NEW YORK - Bridge building is key for Anti-Defamation League chief Jonathan Greenblatt’s strategy in implementing the organization’s mission: to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.
A year after Greenblatt took the reins from Abe Foxman, the former White House aide says he remains true to that mission, while exploring new ways to achieve it.
Creating new partnerships to amplify the organization’s reach, and using technology to enhance its activities are front and center of his strategy. “The founding purpose of ADL was to protect the Jewish people and we remain fiercely focused on that founding mission,” he tells The Jerusalem Post
in a wide-ranging interview held at his Manhattan office in New York City.
He says the second part of the mission – justice for all – complements the first, and vice versa.
“Whether it’s marching with Martin Luther King, standing with the LGBT community, standing with immigrants and refugees, or people of any faith, we try to maintain fidelity with both halves of that mission,” he says. “When we protect the Jewish people we make this country a better place and we make it safe for all people, so we see these things as complementary.”
Greenblatt points to the partnership ADL formed with the European Jewish Congress in January, as a way of extending the mission’s reach throughout Europe, at a time when terror attacks are increasing and the far-right is rising in the east of the continent. “I see siege mentality,” Greenblatt observed from his recent visits to Europe.
ADL and EJC signed a memorandum of understanding conferring “privileged partner” status on each other for specific core areas of activity, including advocacy work within European institutions such as the European Parliament and the European Commission.
The partnership’s focus is on advocacy with European institutions on issues of security for Jewish communities in Europe, combating anti-Semitism, protecting religious freedom, Israel and the Middle East, and anti-racism Internet policies.
Greenblatt says he is particularly concerned by the phenomenon of the “new anti-Semitism” – anti-Jewish sentiment masked by opposition to Israel: “Whether or not you agree with the policies of the Israeli government, Israel is the only country on Earth whose fundamental right to exist is questioned.
When the right of the Jewish people to self-determination is denied, because of their identity, that’s anti-Semitism.”
Greenblatt asserts that partnerships are essential to the fight against anti-Semitism, mentioning the joint initiative forged in February with Israeli think tank the Reut Institute to fight BDS and delegitimization of Israel. Together, the two organizations strive to expose efforts by the BDS movement to single out and isolate Israel, based on research and analysis of delegitimization and BDS campaigns both in the United States and worldwide.
Another collaboration founded under Greenblatt’s leadership, is the ADL Task Force on Hate Speech and Journalism. Having become aware of a spate of anti-Semitic attacks against journalists, particularly online, ADL launched the task force in June, in an effort to tackle the issue. It is working together with outside experts and representatives of journalism, law enforcement, academia, Silicon Valley, and nongovernmental organizations, in order to assess the source and scope of the issue, determine the extent of its impact and to propose solutions.
“When I think about protecting the Jewish people, cyber is one big focus. It has become a medium for harassment and hate,” Greenblatt says, adding that the ADL works in close collaboration on the issue with social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter. The initiative strives for the establishment of hate crime laws in the five US states which do not have them – Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Wyoming – while simultaneously seeking to make existing hate crime laws in the other 45 states more inclusive and comprehensive.
“Part of the reason we have put a focus on other communities is to help them understand that our fight is their fight as well,” Greenblatt explains. “And it’s gratifying when they have stood with us. We need to call out anti-Semitism for what it is and bring others into the shared struggle.”
One example of this is the recent parentheses campaign on Twitter, launched by the “alt-right” movement, which is said to be associated with white nationalism, white supremacism and anti-Semitism.
The Twitter trend saw followers of the movement labeling Jews by putting their names inside a series of parentheses.
A software was developed to help identify Jews, and ADL worked together with Google to have it taken down. In response to the anti-Semitic campaign, both Jews and non-Jews began using the parenthesis sign around their own Twitter handles as a sign of solidarity.
“This reminds us how important bridge building is,” Greenblatt remarks. “We’re small as a people but if we’re smart and strategic about creating coalitions we can have a big impact.”
Another population in need of Greenblatt’s bridges, is the refugee one, particularly from war-torn Syria. “We’ve been really troubled as refugees have been streaming into Europe and into the US. We as Jews were once strangers as well.”
Greenblatt’s grandfather was a refugee, coming to the US from Nazi Germany.
“We all have family who were refugees, we know the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, we were also refugees fleeing persecution.”
The ADL has spoken out clearly about the ways in which countries should accept refugees. “Far more people come to this country through business and tourist visas, than refugees. There is a far tougher process to get in if you are a widow or an orphan from Aleppo than a tourist or businessman from suspect countries.”
The ADL advocates that the US allow 100,000 Syrian refugees to enter the country by the end of the year, a drastically higher number than the Obama administration’s pledge to let in at least 10,000 by the end of the fiscal year.
Greenblatt proposes an education system for refugees that ensures they understand civics and pluralism.
“We understand that at a time when we’ve seen terror in the US too, refugees need to be carefully and deliberately screened and scrutinized, but the idea that you can’t come to our shores based on what god you believe in – that’s crazy.”
Greenblatt says the latter represents neither Jewish nor American values, and mentions the increase in anti-immigrant rhetoric on US presidential campaign trails in recent months. “We’ve seen an increase in violence, in particular we have seen American Muslims attacked.” He says the invective directed against Muslims is similar to what Jews have experienced and is cause for concern.
“We know when you’re attacked because of who you are and what you believe, we inevitably become the targets of that. The rhetoric inevitably cascades and many others get caught up in the net of hate. Even if that weren’t the case – it’s just wrong to attack people based on what they believe or how they pray,” he says.