The image is from Wikipedia Commons
|Motto||Fighting Hate for Good|
|Formation||September 1913 (1913-09)|
|Type||Civil rights law|
|Legal status||501(c)(3) organization|
|Headquarters||New York City, New York, US|
|Esta Gordon Epstein|
|Expenses (2017)||$70.8 million|
|Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith|
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The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), formerly known as the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, is an international Jewish non-governmental organization based in the United States. It was founded in late September 1913 by the Independent Order of B'nai B'rith, a Jewish service organization, in the wake of the contentious conviction for murder of Leo Frank. ADL subsequently split from B'nai B'rith and continued as an independent US section 501(c)(3) nonprofit. ADL states that its mission is a dual one: "To stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and to secure justice and fair treatment to all," via the development of "new programs, policies and skills to expose and combat whatever holds us back." With a focus on combating antisemitism and other forms of hate, and fighting domestic extremism both online and off, ADL describes its "ultimate goal" as "a world in which no group or individual suffers from bias, discrimination or hate." In 2018, ADL rebranded itself as an "anti-hate" organization, and adopted the logo: "Fighting Hate for Good".
In November 2014, the organization announced that Jonathan Greenblatt, a former Silicon Valley tech executive and former Obama administration official who had not operated within the Jewish communal organization world prior to his hiring, would succeed Abraham Foxman as national director in July 2015. Foxman had served as national director from 1987 for more than a quarter-century. In the fall of 2020 ADL's board of directors renewed Greenblatt's contract as CEO and National Director for a second five-year term. The national chair of the governing board of directors is Esta Gordon Epstein; elected in late 2018 for a three-year term, she is the second woman to hold the organization's top volunteer leadership post.
The headquarters of ADL are located in New York City. ADL has 25 regional offices in the United States including a Government Relations Office in Washington, DC, and is also active overseas, with an office in Israel and staff in Europe. In its 2018 annual information Form 990, ADL reported total revenues of $75 million, the vast majority from contributions and grants.
ADL has been criticized both from the right and left of the US political spectrum, including from within the American Jewish community. ADL positions and actions that have generated criticism include allegations of domestic spying, while left-wing groups have criticized the ADL for its former Armenian Genocide denial, since repudiated and apologized for, and what frequently is alleged by parts of the American left to be ADL's conflation of opposition to Israel with antisemitism. ADL's support for the Trump Administration's decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem in May 2018 also garnered criticism from the left. On the other hand, right-wing groups and pundits, including some conservative Jewish groups, have criticized ADL as being too left-wing, labeling it an arm of the Democratic Party.
ADL repeatedly accused Donald Trump, when he was a presidential candidate in 2016, of making use of antisemitic tropes or otherwise exploiting divisive and bigoted rhetoric during the 2016 presidential election campaign. The organization continued to call out President Trump for comments and actions that appeared to give voice or support to extremists such as white supremacists, for politicizing charges of antisemitism for partisan purposes and for continued use of antisemitic tropes. In mid-2018, ADL raised concerns over President Donald Trump's nomination of then-DC Circuit Court of Appeals judge Brett Kavanaugh as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Although ADL had for many years submitted questions to the Senate Judiciary Committee for Supreme Court and other key government nominations, the organization and CEO Jonathan Greenblatt were harshly criticized by many on the right for raising concerns in this instance, particularly with regard to abortion. Subsequently, in another move that enraged many on the right, ADL called for the resignation or firing of Trump administration official Stephen Miller, the architect of the administration's immigration policy, on the basis of his association with white supremacists.
In 2020, ADL has repeatedly condemned President Trump for incitement of anti-Asian American hate, as the President continued to label the novel Coronavirus as the "China plague" and both he and his supporters made use of similar characterizations.
The immediate object of the League is to stop, by appeals to reason and conscience and, if necessary, by appeals to law, the defamation of the Jewish people. Its ultimate purpose is to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens.
The Anti-Defamation League was founded by B'nai B'rith as a response to attacks on Jews; the then recent contentious conviction of Leo Frank was mentioned by Adolf Kraus when he announced the creation of ADL.
The stated purpose of the ADL is to fight:
anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry (in the United States) and abroad, combat international terrorism, probe the roots of hatred, advocate before the United States Congress, come to the aid of victims of bigotry, develop educational programs, and serve as a public resource for government, media, law enforcement, and the public, all towards the goal of countering and reducing hatred.
