The western media frequently misrepresent events in Israel, Anti-Defamation League national director Jonathan Greenblatt said during a brief 48 hour solidarity visit to the Jewish state on Thursday.
Greenblatt, who recently succeeded longtime ADL chief Abraham Foxman, told The Jerusalem Post, “Much of the media reporting doesn’t contextualize what’s been happening here,” and so he wanted to come and “see for myself, talk to people, and understand first hand.”
People abroad often get a skewed view of events here, he continued, explaining that the “Western media often looks for equivalence, and so in that effort to find equivalence and a quote on quote ‘story,’ they often end up warping the reality and the facts on the ground.”
Greenblatt comes from a very different background than Foxman, who worked at the ADL for years before becoming director.
A social entrepreneur, Greenblatt served as a special assistant to US President Barack Obama.
At the White House, Greenblatt was director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the Domestic Policy Council, where his portfolio included national service, civic engagement, impact investing and social enterprise.
He had previously interned at ADL and participated in its professional leadership program.
Asked how he intends to make his own mark on an organization that, in the public eye, became virtually synonymous with his predecessor, Greenblatt responded that while Foxman was a “remarkable individual,” the ADL was over a century old and was bigger than any one man.
“Abe has been a very important figure in the American Jewish and global Jewish community, as were his predecessors in their time,” he said.
“I have spent most of my career in business, starting and scaling companies, building brands, and I spent time in public service at the highest level, doing economic and innovation policy. So simply put, that’s a very different background than Abe’s, and I think it’s reasonable to believe that I will bring my entrepreneurial experience, my executive experience, and my policy experience to bear on the job.”
While such differences in approach will likely be most visible in relation to Greenblatt’s avowed enthusiasm for making use of social media and technology to connect with a younger and more connected generation, the ADL’s longstanding core beliefs and goals will remain exactly as they always were, he said.
“Over 100 years ago when the founders created it they set out, to quote, ‘stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.’ That timeless mission and the values behind it have guided the organization for over a century.”
Greenblatt continued, “So ADL has not only been a ferocious opponent of anti-Semitism, and a passionate advocate for the Jewish people, and a strong defender for a strong secure State of Israel, ADL has also been an active, ferocious opponent of bigotry and an active advocate for civil rights, and a proponent for vibrant and robust democracy.
I say this to you, because that mission will not change. Those values, will endure. In the time that we’re in, my background as a social entrepreneur leads me to make some different conclusions about how we can best go about effectuating that work.”
Citing the ADL’s recent 50 States Against Hate initiative, which seeks to establish strong hate crimes laws where they do not exist on the state level and to strengthen them where they are in effect, Greenblatt said that it is important to make sure that such legislations are “comprehensive [enough] to cover the LGBT community, the disabled community and other frequent victims of hate crimes.”
The ADL will also continue to work in cooperation with groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League, Muslim and Sikh advocates and other groups, he added.
Asked how he balances the imperative to speak out on social issues with the need to focus on Jewish communal interests, Greenblatt replied that over the past century American Jews have made a lot of progress, much of it linked to advances made by others.
“What I would say and again, if you think about where America was and where the world was in 1913, Jews in the United States couldn’t attend most universities, couldn’t live in many neighborhoods, couldn’t work in many professions. Frankly they were defamed, if you will, in the media all the time.... You know, at a time when the Jewish future was uncertain and weak and vulnerable, the founders had this vision and this realization that we can best be for ourselves when we are also for others.”
“We will always be a ferocious opponent of anti-Semitism. We will stand up against the haters and the bigots, in ways that Abe and his predecessors did. And yet today, to engage with millennials, to take full advantage of the opportunities enabled by technology, to be present on the global stage where there’s so much rampant anti-Semitism, and to be present on places like college campuses or even in the corporate world where we’re seeing BDS emerge, we’re not going to shirk or shrink from that dual mission. In fact, I would actually argue it’s not a matter of how much time you allocate to x or y, but the realization that x+y = a much bigger z than we could ever do on its own.”
JTA contributed to this report.