columnAntisemitism

Censorship stand comes back to bite the ADL on Wikipedia

The group championed censoring conservative groups on the Internet. Inevitably, its erstwhile leftist allies are now targeting the Jewish organization for opposing antisemitism.

Wikipedia. Credit: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay.
Wikipedia. Credit: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

Most of the organized Jewish world is as outraged as the Anti-Defamation League. The decision of Wikipedia to label the ADL as an “unreliable source” on its site with respect to anything related to Israel generated a letter of protest from 43 of the largest and most influential American Jewish organizations, including a sampling of groups on the center, left and right. The notion that the ADL—still considered the authoritative source on the subject of antisemitism by the liberal media—being shut down by the ubiquitous online encyclopedia site in such a manner is shocking.

And none are more surprised than ADL’s CEO and national director Jonathan Greenblatt. That’s because during his decade in charge of the venerable organization, Greenblatt and the ADL have not just switched from being liberal but nonpartisan to open advocacy for the Democrats and the political left. They’ve also been prominent supporters of efforts to do to others what Wikipedia is doing to them now: censoring those who dissent from the political orthodoxies of the left.

In other words, what’s happening to ADL isn’t merely another example of how a major online company has succumbed to anti-Israel and antisemitic prejudice. It’s that the ADL’s pro-censorship chickens have come home to roost.

Wikipedia’s reason for declaring that the ADL can’t be cited as an authority on anything to do with Israel goes to the heart of the post-Oct. 7 surge in Jew-hatred in America. Boiled down to the essentials, they object to the fact that the ADL rightly labels anti-Zionism as a form of antisemitism. While they could cite no instances in which ADL had made false claims, the Wikipedia editors said that didn’t matter.

A double standard

ADL is a group that is supposed to advocate on behalf of the Jewish people, monitor antisemitism and support the right of the one Jewish state on the planet to exist. According to Wikipedia editors, this impairs its ability to accurately report facts about those, like the Hamas terrorists and their American apologists, who wish to destroy Israel and commit the genocide of its population.

Yet, as Greenblatt noted, this is not the same standard applied to organizations that advocate for the rights of other groups. No one, for example, at Wikipedia judges the NAACP by this standard when it speaks out on anti-black racism.

Nor would any reasonable person—let alone someone who controls the content on a widely used internet site—argue that African-Americans don’t have the right to define what is offensive to them or considered racist. Only Jews are lectured about what is or isn’t prejudice against Jews. And given the fact that anti-Zionists wish to deny rights to Jews, such as to live in peace and sovereignty in their ancient homeland and defend themselves, to any other people, the ADL is entirely correct to label them as Jew-haters. Indeed, if anything, the ADL has shown itself not as zealous as it should be in making this charge.

ADL tilts left

Even under the leadership of Greenblatt, who served as a Democratic Party staffer in the Barack Obama White House, the ADL has had its left-wing critics. In recent years, the ADL has striven mightily to stay in sync with its allies on the left. It endorsed the Black Lives Matter movement, no matter its open hostility to Israel and Zionism. And it incorporated toxic woke ideas about “white privilege” rooted in intersectionality and critical race theory into model curricula that it sells to school districts, despite the glaring evidence that these concepts grant a permission slip for antisemitism.

Just as important was the fact that despite the growing evidence of the influence and reach of left-wing antisemitism in mainstream politics and media, the ADL maintained that the real threat to Jews came from marginal right-wing extremists, whom it often sought to link to former President Donald Trump without proof. They also smeared former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an ardent friend of Israel, as an Islamophobic bigot for opposing Islamist radicals.

But that was never good enough for the intersectional left. Even as it tilted away from the political center, the ADL remained essentially pro-Israel, which is unacceptable for “progressives” who falsely label Israel and the Jews as “white” oppressors of people of color. As a columnist at the increasingly anti-Zionist Forward newspaper noted, the minority of Jews who oppose the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism because it includes anti-Zionism and demonization of Israel as one of its examples of Jew-hatred seem happy to see Wikipedia undermine the ADL.

This is outrageous and doubly so because after the atrocities committed on Oct. 7—the largest mass slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust—for Wikipedia to align itself with anti-Zionists in this fashion is not so much an editorial decision but another indication of just how far the subsequent surge in antisemitism has spread.

Even as it is right to complain about this, the ADL is at the same time demonstrating just how hypocritical and short-sighted it has been since Greenblatt took over.

Censorship industrial complex

In the last several years, ADL has been part of an effort to enforce censorship on the Internet, especially social-media platforms and other services essential to online commerce. It was initially goaded into the stand by celebrities like actor Sacha Baron Cohen, whom ADL honored after he demanded that Facebook stop allowing antisemites access to its site. But the group became part of what writer Ben Weingarten has aptly named the censorship industrial complex. That describes an effort in which a sinister combination of Internet and social-media companies, left-wing nonprofit groups and the Biden administration sought to shut down conservatives who dissented from a wide range of policies. Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court passed on an opportunity to stop this blatant violation of the free-speech rights of citizens this week in a case that may serve as a green light for future efforts by the Biden administration and its Silicon Valley oligarch allies.

Twitter files uncovered after the company was bought by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk revealed the extent to which the government and Big Tech had combined efforts to silence their opponents. Greenblatt openly boasted of his involvement in this campaign, speaking of how he and his staff have been advising all the big Internet companies on their “content moderation” and coaching PayPal on how to demonetize groups it deems extremist. It also worked with Google and a British company called Moonshot LVE on a program to redirect users from hate sites but, as was soon discovered, some of the sites to which they were sent were themselves hateful.

The point of all this was to create a virtual public square in which conservatives would be likely to be shut down or shadow-banned, a measure by which social-media companies make content impossible to access. The ADL was happy to be part of it because of its political alignment with the people who were doing the censoring, which they justified by falsely claiming that the victims were all spreading hate.

Boomeranging on the Jews

Some critics warned the ADL that in addition to this being antithetical to democratic values or the ability of the United States to survive as a constitutional republic, this sort of “free speech for me but not for thee” attitude was bound to boomerang on the Jews. That’s because most of the people doing the censoring of the right were equally interested in silencing supporters of Israel because intersectional ideology labeled it as a villain.

The Wikipedia decision represents the thin edge of the wedge when it comes to Big Tech using its vast power to shape public discourse on the war against the Jewish state. It’s a reminder to both the ADL and the rest of the Jewish community that though they may wish for an Internet where bad actors like Nazis and other open antisemites are no longer present, the only way to make that happen means the creation of a censorship regime that can just as easily be used against Jews and Zionists, who left-wingers also think of as hateful. The ADL has been playing with fire by backing censorship, and it is unsurprising though ironic that it has wound up being singed by the flames they helped fan. If the ADL wants to defend the Jewish people, it’s also going to have to return to an understanding that the only way to defend their rights is to defend the principle of free speech for everyone—and not just its leftist political allies.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

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