(April 30, 2018 / JNS) The Anti-Defamation League was demoted.
The ADL was initially tapped to be one of the four groups that would lead the Starbucks company’s mass racial-bias re-education program next month for all of its employees. But after the coffee-shop chain was deluged by complaints from left-wing groups denouncing the ADL as anti-Muslim, Starbucks backed down. It announced last week that the ADL would no longer help create the diversity training when it shuts down its stores nationwide on May 29. Instead, it will now be considered one of the “diverse array of organizations and civil-rights experts” that Starbucks might consult.
ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tried to spin it as a positive, tweeting about what an “honor” it was for the organization to be cast aside and be one of many who might be consulted about the event, as opposed to being a main player.
But Greenblatt is fooling no one. The initial announcement made it clear that the ADL would be an equal partner in an effort led by the NAACP, the Equal Justice Initiative and Demos. As such, it was being treated as a leader in the fight against bias—a status it had earned over the last century with its highly successful “No Place for Hate” programs that have been adopted by scores of communities and educational institutions around the country.
Yet when forced to choose between offending the intersectional left and slighting a pillar of the mainstream Jewish community that has played a historic role in the fight for civil rights, Starbucks chose the latter.
That Starbucks heeded the complaints about the ADL from Louis Farrakhan fangirls like Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour of the Women’s March leadership, as well as the anti-Zionist and equally anti-Semitic Jewish Voice for Peace, is a disgrace. That bigots like them are now able to successfully preach about bias to a business as large and as visible as Starbucks tells us a lot about the growing influence of the hard left in today’s polarized America.
Yet while this insult of the ADL is outrageous, it’s also deeply ironic. Under Greenblatt’s leadership, the ADL has shifted from its traditional liberal yet nonpartisan stance to one that is often openly partisan and eager to please the very same left-wing constituency that just attacked it. This illustrates a lesson that ADL needs to learn. Appeasing the far left is a “no win” proposition for a group that’s still a leading representative of mainstream Jewish sentiment.
Under Greenblatt’s direction, the ADL has sometimes pandered to the left by publicly taking issue with Israel’s government. It has also shifted from its tough stance against Islamists and their apologists, including the Council of American Islamic Relations, to one in which its fire is mainly directed at those who lead the fight against such radicals.
That was made clear in recent weeks as Greenblatt—a former Clinton and Obama staffer—joined with other Democrat partisans in opposing the nomination of Mike Pompeo to be the next U.S. secretary of state. The ADL joined forces with groups like CAIR to falsely accuse Pompeo of Islamophobia. That was an act of rank hypocrisy since the Pompeo statements they cited in a letter to Congress resembled the stance taken by ADL before Greenblatt assumed control of the group.
Just as bad was ADL’s public condemnation of Canary Mission, a group that fights anti-Semitic and anti-Israel actions on college campuses. Much like its ill-advised broadside against a man like Pompeo, who is an ardent friend of Israel, the ADL accused Canary Mission of employing “Islamophobic and racist rhetoric” in its battle against the BDS movement.
The ADL backed down a bit last week when a spokesperson admitted that “it was wrong to apply those labels to a group working, like us, to counter anti-Semitism on campus.” But it remained on record as opposing much of what Canary Mission was doing with its no-holds barred attempt to expose the actions of campus anti-Semites. The ADL’s effort to have one foot in the pro-Israel community and another in the camp of those seeking to appease radicals satisfies no one.
Its dilemma is similar to the plight of Jewish college students who arrive on campus and must often choose between their support for Israel and a desire to stay in tune with liberal political fashion. The Starbucks debacle reminds the ADL that staying true to its brief to both monitor and fight anti-Semitism will still make it anathema to all sorts of radical groups and individuals whose sway over such companies, as well as academic institutions and other strongholds of liberal elites, is growing.
For believers in intersectionality—an idea that asserts a direct link between causes like the Black Lives Matter movement here in the United States and the Palestinian war on the Jewish state—the ADL’s position as an opponent of racial discrimination and a supporter of Israel and Zionism is anomalous. The left sees all such struggles as a binary battle in which all who are perceived as aggrieved minorities must be supported against First World oppressors. While this is a tragic distortion of the truth about Israel, it has given Black Lives Matter and Women’s March activists, in addition to their Jewish fellow travelers in Jewish Voice for Peace, a license to engage in anti-Semitism. As such, there can never be any compromise between them and a group like ADL, which, for all of its recent mistakes, remains an essential part of the fight against Jew-hatred and all forms of prejudice.
The Starbucks fiasco shows how little middle ground remains as extremists seek to purge liberal-leaning centrists from the public square. ADL’s supporters must urge its leaders to stop pretending that a partisan tilt will protect it from an increasingly bold and anti-Semitic left. If it is to remain relevant, it must return to its traditional nonpartisan role.
Of course, that won’t win it any cheers from those, like Starbucks, who are now under the thumb of ideologues. But it will regain the respect of liberals, centrists and conservatives who want it to continue to play an essential role in the fight against anti-Semitism.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at:@jonathans_tobin.