This past April, my husband, New York Post Op-Ed Editor Seth Mandel, started receiving a number of identical hostile tweets (right down to the same typo). He noticed many were officials at various branches of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
Seth had been criticizing the organization’s national director and CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, a former Obama administration staffer, for increasingly heavy-handed bias. Greenblatt was essentially turning the vaunted nonpartisan anti-hate organization into a left-wing pressure group and vehicle for partisan score-settling.
He realized what was happening: The ADL had launched a coordinated rapid-response attack on him — a Jewish journalist. The ADL denied it, but the next month, Tablet Magazine turned up the proof: ADL staffers were sent two sample tweets with which to attack Seth.
The most ironic thing about all this was that less than a year earlier, I had been named to an ADL task force seeking to combat coordinated anti-Semitic online harassment. And here was the ADL itself coordinating such a campaign against my husband.
Alas, that was just one instance in the last several months where conservatives have watched the lopsided manner in which the ADL has attacked anti-Semitism under Greenblatt’s watch. During the election and since President Trump’s victory, the ADL has expended most of its institutional firepower and energy on the alt-right. While President Trump’s appointment of Stephen Bannon, who once deemed his website the “platform” for the alt-right, is concerning and justifies the ADL’s attentions on the political philosophy, conservatives have noticed the ADL’s myopic fight against anti-Semitism. This past week, the ADL put together a list of the 36 worst members of the alt-right and the “alt-light,” leaving many wondering when it would release a similar list of progressive activists.
‘The ADL Has Lost Its Identity’
In Tablet Magazine, Liel Liebowitz wrote,
Looking for social justice warriors who kick Jews out of their marches? Prominent progressive activists who think you can’t be both a Zionist and a feminist? Professors who believe Jews were behind the 9/11 attacks? Don’t bother the ADL by arguing that Jew hatred is as rampant on the left as it is on the right, if not more.
Why the double standard? Why focus on one end of the political spectrum and ignore the other? Todd Gutnick, the ADL’s Senior Director of Communications, said his organization ‘will continue to put out reports on the wide range of extremist threats, as well as those involved in anti-Israel activity.’ He also added that the organization’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, a former assistant to Barack Obama, has spoken out before about the left’s growing anti-Semitism problem. But reporting on the right, Gutnick said, ‘felt timely and necessary. These groups have been holding a number of public rallies recently and our Center on Extremism has been tracking their activities. As more of the individuals in these movements attempt to move into the mainstream, we felt it was crucial to understand their ideas and to share their statements.’
It’s a strange argument. Is Andrew Anglin, who runs the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer, more mainstream than Linda Sarsour? Are KKK rallies in Virginia better attended or more prominent than leftist anti-Jewish marches in Chicago? Of course they’re not. Why, then, the systemic focus on the alt-right? I pressed Gutnick for an answer; I never heard back.
I asked Gutnick the same question and received basically the same response. I’m unconvinced, as was a former ADL staff member I spoke with.
The former staffer, who worked directly with former ADL head Abe Foxman, told me, “The ADL has lost its identity… I can only imagine how sad Abe must be. He dedicated his entire life to try to help Jewish people feel they had someone who had their back. And then less than five years after he leaves, his life’s work is in ashes… [Greenblatt] wants the ADL to basically be a Jewish-lite organization that gets involved in fights it has no place being in, like Hispanic hate crime. It’s not their lane. It’s bad, but not anti-Semitic.”
The staff member pointed out to me that the organization, founded in 1913 to combat anti-Semitism, has now removed “anti-Semitism” from its mission statement, which now reads “Our Mission: To stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.”
Partisanship Means Losing Broader Influence
Also in the last week, one of the leaders of Black Lives Matter expressed sympathy with the anti-Semitic actions of the Chicago Dyke March and Sarsour, an already highly controversial leader of the Women’s March, deemed CNN’s Jake Tapper, a Jewish journalist on the receiving end of a great deal of anti-Semitism, a member of the alt-right.
It’s almost laughable, if it wasn’t so scary that a woman who helped marshal between three and four million people nationwide was so quick to villainize anyone with the audacity to object to many of her own inflammatory remarks. Organizations of the size and power of Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March are powerful enough to deserve an equal-sized rebuke as minor figures of the alt-right from the ADL—at least, one would think.
Standing against the ADL has now become en vogue among Republican politicians, who see a political opportunity in placing themselves against the organization that once prided itself on its nonpartisanship. Ohio Treasurer and candidate for Senate Josh Mandel (no relation) tweeted last week, “Sad to see @ADL_National become a partisan witchhunt group targeting people for political beliefs. I stand with @Cernovich & @JackPosobiec.” Yet one need not stand with the likes of Cernovich and Posobiec, two vile figures of the alt-right, to stand against the politicized nature of the ADL’s current leadership.
There are enough organizations and individuals standing with “The Resistance” against the Trump presidency, aligned with progressive causes. What the world desperately needs instead, but is rapidly losing, is a respected and nonpartisan global monitor of anti-Semitism. The ADL is correct about elements within the Trump administration that are worrisome for those concerned about an emerging anti-Semitism, not to mention rampant and growing anti-Semitism worldwide. Too bad the one organization tasked with fighting it is instead fighting a losing battle not with Jew-hatred and bigotry, but for its own legitimacy.