In the last few months, Anti-Defamation League national director and CEO Jonathan Greenblatt has had something of an epiphany. In articles published in Newsweek in July and then another in The Washington Post in October, he belatedly acknowledged the dangerous rise of anti-Semitism on the political left. In the latter, he attempted to cushion the blow he was delivering to liberals who still cling to the myth that Jew-hatred is only a problem on the right. He foolishly compared right-wing anti-Semitism, which for all of its violence lacks any political influence, to a Category 5 hurricane while analogizing the left-wing variant, which has open exponents in the U.S. Congress, to the more subtle and incremental threat from climate change.
Nevertheless, he also made clear that those who seek to single out Israel for attacks in which it is falsely accused of apartheid and genocide, and to oppose the right of the Jewish state to exist are engaging in anti-Semitism. As such, he drew an important line in the sand. That he is doing so in large measure in an effort to rescue his organization’s credibility after having squandered it in recent years doesn’t make it any less vital for the ADL to take such a stand.
But as much as making these statements is exactly what one would expect from the head of the agency tasked with the job of speaking up against anti-Semitism, that doesn’t mean that the ADL is actually doing its job on the subject. To the contrary, by failing to counter the ideas that are driving the growth of left-wing anti-Semitism, the ADL has actually undermined the effort to halt the very trend that it has finally chosen to highlight after spending the previous four years largely ignoring it, and instead focusing on partisan talking points vainly trying to connect former President Donald Trump with animus against the Jews.
The role that the ADL continues to play in propping up critical race theory (CRT) indoctrination and demonizing its critics strengthens the very forces Greenblatt is now pushing back against.
As with other mainstream liberal Jewish groups, like the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the ADL jumped at the opportunity to back the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the death of George Floyd in May 2020 at the hands of Minneapolis police. Eager to resurrect the old alliance between Jewish and African-American groups that has largely lapsed in the decades since the heyday of the civil-rights movement, they saw it as an opportunity to take a stand against racial prejudice. But even when faced with the problematic aspects of the BLM movement, which is rooted in support for an intersectional ideology that views the war against Israel’s existence as morally equivalent to the struggle for racial justice in the United States, these Jewish institutions still felt there was an advantage in being part of a broad coalition of liberal and leftist groups embracing the cause of anti-racism.
Few did such yeoman service for BLM as the ADL.
In the summer of 2020, its chapters distributed recommended reading lists about racial issues to the Jewish community filled with some of the most extreme BLM and CRT propaganda, including the work of the race-baiting Ibram Kendi, who insists that anti-Zionists are not anti-Semitic; White Fragility author Robin DiAngelo; The New York Times fallacious “1619 Project”; and other works that obsess about white privilege—a label that is slapped on Jews and the State of Israel in order to delegitimize them.
In the fall of 2020, the group condemned the Trump administration for prohibiting CRT indoctrination sessions from being imposed on government employees. It also consistently defended the teaching of CRT by branding its critics as “white extremists.” More recently, it has accused groups of parents and state legislators that were alarmed about the spread of CRT in books children were being told to read as know-nothings trying to “ban children’s literature.”
It needs to be understood that CRT teachings about “white privilege” lend credibility to the anti-Semitic invective that Greenblatt now decries. Indeed, without it, incidents like the environmentalist Sunrise Movement’s call for the banning of Zionist and Jewish groups from demonstrations about voting rights that ADL spoke out against wouldn’t have happened.
In the wake of last week’s election in Virginia, which largely turned on the electorate’s rejection of radical dogma infiltrating the schools, many on the left have denounced the results as evidence of racism. Even more absurdly, they have engaged in widespread gaslighting about the subject in which they claimed that CRT is itself an invention of right-wing media and “not a real thing.”
That claim is false. Virginia school systems have paid for critical race theory coaching for their teachers that seeks to involve its ideas in all subjects. The same is true elsewhere as school personnel are increasingly forced to undergo training about CRT catechism items like “equity,” as opposed to equality, and other ideas that seek to spread the notion that the United States is an irredeemably racist nation. What it should really do is speak frankly about America’s troubled history, as well as the enormous advances towards greater equality and freedom that make up the reality of the United States in 2021.
We already know how these toxic notions are poisoning discourse about Jews and Israel; still, the ADL has neither retracted its defenses of CRT nor ceased its attacks on its opponents.
The reason for that is a familiar one for observers of the ADL. The issue is one in which many Democrats have foolishly doubled down on their support of CRT to the point where the Biden Department of Justice issued a directive seeking to investigate parents protesting about the issue to local school boards as if they were “domestic terrorists.” So, as it has throughout Greenblatt’s time leading the group, the ADL seems to view honesty about the subject as somehow unhelpful to the Democratic Party. Rather than opposing Attorney General Merrick Garland’s outrageous decision, the ADL—once one of the nation’s strongest defenders of civil liberties—was silent.
Indeed, when Vice President Kamala Harris was deservedly criticized for praising a student’s “truth” when she claimed Israel was the result of “ethnic genocide,” not only was the ADL slow to comment on it, it helped her find a way to talk her way out of it by providing her with the keynote speaker’s spot in their recent “No Place for Hate” conference. Harris did reverse herself, and in her speech spoke out against the way those who demonize Israel engage in anti-Semitism. But it goes without saying that had she been a Republican and behaved in such an outrageous manner, the ADL would have roasted her as anti-Semite and not just downplayed the incident, giving her a chance to take it back.
The problem of left-wing anti-Semitism isn’t simply the question of what some politicians are or aren’t saying. It’s a woke worldview about white privilege that endangers Jews, which has spread from college campuses to the public square and, astonishingly, become the new orthodoxy for many liberals.
It is precisely the myths about history and the insidious ideas about privilege that are the foundation of the left-wing anti-Semitic hate that Greenblatt has rightly decried. But unless and until the ADL speaks out directly against critical race theory and intersectionality, rather than defending them and attacking those who have sought to curb their influence, it cannot honestly claim to be actually doing a thing about it.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.