For more than 20 years, the Anti-Defamation League has touted its “No Place for Hate” education as a model for how school districts can address intolerance. The program has been adopted around the nation to much praise. It’s a comprehensive effort involving lesson plans, selected readings and teacher training all aimed at promoting respect for differing groups and rooting out prejudice. Indeed, even as the group shifted from its former nonpartisan stance to being a reliable promoter of Democratic Party talking points under its current CEO and national director Jonathan Greenblatt, its education programs were still thought to be doing the good work for which the 110-year-old organization was best known.
But as a recent incident at a Michigan high school indicated, the notion that “No Place for Hate” can insulate a town from hate speech is no longer viable. While educating kids and faculty against hate may have once meant combating bigotry, in an era in which the toxic myths of critical race theory have filtered down throughout the system from colleges to secondary and primary schools, anything involving the promotion of “diversity” is just as likely to be promoting hate as eliminating it. While the basic concept of the program remains sound, when applied in the current educational context in which the woke catechism of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has become the new orthodoxy, it may be that the ADL’s much-vaunted effort may actually be doing as much harm as good.
That’s the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from what happened at Bloomfield Hills High School during a “student-led diversity assembly.” The school has a large number of Jewish students, as well as being located in a Detroit suburb with a considerable Muslim and Arab population. But though it is currently involved in the ADL’s “No Place for Hate” program, one of the speakers chosen for the presentation was Huwaida Arraf, a 47-year-old Palestinian American lawyer, anti-Israel activist and former congressional candidate.
At four separate sessions of the diversity program, she delivered remarks in which she assailed Israel as “occupiers running an apartheid state” who were committing genocide in Gaza and denied Israel’s existence as a state, referring to it only as “Palestine.”
As parents and students said at a subsequent special board of education meeting to deal with the incident, there has been a surge of antisemitic incidents targeting Jewish students at the school since Arraf spoke there. Students have received messages saying “Hitler was right” and other hate speech. That’s understandable since the point of her invective was to demonize Jews and delegitimize the one Jewish state on the planet in a manner that, as is the case with all anti-Zionist activity, is indistinguishable from antisemitism.
While the school’s principal said that she deviated from the proposed program without the prior knowledge of the organizers, he also rationalized her appearance as one that was based on “her personal perspective and experience.” But at none of the four different sessions did any of the administrators and teachers present, who have also supposedly benefited from the ADL’s guidance about hate speech, speak up to stop Arraf’s rants.
Though the school then issued a second apology in which it took responsibility for the problem, it still failed to own up to its role in promoting antisemitism.
The fallout from the event is predictably divisive, though characteristically, some Jews are doing their best to prevent it from spoiling efforts at interfaith dialogue. But though one local rabbi expressed faith that the local Muslim Unity Center shared the Jewish community’s desire for good relations, an imam from the center used his time to speak at the Board of Education meeting to complain that it was Muslims and Palestinian kids who are the real victims of pro-Israel bullying. Indeed, when one Jewish parent spoke and reminded the board that “anti-Israel rhetoric promotes antisemitism and therefore is very much against Jewish people,” she was jeered by the audience.
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That the school failed its students here is indisputable. The same can be said about the ADL’s supposedly beneficial influence in the district. But the problem goes much deeper than just one clearly inappropriate speaker and a program that was allowed to go awry by insensitive or perhaps even ill-intentioned staff.
Perhaps a speaker at a diversity session at a “No Place for Hate” school who engaged in antisemitism would have been hard to believe when the program was first initiated by the ADL in 2001. But the truth is that today, antisemitism is exactly what you can expect whenever the DEI mantra is employed.
DEI education is now inextricably linked to critical race theory teachings in which all people are divided into two groups: oppressors and victims. In the mindset of CRT ideology and intersectionality, Jews and Israel are falsely depicted as white oppressors of people of color. That’s because intersectional thinking falsely analogizes the Palestinian war on Israel with the struggle for civil rights in the United States.
Diversity is therefore merely a matter of empowering designated minority groups who are deemed victims. Since in the leftist mindset of those who have been indoctrinated in woke doctrine Jews are the bad guys, their rights are trashed, and smears aimed at boosting efforts to destroy Israel are naturally promoted.
As a study conducted by the Heritage Foundation discovered, diversity officers are making college campuses a hostile environment for Jews because of their anti-Zionist attitudes.
In this manner, CRT teaching gives a permission slip to antisemitism. That’s reflected not just in debates on college campuses, where these noxious theories had their origins. But it has also influenced a wide range of educational activities, as a lawsuit aimed at exposing the Jew-hatred in the so-called “liberated ethnic studies” programs being used in California schools has shown.
Nor has the ADL shown itself immune to these awful trends.
As a Fox News Digital exposé showed last fall, the curricula the ADL has been handing out to schools as part of its “No Place for Hate” program included CRT teachings about “white privilege”; the need to address the problems of “whiteness”; praise for the antisemitic Women’s March group; and support for the idea of contemporary Americans paying reparations to those whose ancestors were enslaved.
The ADL claimed that it was a mistake, but the presence of this material in their work was entirely in keeping with the organization’s actions and decisions under Greenblatt as he has made it a priority to stay in sync with fashionable radical ideas about race in order to avoid being tagged as reactionaries by their left-wing allies.
When placed in this context, how can anyone be surprised that a “No Place for Hate” school would wind up being the setting for an outrageous incident of open antisemitism?
The question now is not so much how to fix the mess at Bloomfield Hills High School that the obsession with a particular idea about diversity has caused. It’s whether the ADL itself and its entire massively funded apparatus of anti-hate education is now so badly compromised by woke ideas that it cannot be salvaged. While the mission of the group is still vital, the available evidence leads to the inescapable conclusion that at this point, the ADL may be doing a great deal more harm than good.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.