Historically, ADL has opposed groups and individuals it considered to be antisemitic and/or racist, homophobic, xenophobic, including: Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, Henry Ford, Father Charles Coughlin (leader of the Christian Front), Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, the Christian Identity movement, the German-American Bund, neo-Nazis, the American militia movement and white power skinheads (although ADL acknowledges that there are also non-racist skinheads).
ADL maintains that some forms of anti-Zionism -- as well as criticism of Israel that demonizes Israel, holds it to a double standard not applied to other countries, or delegitimizes the existence of the Jewish state or the right of the Jewish people to self-determination and nationhood in their ancient homeland -- can cross the line into antisemitism. The organization states:
Criticism of particular Israeli actions or policies in and of itself does not constitute anti-Semitism. Certainly the sovereign State of Israel can be legitimately criticized just like any other country in the world. However, it is undeniable that there are those whose criticism of Israel or of "Zionism" is used to mask anti-Semitism.
In 2010, ADL published a list of the "ten leading organizations responsible for maligning Israel in the US", which has included ANSWER, the International Solidarity Movement, and Jewish Voice for Peace for its call for BDS. It has not published such a list since.
In the second decade of the 21st century people were generally shocked at the global resurgence of antisemitism, which was manifested in the rise of white supremacist extremist activity both online and off. A foundational theme of white supremacists was antisemitism, which accompanied or underlay the anti-Muslim, xenophobic, racist, homophobic and other bigotry of these individuals and groups. Social media in particular, amplified hatred and provided what ADL officials characterized as a virtual "24/7 neo-Nazi rally". The number of hate crimes and extremist murders shook the ADL, leading it to reformulate its strategy so it could devote more of its resources to fighting antisemitism and extremism: the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, during which extremists chanted "Jews will not replace us" and which led to the murder of Heather Heyer; Dylan Roof's 2015 massacre of African Americans at a prayer group in Charleston, South Carolina; the murder of 11 Jews at Sabbath services in the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting; the 2019 Poway synagogue shooting in California; the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand; the 2019 Monsey, New York Hanukkah stabbing; the series of antisemitic hate crimes in Brooklyn, New York, in December 2019. ADL has financially supported litigation against the organizers of the Charlottesville rally, lobbied for an array of federal and state laws and policies which are designed to track, expose, and combat extremism, and developed and marketed education programs about the subject. ADL also works in close collaboration with Law Enforcement in response to hate crimes.
In 2020, after a year's work, ADL published Antisemitism Uncovered: A Guide to Old Myths in a New Era. The guide is intended to be "a comprehensive resource with historical context, fact-based descriptions of prevalent antisemitic myths, contemporary examples and calls-to-action for addressing this hate." It is organized around seven "myths" or antisemitic tropes, and composed of modules. This guide also introduced and explained ADL's shift from using the spelling "anti-Semitism" to "antisemitism".
The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 also saw the launch of Jew-hatred and at least two types of conspiracy theories that were resuscitated and revised so they could encompass the virus crisis, an analysis with which ADL agreed and also exposed. "'There are people out there in the conspiracy theorist swamp who are talking about this being some kind of Mossad thing, or Israel-operative thing,' Rosenberg said. And there's the other type of theorist 'who just celebrates when Jews die from it, under the cover that anti-Zionism makes it okay to celebrate when random people die.' Many of these people, he said, tweeted horrific things after Israel's first victim, Holocaust survivor Aryeh Stern, passed away."
During the 1930s, ADL, along with the American Jewish Committee, coordinated American Jewish groups across the country in monitoring the activities of the German-American Bund and its pro-Nazi, nativist allies in the United States. In many instances, these community-based defense organizations paid informants to infiltrate these groups and report on what they discovered. The longest-lived and most effective of these American Jewish resistance organizations was the Los Angeles Jewish Community Committee (LAJCC), which was backed financially by the Jewish leaders of the motion picture industry. The day-to-day operations of the LAJCC were supervised by a Jewish attorney, Leon L. Lewis. Lewis was uniquely qualified to combat the rise of Nazism in Los Angeles, having served as the first national secretary of the Anti-Defamation League in Chicago from 1925 to 1931. From 1934 to 1941, the LAJCC maintained its undercover surveillance of the German-American Bund, the Silver Shirts and dozens of other pro-Nazi, nativist groups that operated in Los Angeles. Partnering with the American Legion in Los Angeles, the LAJCC channeled eyewitness accounts of sedition onto federal authorities. Working with the ADL, Leon Lewis and the LAJCC played a strategic role in counseling the McCormack-Dickstein Committee investigation of Nazi propaganda activities in the United States (1934) and the Dies Committee investigation of "un-American activities" (1938-1940). In their final reports to Congress, both Committees found that the sudden rise in political antisemitism in the United States during the decade was due, in part, to the German government's support of these domestic groups.
