Editor's Notes: Why they attack the ADL

They attack the ADL because, in their eyes, the ADL represents the Jews. And that should give us every reason we need to support it.

 ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt speaks during the Anti-Defamation League’s ‘Never is Now’ summit in New York City last November. (photo credit: JEENAH MOON/REUTERS)
ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt speaks during the Anti-Defamation League’s ‘Never is Now’ summit in New York City last November.
(photo credit: JEENAH MOON/REUTERS)

In August 2020, a coalition of 100 progressive organizations launched a campaign under the hashtag #DropTheADL.

“We are writing to ask you to reconsider the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as a partner in social justice work,” the groups wrote in an open letter titled, “The ADL is not an ally.”

The American Jewish civil rights group and antisemitism watchdog, they alleged, “has a history and ongoing pattern of attacking social justice movements led by communities of color, queer people, immigrants, Muslims, Arabs, and other marginalized groups, while aligning itself with police, right-wing leaders, and perpetrators of state violence. More disturbing, it has often conducted those attacks under the banner of ‘civil rights.’”

“This largely unpublicized history has come increasingly to light as activists work to make sense of the ADL’s role in condemning the Movement for Black Lives, Palestinian rights organizing, and Congressional Representative Ilhan Omar, among others,” the groups charged.

Notably, many of the coalition members – which included such groups as American Muslims for Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Movement for Black Lives – have been repeatedly accused of antisemitism, and several have been listed by the United Arab Emirates as terrorist organizations due to their ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and its terrorist offshoot, Hamas.

 ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt (left) and X CEO Elon Musk (right). (credit: GAGE SKIDMORE, GONZALO FUENTES / REUTERS)
ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt (left) and X CEO Elon Musk (right). (credit: GAGE SKIDMORE, GONZALO FUENTES / REUTERS)

At the time, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said that the #DropTheADL campaign “uses innuendo and untruths to libel our organization and assert that we somehow are not a civil rights organization.”

“An obvious falsehood, one disproved by more than a century of activism,” he noted.

Fast forward three years, to this past week.

Elon Musk – arguably one of the most visible and influential people in the world – has been amplifying a campaign by far-right figures and groups to have the ADL removed from the social media platform he owns, while engaging in his own obsessive tirade against the group.

Musk has long had what might be described as a vendetta against the ADL, which appears to stem from its criticism of his decision to reinstate former President Donald Trump’s account on Twitter, now known as X. His tone has alternated between the playful and the ominous, but the overall thrust has been that the ADL is stifling free speech and engaging in defamation of its own.

When Musk compared Jewish billionaire and left-wing donor George Soros to a comic book villain and wrote that he “wants to erode the very fabric of civilization” and “hates humanity” in May of this year, Greenblatt accused him of emboldening extremists who engage in antisemitic conspiracy theories.

“ADL should just drop the ‘A’,” Musk responded.

Last Tuesday, Greenblatt met with X CEO Linda Yaccarino to discuss the ADL’s concerns about hate speech on the platform. “I appreciated her reaching out and I’m hopeful the service will improve,” he tweeted the next day. “ADL will be vigilant and give her and Elon Musk credit if the service gets better... and reserve the right to call them out until it does.”

Within hours, the hashtag #BanTheADL appeared on the platform and was swiftly circulated by an assortment of neo-Nazis and white supremacists. By the next day, it had become the top trending topic on the platform.

Rather than shutting down the conversation, Musk amplified it.

“The ADL’s favorite tactic is financially blackmailing social media companies into removing free speech on their platforms,” tweeted Keith Woods, an Irish white nationalist who has described himself as a “raging antisemite.” “Why should they have a platform on X to hold Elon Musk to ransom? It’s time to #BanTheADL.”

Musk expressed his approval for Woods’ sentiment by ‘liking’ the tweet, and then went on to share a tweet by another activist lauding the #BanTheADL campaign.

“Perhaps we should run a poll on this?” Musk wrote last Saturday.

In the days since, as the platform has been flooded with tweets bearing grossly antisemitic messaging and the hashtag #BanTheADL, Musk has been sharing articles attacking the ADL from both the right and the left and ‘liking’ videos mocking its approach to combating hate speech online.

On Tuesday, he threatened legal action.

“To clear our platform’s name on the matter of antisemitism, it looks like we have no choice but to file a defamation lawsuit against the Anti-Defamation League,” he tweeted. “Oh, the irony!”

Why is the ADL under assault from the Right and Left?

Between #BanTheADL and #DropTheADL, the organization is under assault from both the far right and the hard left. The question is why – and why now.

As one of the oldest anti-hate groups in America and one of the most prominent Jewish organizations in the world, the ADL has long been at the forefront of efforts to combat antisemitism and other forms of hate, as well as defending Jews and other minority groups across the globe. Founded in 1913, after the contentious – and wrongful – conviction of Jewish factory superintendent Leo Frank in the murder of one of his Christian employees, the ADL has positioned itself as a leader in efforts against purveyors of hate and intolerance in America, from Henry Ford to Kanye West.

For decades, the ADL was synonymous with its longtime director, Abe Foxman, a fiery orator and vocal advocate. In 2015, Foxman stepped down and was replaced by Jonathan Greenblatt, a successful entrepreneur and business executive who had previously served in the Clinton and Obama administrations.

While some have charged that the organization has veered to the left in recent years – Musk said this week that it had been “hijacked by [a] woke mind virus” – others accuse it of being unduly protective of Israel and critical of its detractors under the guise of civil rights.

The truth is that the ADL’s identification with the Jewish community and its tendency to shed light on uncomfortable truths make the organization an easy mark for those looking to attack Jews but wary of saying so out loud.

“This isn’t actually about the ADL,” Greenblatt told me this week. “As often is the case, we’re simply a stand-in for the Jews or the Zionists.”

“This is not about banning the ADL, per se – though trying to disempower and disarm ADL in this moment of surging antisemitism is deliberate and evil – it’s really about banning the Jews’ ability to defend themselves and trying to make all of us cower, to intimidate us, to make us afraid,” he said.

He’s right.

That the attacks on the ADL are coming from both the far right and hard left perfectly illustrates the bipolar nature of contemporary antisemitism. Long considered the province of the extreme right, Jew hatred today is also rampant in many corners of the progressive left, where Israel and Zionism are scorned with unparalleled fervor. As perhaps the most visible Jewish organization in America, and one that is both unabashed and effective in its advocacy for the Jewish community, the ADL serves as a convenient target for the fire currently being unleashed on it from both extremes of the political map.

The ADL is a totem, a symbol. Just as, to antisemites, Israel is the Jew in national form and George Soros and the late Sheldon Adelson are the embodiment of the Jew in human form, the ADL is the Jew in organizational form – too powerful, too loud, too unwilling to take their abuse lying down.

While no organization is perfect and the ADL has made its share of missteps over the years, the fact that it is being targeted by two parallel campaigns, from the two primary sources of modern-day antisemitism, that share the same goal of silencing and marginalizing it should be the greatest indication that the organization is doing something right.

They attack the ADL because, in their eyes, the ADL represents the Jews. And that should give us every reason we need to support it.