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The ADL’s leader starts talking the talk on left-wing anti-Semitism

Mr. Greenblatt, welcome to the fight.

ADL national director CEO Jonathan Greenblatt speaking with attendees at the 2017 National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Annual Conference at the Phoenix Convention Center in Arizona. Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr.
ADL national director CEO Jonathan Greenblatt speaking with attendees at the 2017 National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Annual Conference at the Phoenix Convention Center in Arizona. Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr.
Johanna Markind
Johanna Markind

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt has started to sound like he’s serious about the struggle against left-wing anti-Semitism. Nonetheless, he still has a way to go.

In the past, Greenblatt has downplayed left-wing anti-Semitism and tried to convert the once-lauded Jewish civil rights organization he leads into just another leftist political advocacy group. It’s only right to give him credit for his decision to change course and treat the threat in a more appropriate manner. But there are also several good suggestions for how he should address it.

In a recent Newsweek op-ed, Greenblatt at last condemned anti-Zionism as anti-Semitic extremism. He riffed on language attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and declared, “Make no mistake: those who rail against ‘Zionists’ do not mean Christian evangelicals who support the modern State of Israel. They mean ‘Jews.’ ”

The Newsweek piece was more or less an abbreviated version of a speech Greenblatt delivered to the ADL Virtual National Leadership Summit on May 1. That speech was a strong and clear description of a very real threat to Jews today. It also called out some of the most blatant practitioners of this form of anti-Semitism by name: Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

It was a step forward from Greenblatt’s previous July 2021 Newsweek article, which chided leftist peddlers of anti-Semitism like Reps. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) in gentle terms and pleaded with supposed allies on the left to “listen,” “engage authentically” and condemn anti-Semitism.

SJP, JVP and CAIR are low-hanging fruit, however, and the ADL had denounced them before Greenblatt took the helm. To his credit, Greenblatt did not reverse that policy. Still, while it’s necessary to name anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism, explain why it’s anti-Semitic and expose and shame its practitioners, it’s not sufficient.

If Greenblatt is serious about combating left-wing anti-Semitism, here are a few suggestions:

The May 1 speech and recent article spent less time on criticisms of right-wing anti-Semites than the 2021 op-ed, but still criticized the right.

Mr. Greenblatt, please stop your attempts to “balance” condemnations of the left with put-downs of right-wingers. It suggests the ADL is not serious about critiquing the left. After all, how many ADL exposés of right-wing anti-Semitism “balance” themselves with criticisms of left-wingers?

Don’t be tepid or slow on denunciations of left-wing anti-Semitism. We’re encouraged that you criticized The Harvard Crimson’s publication of a pro-BDS editorial, but a tweet that it is “deeply disturbing” and cheers for faculty members and students who spoke out against it isn’t enough. The ADL exists to take point in controversies like this.

Likewise, why are you so silent about President Joe Biden’s choice of Karine Jean-Pierre as his new press secretary, despite her track record of Israel-bashing? When a group that at least used to be the premier Jewish organization fighting hatred, discrimination and crimes against Jews is slow to recognize anti-Semitism and cautious about denouncing it, is it any wonder that college presidents, politicians and others are reluctant to say or do anything?

Please be clear and forceful when you denounce anti-Semitism from prominent, even mainstream left-wing voices. The ADL’s April 2022 report that exposed left-wing political candidates’ anti-Semitism would have been more useful had it called out people like Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.); California state candidates Laura Wells (for controller), Nathalie Hrizi (for insurance commissioner) and Mohammad Arif (for lieutenant governor); New York State Sen. Jessica Ramos; and Washington state congressional candidate Stephanie Gallardo, instead of tepid complaints about their “troubling rhetoric” on Israel.

The ADL’s focus in recent years on leftist causes has detracted from its mission. When the ADL pushes woke education, slams a Supreme Court’s ruling that a religious adoption agency need not endorse gay couples and other pet culture-war causes of the left, it alienates people who might help the ADL with what should be its main focus—the fight against anti-Semitism.

Stop your attempts to make anti-Semitism incidental to the ADL’s mission via things like changing the ADL’s definition of racism to a more woke version that condemns anti-black racism but doesn’t even mention most anti-Semitic racism. The fight against anti-Semitism is or should be the ADL’s raison d’être. That should be clear to all. If it isn’t, it has failed to carry out its mission.

Mr. Greenblatt, welcome to the fight.

Johanna E. Markind is a research editor and counsel at Legal Insurrection Foundation.

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