Since the 1970s, ADL has partnered with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) field offices, sharing information learned from the monitoring of extremist groups. In April 2020, ADL joined with George Washington University's Program on Extremism to release a joint report on white supremacist terrorism, which supported additional government actions to combat the surging threat; the release of the report was timed to occur the same day that the US government, for the first time, designated a white supremacist group and individuals associated with it a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) organization - akin to the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) designation.
ADL keeps track of the activities of extremist groups and movements, primarily through its Center on Extremism. According to former ADL Director Abraham Foxman: "Our mission is to monitor and expose those who are anti-Jewish, racist, anti-democratic, and violence-prone, and we monitor them primarily by reading publications and attending public meetings …. Because extremist organizations are highly secretive, sometimes ADL can learn of their activities only by using undercover sources … [who] function in a manner directly analogous to investigative journalists. Some have performed great service to the American people—for example, by uncovering the existence of right-wing extremist paramilitary training camps—with no recognition and at considerable personal risk." A person apprehended in connection to the 2002 white supremacist terror plot had drawn a cartoon of himself blowing up the Boston offices of ADL.
ADL regularly releases reports on US antisemitism and extremist activities on both the far left and the far right. As part of its Law Enforcement Agency Resource Network (L.E.A.R.N.), ADL has published information about the American militia movement and a guide for law enforcement officials titled Officer Safety and Extremists. An archive of "The Militia Watchdog" research on US right-wing extremism (including groups not specifically cited as antisemitic) from 1995 to 2000 is also available on ADL website.
In the 1990s, some details of ADL's monitoring activities became public knowledge; the ADL had gathered information about some non-extremist groups which became a contentious issue. In 2013, J.M. Berger, a former non-resident fellow of the Brookings Institution, wrote that media organizations should be more cautious when citing the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and ADL, arguing that they are "not objective purveyors of data".
In July 2017, ADL announced that they would be developing profiles on 36 alt-right and alt-lite leaders. In 2019 and 2020 ADL executives and staff testified multiple times in front of Congressional committees concerning the dangers of domestic extremists, noting that the large majority of extremist murders in the United States over the past decade had been committed by white supremacists. In early 2020, as the Coronavirus pandemic raged, ADL's Center on Extremism began tracking and publishing reports of upsurges in extremist hate and violence targeting Asian-Americans, Chinese, Jews and immigrants.
Separation of church and state
One of ADL's major focuses is religious freedom for people of all faiths. In the context of public schools, ADL has taken the position that because creationism and intelligent design are religious beliefs, and the government is prohibited from endorsing the beliefs of any particular religion, they should not be taught in science classrooms: "The U.S. Constitution guarantees the rights of Americans to believe the religious theories of creation (as well as other theories), but it does not permit them to be taught in public school science classes." Similarly, ADL supports the legal precedent that it is unconstitutional for the government to post the Ten Commandments in courthouses, schools, and other public places: "True religious liberty means freedom from having the government impose the religion of the majority on all citizens." ADL has also condemned the public school Bible curriculum published by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, saying that it raises "serious constitutional problems" and "advocates the acceptance of one faith tradition's interpretation of the Bible over another".
In 2008, ADL opposed Proposition 8 in California; Prop 8 was a successful ballot proposition for a state constitutional amendment opposing same sex marriage that was subsequently overturned by the federal courts.[circular reference] ADL submitted amicus briefs supporting same sex marriage in those cases. While basing its ongoing opposition to that and other anti-LGBTQ+ laws and campaigns primarily on equality and anti-discrimination legal rationales, ADL also consistently cites church/state separation arguments. Thus, a frequent theme of ADL argument is that freedom of religion was meant to be a shield to protect religious freedom (particularly of minorities and vulnerable constituencies), and not a sword to attack the religious freedom of others.
ADL has also based its support for women's equality and reproductive choice on, among other legal arguments, the argument that the state should not adopt as law a particular religious belief, although the United States federal courts have not accepted this religious freedom and state/church separation line of argument.
ADL holds the view that it is important to remember the Holocaust, in order to prevent such an event from reoccurring. Along with sponsoring events opposing Holocaust deniers and revisionists, ADL has been active in urging action to end modern-day ethnic cleansing and genocide in places such as Bosnia, Darfur, and Sudan. ADL gives out its Courage to Care Award to honor rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust. ADL has also sharply criticized Holocaust Denial as antisemitism and particularly singled out Facebook for its refusal to remove Holocaust denial content from its platform.
