Shortly after attorney James Pasch started serving on the Anti-Defamation League regional board in Cleveland, Ohio, he got the news that something terrible had happened in Pittsburgh, which falls in the office’s region. On October 27, 2018 - a Shabbat morning - a shooter targeted the synagogue “Tree of Life,” killing eleven people and wounding six.
“The following day, a couple of board members, the office’s director and I went to Pittsburgh to support the Jewish community and the friends and families of those who had lost their lives in the most deadly antisemitic attack ever in United States history,” Pasch recalled.
That experience drastically changed how the attorney, who recently assumed the newly-created position of ADL’s Senior Director of National Litigation, looked at life.
“I remember the drive home like it was yesterday,” he said. “I just sat there in silence, trying to take in everything that I had just witnessed.”
“I think in many ways we have become desensitized to incidences of mass violence, but when you see eleven individuals losing their lives because they have the same identity that you and your family share, it alters your entire perspective,”” he added.
When Pasch arrived home, a new resolution had emerged.
“In those awful moments, watching a community coming together to push back against pure hatred - I found my purpose. I knew that I had to get off the sidelines in a much bigger way in order to fight for the Jewish people and for the world that I want to see for my children and for all of our children,” he said.
Shortly after, Pasch became the Regional Director of the ADL Cleveland Region.
In his time leading the ADL Cleveland Office (which serves Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania), among others, the organization launched a pro-bono legal assistance program to assist victims of hate crimes in Ohio while ADL’s No Place for Hate education programming grew over 200 percent regionwide.
The new position as ADL’s head of litigation has become necessary, Pasch argues, because in light of the unprecedented global rise of extremism and antisemitism, it has become vital to use every tool in the toolkit in the fight against hatred.
“During my time as regional director, I would always state that ADL has three pillars that we use every day in the fight against antisemitism and hatred: we investigate, we educate, and we advocate,” he highlighted. “Now we have a fourth pillar, we litigate.”
According to Pasch, building and implementing a litigation program for ADL represents the beginning of a new phase.
“We are taking the fight against antisemitism and extremism to the battleground of the courts,” he said. “With the spike in hate based incidents, it is incumbent on us to use the long arms of the law to create massive disincentives for those engaging in extremism. We must use the courts to hold people accountable for their actions and to provide redress and justice for the victims of hate.”
Since Pasch took office, the organization has already started to work on several cases.
“ADL, for example, is currently co-counsel representing the District of Columbia in a federal civil rights lawsuit, seeking to hold two extremist groups - the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers - and their adherents accountable for their role in the January 6th attack on our democracy,” he said.
“We are now going to expand our role to support individuals, organizations and municipalities who are victims of hate and bring similar lawsuits against extremists and their organizations,” he added. “More cases are on the way.”
In order to fulfil this mission, Pasch is also mobilizing attorney volunteer leaders and law firms eager to provide pro bono help to ADL.
“There is not a short supply of tremendous lawyers and litigators across this country that wants to join in the fight against hate,” Pasch said.
ADL is prepared to act not only in the United States, but also at the international level.
The organization has recently filed a claim with the Iceland District Court against the server company that is hosting the website of the Boston Mapping Project, an anonymous group that is threatening the Boston area Jewish community by publishing addresses of individuals and institutions and calling for them to be targeted.
“The growth of antisemitism and extremism is not a uniquely American phenomenon,” Pasch noted. “It is therefore incumbent on us to explore not only how we use the courts domestically but also how we use the courts internationally, to protect the Jewish people and all people.”
Despite the difficult situation, Pasch said he remains hopeful.
“I am concerned but I fundamentally believe that our challenges are not insurmountable,” he said. “I do this work because I know that we can leave this world a kinder, more accepting place for our children and our grandchildren. As long as we come together in the fight against antisemitism, extremism and hate, we will always win.”
This article was written in cooperation with the Anti-Defamation League.