Visiting ADL leader slams ‘mainstreaming of bigotry’ in US presidential race

Jonathan A. Greenblatt speaks to the 'Post' during a visit to Jerusalem.

March 28, 2016 21:30
4 minute read.
Jonathan Greenblatt

Anti-Defamation League CEO and National Director Jonathan A. Greenblatt . (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The US presidential race has seen “a mainstreaming of bigotry and intolerance,” Anti-Defamation League CEO and National Director Jonathan A. Greenblatt warned on Monday, saying that Jews should be particularly perturbed about this phenomenon.

In an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post during a visit to Jerusalem, the New York-based Greenblatt said “worrying trends” had manifested themselves during the current election campaign.

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“In North America, we live with much privilege and good fortune, and yet we’ve seen the mainstreaming of white supremacists in this electoral season in ways that are very troubling,” he said.

“I think the mainstreaming of intolerance toward other communities is really troubling too.”

He said that although the main candidates for president all had Jewish connections, other communities had been targeted in their campaigns.

“It’s hard not to miss the fact that the leading presidential contenders, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, both have children married to Jews,” Greenblatt said.

“Donald Trump just had a Jewish grandson, and that’s remarkable. And Bernie Sanders is a Jewish person who’s right behind Hillary. That’s an amazing testament to how far the Jewish community has come."

“At the same time, I do think there are very worrying trends in the race. In particular, I think we’ve seen a mainstreaming of bigotry, and an acquiescence to prejudicial statements against people based on where they’re from, or what they believe, and these things – while they’re not being directed as Jews – we know as Jews that when you start screening people based on where they are from, or what they believe, historically things have not been good for the Jewish people.”

For this reason, Greenblatt said, the ADL announced just last week that it was redirecting $56,000 in past Trump donations to support anti-bias education programs across the US.

“It’s not about Mr. Trump. It’s about ideas,” he said.

“We’re a non-profit, and in the US, we are prohibited from endorsing or supporting candidates, but what we’re worried about is not the individual but the ideas and the mainstreaming of these ideas of intolerance."

“One of the things that ADL does and does very well is we’ve developed over decades educational content in the country that reaches hundreds of thousands of students every year. So if we can use some of those funds to expand that work, to educate kids against the very kind of intolerance that is being mainstreamed, we think that’s a good way to use our money.”

Greenblatt said the BDS movement against Israel should be exposed for what it really is, and confronted aggressively based on this understanding.

“It isn’t just on our campuses. It’s moved into board rooms, it’s in cultural venues, and it’s a way that anti-Israel proponents use the pretense of nonviolence to justify what is actually a movement whose ambitions are very violent and very ugly,” he said. “In fact, its aim is to undermine and eradicate the Jewish democratic state of Israel.”

A successful entrepreneur, Greenblatt said he had experienced BDS first-hand when he taught at UCLA and the University of Pennsylvania before becoming a special assistant to US President Barack Obama and director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. He took up his post as head of the ADL last July.

“I cringe at the idea of giving BDS more oxygen than it deserves, but there’s no doubt in my mind that there’s something happening on college campuses in the US which is very problematic,” he said. “We need to understand it, and we need to wrestle it to the ground.”

Although support for Israel is still extremely high in the US, Greenblatt said, there was genuine frustration about the lack of progress toward a two-state solution, “and the anti-Israel folks have dressed up their campaign of delegitimization under the veneer of BDS.”

Asked how BDS could be most effectively fought, he said: “It is my view is that sunlight is the best disinfectant, so we should be very strategic to try to understand it, and only make our move once we do.”

His advice to Israel? “I think that one of the things that Israel will be well-served to do is to expose the BDS movement for what its true ambitions are. I think that’s a good place to start.”

Asked about his vision for the future as ADL’s head, Greenblatt said: “When I think about where we go from here, in part it’s about renewing our mission of civil rights and social justice. In the 21st century, it’s recommitting to an agenda in which we ferociously fight anti-Semitism and hate, whether it’s showing up in the form of BDS, whether it’s showing up online in the form of cyberhate, whether it’s showing up in other practices directed against Jews, or other forms of bigotry that may attack other people, African Americans, Latinos or the LGBT community or Muslims or other religious minorities, we fight ferociously against those things too.

“At the same time, we’ll continue to explore how we can commit to fighting for a civil rights agenda in the US. What the founders of the ADL understood in 1913 is that we can fight for ourselves and fight for other Americans to make America better. When we fight to make America better, we also fight for the rights of Jews in the country, and that struggle continues today, because our work is not yet done.”

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