ADL spoke out against an advertising campaign by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) beginning in 2003 that equated meat-eating with the Holocaust. A press release from ADL stated that "PETA's effort to seek 'approval' for their 'Holocaust on Your Plate' campaign is outrageous, offensive and takes chutzpah to new heights. Rather than deepen our revulsion against what the Nazis did to the Jews, the project will undermine the struggle to understand the Holocaust and find ways to make sure such catastrophes never happen again." In May 2005, PETA apologized for its campaign, with PETA President Ingrid Newkirk stating that causing pain "was never our intention, and we are deeply sorry".
ADL's Education Department focuses on Holocaust and Genocide Education, primarily through its Echoes and Reflections Program. Echoes and Reflections is sponsored by ADL, Yad Vashem, and the United States Holocaust Museum. In 2019–20, ADL's national lobbying group and the regional offices refocused efforts on federal and state funding of Holocaust and genocide education, in part as a result of the upsurge of antisemitism.
Federal and State Hate Crimes Legislation
ADL was also one of the lead organizations campaigning for thirteen years, ultimately successfully, for the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.  The hold-up in passing that law focused on the inclusion of the term "sexual orientation" as one of the bases that a crime could be deemed a hate crime. ADL also drafted the model hate crimes legislation in the 1980s; it serves as a model for the legislation that a majority of states have adopted.
In 2020 Georgia became the 46th state to pass hate crimes legislation, responding to the murders of Rayshard Brooks and Ahmad Arbery and to a years-long campaign led by the ADL regional office Atlanta, as well as by the state NAACP, Muslim, LGBTQ and other civil rights groups, and various religious organizations, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. (ADL does not consider Indiana's hate crimes law to be sufficiently strong to enable Indiana to count as a state with a hate crimes law.)
Online content moderation and fighting cyberhate
As part of its goal of opposing antisemitism, ADL has founded the "Center for Technology and Society" (CTS) to target online harassment. The goal of this center is to combat cyberbullying through research, education, and active intervention via industry and law-enforcement. The ADL has participated in YouTube's Trusted Flagger program, and has encouraged YouTube to remove videos which they flag as hate speech, citing the need to "fight against terrorist use of online resources and cyberhate." CTS is also playing a lead role working with the online game industry to fight white supremacist activity on platforms connected with gaming.
In 2020, ADL joined with the NAACP, Color of Change, LULAC, Free Press, the National Hispanic Media Coalition and other organizations in the Stop Hate For Profit campaign. The campaign targeted online hate on Facebook, with over 1000 businesses pausing their ad buys on Facebook for a month. Subsequently, in September 2020, the campaign organized high-profile athletes, actors and musicians, including Sacha Baron Cohen, Kate Hudson, Kim Kardashian, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, James Corden, Jamie Foxx, Katy Perry, Naomi Campbell, Chris Paul, and many others to post Stop Hate for Profit messages targeting Facebook on their social media and to freeze all posts on Instagram for a day.
ADL supports Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, negotiated by the parties. The organization vociferously opposed the 1975 United Nations resolution (revoked in 1991) which equated Zionism with racism, and attempts to revive that formulation at the 2001 U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. ADL also has expressed concern over Israeli legislative proposals that would stifle freedom of expression and undermine Israeli democracy.
While ADL was a lead supporter of Congressional legislation prohibiting US individuals and businesses from joining "unsanctioned boycotts" such as the 1970s Arab League Boycott against Israel, it has taken a different, case-by-case approach to state anti-BDS laws more recently enacted in response to the BDS movement. Several of these laws, which seek to prohibit State agencies and instrumentalities from investing in companies that boycott Israel and from entering into contracts with entities that boycott Israel, have been successfully challenged in the courts. The legal challenges have primarily been brought by the ACLU and CAIR on First Amendment constitutional grounds. ADL generally has not publicly supported laws it felt were constitutionally suspect under the First Amendment, both for legal reasons and because the organization believed that such laws, even if what ADL describes as "well-intentioned", were not an effective means of combating the BDS movement. However, as a general matter the organization also has not publicly opposed such state laws, preferring to work behind the scenes to try to make such laws less infirm under the Constitution or to propose non-binding resolutions opposing BDS. A possible division of internal views in ADL was disclosed when the liberal Jewish publication, The Forward, published ostensibly leaked internal ADL staff memos dating from 2016 that opposed the anti-boycott laws. ADL did not comment directly on the leaked memos, but the statement it issued in response appeared to acknowledge both that there were sharply divided views within the organization and that the organization did not try to suppress internal robust discussion.
