears of a Jewish community worried about its safety to buttress Israel as it struggles to make apartheid permanent and blot out any future for millions of Palestinian subjects.
The headlines and cover letters tell you that story but it is not what the ADL’s data has to say. “The annual report identifies a broad range of disturbing incidents. The report is a snapshot of the growing, radical movement to place opposition of Israel and Zionism as core elements of college life.” (emphasis added)
ADL hopes that by telling what they want the data to say you will ignore what it really says…
“ADL tallied 665 campus anti-Israel incidents during the 2022-2023 academic year: zero instances of physical assault; nine instances of vandalism; 24 instances of harassment; 303 events; 326 protests/actions; and three BDS resolutions. Many but not all incidents may be characterized as antisemitic.
Although the total number of incidents nearly doubled from 2021-2022, they remained similar in two of the most important categories: the number of physical assaults declined from one to zero, and instances of vandalism declined from 11 to nine. However, the number of BDS resolutions surveyed across undergraduate institutions, faculty/staff unions, and graduate student programs fell, from 20 to three. All three resolutions passed in undergraduate student bodies. Additionally, there was a small increase in instances of harassment, from 19 to 24.”
Of 665 recorded “incidents” there were no reported physical attacks and a total of 33 that involved vandalism and harassment. The rest are made up of actions of protest by pro-Palestinian or anti-Israel activists.
“Most of the incidents featured in this report are legal expressions of First Amendment-protected speech. ADL is a strong supporter of the First Amendment and does not advocate for restrictions on campus speech. We do, however, feel it important to document how anti-Israel activists are using their speech in ways that make aspects of campus life challenging for many American Jews.
“Not everyone involved in the incidents described in this report may identify as part of an anti-Israel activist movement. But when they espouse rhetoric or tactics identical to those employed by anti-Israel activists, their actions can have the same devastating impact.”
Nary a terrorist to be found, but lots of college students who may be uncomfortable when their Israel can do no wrong attitude is being challenged by loud voices in public places.
Unfortunately, when unchallenged ADL’s approach works. This weekend the organizers of a Palestinian Literary Festival on Pennsylvania University’s campus have been challenged by a range of Jewish organizations and leaders because they have the audacity to include noted “antisemites” Roger Waters and Marc Lamont Hill among their feature speakers. Hill and Waters are strong critics of Israel, supporters of the BDS movement, and questioners of Zionism. In a letter of protest to university officials the conflated case was made, challenging Israel is attacking Jews: “we are concerned that the students will be exposed to anti-Jewish propaganda, harm Jewish students who take Arabic, and open the Jewish community at Penn to discrimination,” the students wrote in a letter to administrators. “
ADL and those aligning with this framework do not want to respond to those who see Israel as an apartheid state by engaging in a public debate. It wants to silence those challenging it. As long as we allow them to seamlessly merge their two stated objectives, fighting hatred and bias and supporting Israel, we are going to permit them to avoid the real need to see Israel’s behaviors and policies for what they are and not what we may want them to be.
The ADL has used its legacy of fighting on the side of the civil rights community, the LBTQ+ community, and its reputation as experts in the field of countering hatred and bias to fan hatred and bias against only one people, Palestinians. Despite their disclaimers of being defenders of free speech they choose to put forward a report and a campaign around it which has only one purpose, stigmatize voices speaking out in support of Palestinian rights.
Many American Jews find it difficult to reconcile the reality of Israel with the fantasies they believe does not call for this kind of campaign. What is needed are more voices in the Jewish community willing to see reality as it is and not reconstruct it as they wish it would be. What is needed are Jewish organizations like the ADL, organizations who say they are defenders of human rights, to live up to their supposed values.
ADL claims it is “fighting hate for good.” It’s time for all of us to demand that they stop being perpetrators of hate in the name of Israel.