ADL has publicly stated that it believes that certain founders and leaders of the BDS movement are antisemitic but has noted that many supporters of BDS, both Jewish and non-Jewish, are not antisemitic.
ADL has condemned the United Nations Human Rights Council's (UNHRC) list of companies doing business with Jewish settlements in Israeli-run territories (West Bank, East Jerusalem, Golan Heights), issued in February 2020, calling it a "blacklist".
In 2006, ADL condemned Senate Republicans in the United States for attempting to ban same-sex marriage with the Federal Marriage Amendment, and called the proposal discriminatory. That same year, the ADL warned that the debate over illegal immigration was drawing neo-Nazis and antisemites into the ranks of the Minuteman Project.
In 2010, during a hearing for Florida House Bill 11 (Crimes Against Homeless Persons), which was to revise the list of offenses judged to be hate crimes in Florida by adding a person's homeless status, the League lobbied against the bill, which subsequently passed in the House by a vote of 80 to 28 and was sent to the Senate, taking the position that adding more categories to the list would dilute the effectiveness of the law, which already includes race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and age.
Had a similar movie been made with either Judaism or Catholicism as its target, it would be immediately denounced for the scurrilous piece that it is. I sincerely hope that people of all faiths will similarly repudiate The Godmakers as defamatory and untrue, and recognize it for what it truly represents - a challenge to the religious liberty of all.
ADL has opposed efforts in the U.S. and in Europe to ban circumcision of minors on the grounds of parental and religious freedom, citing the importance of circumcision in Judaism and Islam. ADL has also criticized specific instances of anti-circumcision imagery, such as an anti-circumcision cartoon in the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet and the comic book Foreskin Man - regarding the latter, Associate Regional Director Nancy Appel stated that while good people could disagree on the issue of circumcision, it was unacceptable to use anti-Semitic imagery within the debate. ADL also criticized an anti-circumcision resolution by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, describing it as "leading Europe in a horrific direction toward the forced exclusion of Jewish citizens." In 2018, ADL's Jonathan Greenblatt sent Iceland's Parliament a letter regarding a proposed infant circumcision ban in that country, arguing that the ban should be rejected due to circumcision's religious significance and health benefits. Greenblatt also said that if the ban passed, ADL would report on any celebration by anti-Semites and other extremists, asserting that this would deter tourism and harm Iceland's economy. The Reykjavík Grapevine described this letter as a threat.
ADL supports Comprehensive and DREAM Act legislation that would provide conditional permanent residency to certain undocumented immigrants of good moral character who graduate from US high schools, arrived in the United States as minors, and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment.
ADL has supported some moves of the Trump administration and criticized others. For example, the organization welcomed President Trump moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, thereby underscoring that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel. ADL CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt traveled to Israel to join Trump administration officials at the official opening ceremony of the embassy in Jerusalem. ADL has also repeatedly criticized President Trump for using antisemitic tropes or seeming to apologize for white supremacists. Alongside at least eight other Jewish advocacy organizations, dozens of civil rights organizations, and more than one hundred members of congress, ADL has called for key Trump administration executive Stephen Miller, the architect of the Trump administration policies on immigration, to be fired and has condemned him as a white supremacist.
Relations with religious and ethnic groups
Relations with Arabs and Muslims
In 2012, ADL released a statement opposing groups like the Stop Islamization of America and Stop Islamization of Europe, and activists such as Pamela Geller and David Yerushalmi, describing them as "anti-Muslim bigots".
Since US Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) were elected to the US House of Representatives in late 2018, becoming in 2019 the first two Muslim women to serve in the US Congress, ADL at times has defended them from racist and Islamophobic attacks, as well as from what ADL has viewed as partisan efforts to weaponize accusations of antisemitism. Omar's "inspiring" story, as the first Somali-American lawmaker, was included in a book commissioned by ADL. The Good Fight, published before Omar's election to Congress, tells the stories of Americans who have fought for equality. Since their election to Congress, however, ADL also has repeatedly and harshly criticized Reps. Omar and Tlaib for what it deemed to be antisemitic remarks and the spreading of dangerous antisemitic tropes.
Relations with African-Americans
In 1997, the National Center for Black-Jewish Relations of Dillard University, a historically black university in New Orleans, awarded the director of ADL, Abraham H. Foxman, with its first Annual Martin Luther King Jr.–Donald R. Mintz Freedom and Justice Award.
In 2004, ADL became the lead partner in the Peace and Diversity Academy, a new New York City public high school with predominantly black and Hispanic students. In celebration of Black History Month, the ADL created and distributed lesson plans to middle and high school teachers about Shirley Chisholm (1924–2005), the first black woman elected to the US Congress, and an important civil rights leader.
ADL has also publicly accused a number of prominent African Americans of being antisemitic:
- ADL has catalogued a more than three-decade history of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan's espousal of antisemitic rhetoric such as claims that certain Jews are "not real Jews" and that they are "wicked deceivers of the American people" who "sucked [Americans'] blood", and that powerful Jews promote homosexuality and control black leadership. Farrakhan first attracted the attention of the ADL with comments in a March 11, 1984, radio broadcast saying that, "Hitler was a very great man". Farrakhan insists that he was using the word 'great' in the sense of 'Great Depression' or 'great white shark'. and on June 24, 1984, he described the Jewish state as "structured on injustice, thievery, lying and deceit and using the name of God to shield your dirty religion under His holy and righteous name." ADL has urged various groups including the NAACP (whose leader Benjamin Chavis developed a working relationship with Farrakhan in 1994) to dissociate themselves from Farrakhan and his views.
- In 1984 The Boston Globe reported that then-ADL national director Nathan Perlmutter said that Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. was antisemitic, after Jackson referred to New York City as "Hymietown". However, ADL later reconciled with Jackson and has worked with him on the issue of the Iranian Jewish community.
- Film Director Spike Lee was criticized by the Anti-Defamation League for his portrayal of Jewish nightclub owners Moe and Josh Flatbush in his film Mo' Better Blues (1990). The ADL said that the characterizations of the nightclub owners "dredge up an age-old and highly dangerous form of anti-Semitic stereotyping", and it was "disappointed that Spike Lee – whose success is largely due to his efforts to break down racial stereotypes and prejudice – has employed the same kind of tactics that he supposedly deplores". Lee's portrayal also angered the B'nai B'rith and other such Jewish organizations, causing Lee to address the criticism in an opinion piece for The New York Times, where he stated "...if critics are telling me that to avoid charges of anti-Semitism, all Jewish characters I write have to be model citizens, and not one can be a villain, cheat or a crook, and that no Jewish people have ever exploited black artists in the history of the entertainment industry, that's unrealistic and unfair.".
- During the 2002 election cycle, ADL, in a letter to The New York Times, harshly criticized Congressional Black Caucus member Cynthia McKinney of Georgia for launching attacks perceived as racial against her Jewish opponent. According to an August 19, 2002, article in The New York Times, ADL Director Abraham Foxman said, "It made sense that Jewish Americans would want to contribute to efforts to replace Ms. McKinney".
- In February 2005, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman called it hypocritical for hip-hop producer Russell Simmons to lead an ad campaign against antisemitism while, in Foxman's view, also defending or excusing Louis Farrakhan's anti-Semitic statements. Later that year ADL urged prominent black leaders including Simmons to reconsider their support for Farrakhan and Malik Zulu Shabazz organizing the Millions More Movement and to "stand up" against black antisemitism. Simmons, responding to ADL Director Abraham Foxman, said, "simply put, you are misguided, arrogant, and very disrespectful of African Americans, and most importantly, your statements will unintentionally or intentionally lead to a negative impression of Jews in the minds of millions of African Americans". Foxman replied, "If there were a Jewish event which was led by an out-and-out racist, I would expect Black leaders to say to me that ADL should have nothing to do with it. And I would agree with them, rather than condemn them for their action."
ADL's New England Regional Office has also established a faith-based initiative called "The Interfaith Youth Leadership Program", better known as "Camp If", or Camp Interfaith. Involving teenagers of the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic faiths, the camp brings the teens together for a week at camp where the teens bond and learn about each other's cultures. The camp has emerged as a new attempt to foster good relations between younger members of the Abrahamic faiths.
Arab American and African American lawsuit against ADL
In 1996, ADL settled a federal civil lawsuit filed by groups representing African Americans and Arab Americans that alleged that the ADL hired agents with police ties to gather information. ADL did not admit any wrongdoing but agreed to a restraining injunction barring ADL from obtaining information from state employees who are forbidden by law to divulge such information. ADL also agreed to contribute $25,000 to a fund that funds inter-community relationship projects, and cover the plaintiffs' legal costs of $175,000.
Armenian Genocide controversy
In 2007, Abraham Foxman came under criticism for his stance on the Armenian Genocide. ADL had previously described it as a "massacre" and an "atrocity", but not as a "genocide". Foxman had earlier opposed calls for the US Government to recognise it as a "genocide". In early August 2007, complaints about the ADL's refusal to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide led to Watertown, Massachusetts's, unanimous town council decision to end its participation in ADL's "No Place for Hate" campaign. (Watertown is known for its Armenian population.) In the subsequent months, some human rights commissions in other Massachusetts communities decided to follow Watertown's lead and withdraw from the ADL's No Place for Hate anti-discrimination program. ADL had earlier received direct pressure from the Turkish Foreign ministry.
Also in August 2007, an editorial in The Boston Globe criticized ADL by saying that, "as an organization concerned about human rights, it ought to acknowledge the genocide against the Armenian people during World War I, and criticize Turkish attempts to repress the memory of this historical reality."
On August 17, 2007, ADL fired its regional New England director, Andrew H. Tarsy, for breaking ranks with the main organization and for saying that ADL should recognize the genocide. In an August 21, 2007, news release, ADL changed its position and acknowledged the genocide, but maintained its opposition to congressional resolutions aimed at recognizing it. Foxman wrote, "the consequences of those actions," by the Ottoman Empire against Armenians, "were indeed tantamount to genocide." The Turkish government condemned the league's statement. Tarsy subsequently won his job back, but subsequently submitted his resignation, on December 4, 2007.
The 2007 ADL "Statement on the Armenian Genocide", was criticized by activists as failing to be a full, unequivocal acknowledgment of the Armenian genocide, because the use of the qualifier "tantamount" was seen as inappropriate, and the use of the word "consequences" was seen as an attempt to circumvent the international legal definition of genocide by avoiding any language that would imply intent, a crucial aspect of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention definition.
On May 13, 2016, Jonathan Greenblatt, then ADL's CEO and National Director for less than a year, published a blog post in which he wrote "What happened to the Armenian people was unequivocally genocide" and urged the US to take a position recognizing the Armenian genocide. In late 2019, ADL publicly endorsed and lobbied for a historic Congressional resolution commemorating the Armenian genocide, which passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support. The US Senate passed a similar resolution, which was also backed by ADL, but in December 2019 the Trump administration, under pressure from Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, refused to back recognition of the Armenian genocide.
Denver defamation suit
In 1994, ADL became embroiled in a dispute between neighbors in Denver, Colorado. Upon the involvement of ADL, the petty quarreling of next-door neighbors, initially about garden plants and pets, quickly escalated into both civil and criminal court cases involving charges of antisemitism, and counter-charges of defamation.
Candace and Mitchell Aronson, Jewish next-door neighbors of William and Dorothy Quigley, used a Radio Shack police scanner to listen in on the cordless telephone conversations of Mr. and Mrs. Quigley. When the Aronsons heard the Quigleys discuss a campaign to drive them from the neighborhood with "Nazi scare tactics", the Aronsons contacted the Denver office of ADL. Upon the advice of ADL, the Aronsons then recorded the Quigley's private telephone conversations. The conversations included discussions of putting pictures of oven doors on the Aronsons' home (a reference to the Holocaust), burning one of the Aronson children, and wishing that the Aronsons had been killed in a suicide bombing. (The Quigleys later indicated that these remarks were not antisemitic, and were only intended to be sick humor.) Neither the Aronsons nor ADL were aware that Congress had amended federal wiretap law which made it illegal to record conversations from a cordless telephone, to transcribe the material, and to use the transcriptions for any purpose.
Not knowing about the new federal law, the Aronsons used the tapes as the basis for a federal civil lawsuit against the Quigleys in December 1994. A day later, Saul Rosenthal, Regional Director of ADL, appeared at a news conference with the Aronsons in which he described their encounter with the Quigleys as "a vicious antisemitic campaign," based solely on conversations he and associates had with the Aronsons. Later that day, Rosenthal expanded on his remarks in an interview on a Denver radio talk show.
Two days later, Jefferson County prosecutors used the tapes as the basis for filing criminal charges against the Quigleys.
The Quigleys became the target of scorn and ridicule. They received threats and were forced to hire security guards for their home. A package of dog feces was mailed to their house. When they attended church, their priest openly chastised them in his sermon. The family was forced to shop in other towns, to avoid being recognized. Mr. Quigley's career with United Artists suffered serious damage.
Upon investigation, and after assistant district attorney Steven Jensen heard on the tapes the context of Mrs. Quigley's remarks, all charges but one, a misdemeanor traffic violation against Mr. Quigley, were dropped. The district attorney issued two letters of apology to the Quigleys, saying he found no evidence that either had engaged in "anti-Semitic conduct or harassment."
The Quigleys brought a lawsuit against ADL, Rosenthal, the Aronsons, and two ADL volunteer attorneys. The two attorneys agreed to pay $350,000 to the Quigleys in settlement of their claims. The Quigley settlement with the Aronsons did not involve a cash payment. The Quigleys maintained their action against ADL and Rosenthal, which was heard in federal court. A federal jury returned a verdict of $10 million in favor of the Quigleys. ADL appealed.
According to an April 13, 2001, article in The Forward, upon hearing the appeal, a federal judge "lambasted the ADL for labeling a nasty neighborhood feud as an anti-Semitic event" and upheld most of Quigley's $10 million lawsuit for defamation. According to a report in the Rocky Mountain News, with accrued interest, the judgment amounted to more than $12 million.
New antisemitism controversy
A book entitled The New Anti-Semitism (New York, 1974) by ADL national leaders Arnold Forster and Benjamin R. Epstein argued that a new kind of antisemitism is on the rise. A subsequent book, The Real Anti-Semitism in America (New York, 1982) was written by ADL national leader Nathan Perlmutter and his wife, Ruth Ann Perlmutter. In Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism (San Francisco, 2003), by ADL's national director Abraham Foxman, he states on page 4: "We currently face as great a threat to the safety and security of the Jewish people as the one we faced in the 1930s—if not a greater one."
Reviewing Forster and Epstein's work in a May 1974 issue of Commentary, Earl Raab, founding director of the Nathan Perlmutter Institute for Jewish Advocacy at Brandeis University, argued that a "new anti-Semitism" was indeed emerging in America, in the form of opposition to the collective rights of the Jewish people, but he criticized Forster and Epstein for conflating it with anti-Israel bias. Allan Brownfeld writes that Forster and Epstein's new definition of antisemitism trivialized the concept by turning it into "a form of political blackmail" and "a weapon with which to silence any criticism of either Israel or U.S. policy in the Middle East," while Edward S. Shapiro, in A Time for Healing: American Jewry Since World War II, has written that, "Forster and Epstein implied that the new anti-Semitism was the inability of Gentiles to love Jews and Israel enough."
Norman Finkelstein has written that organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League have brought forward charges of new antisemitism at various intervals since the 1970s, "not to fight antisemitism, but rather to exploit the historical suffering of Jews in order to immunize Israel against criticism." The Washington Post has reported that the ADL has repeatedly accused Finkelstein of being a "Holocaust denier," and that "these charges have proved baseless."
Park51 Community Center controversy
On July 28, 2010, ADL issued a statement in which it expressed opposition to the Park51 Community Center, a proposed Islamic community center and mosque near the World Trade Center site in New York. ADL stated, "The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of a Community Center at this location is counterproductive to the healing process. Therefore, under these unique circumstances, we believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found." ADL denounced what it saw as bigoted attacks on the project. Foxman opined that some of those who oppose the mosque are "bigots," and that the plan's proponents may have every right to build the mosque at that location. Nevertheless, he said that building the mosque at that site would unnecessarily cause more pain for the families of some victims of 9/11.
This opposition to the Community Center led to criticism of the statement from various parties, including one ADL board member, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, Rabbi Irwin Kula, columnists Jeffrey Goldberg and Peter Beinart, the Interfaith Alliance, and the Shalom Center. In an interview with The New York Times Abraham Foxman published a statement in reaction to criticism. In protest of ADL's stance, CNN host Fareed Zakaria returned the Hubert H. Humphrey First Amendment Freedoms Prize ADL awarded him in 2005. ADL chair Robert G. Sugarman responded to a critical The New York Times editorial writing, "we have publicly taken on those who criticized the mosque in ways that reflected anti-Muslim bigotry or used the controversy for that purpose" and stating that ADL has combated Islamophobia.
In August 2020, a coalition of progressive organizations launched the #DropTheADL campaign, arguing that "the ADL is not an ally" in social justice work. The campaign consisted of an open letter and a website, which were shared on social media with the hashtag "#DropTheADL". Notable signatories included the Democratic Socialists of America, Movement for Black Lives, Jewish Voice for Peace, Center for Constitutional Rights, and Council on American–Islamic Relations. The open letter stated that the ADL "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." Some liberal groups responded by defending the ADL, with HIAS CEO Mark Hetfield characterizing #DropTheADL as a "smear campaign". The ADL published a statement that the campaign involved "many of the same groups who have been pushing an anti-Israel agenda for years."
- American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
- Antisemitism in the United States
- Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
- Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation
- Israel lobby in the United States
- Jewish Council for Public Affairs
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- Simon Wiesenthal Center
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Through our network of 25 regional offices
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