Does the ADL still serve the interests of American Jews?

The ADL now calls itself the world’s leading anti-hate organisation


NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 02: Director of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt speaks on stage during the 2015 Concordia Summit at Grand Hyatt New York on October 2, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)

September 07, 2023 14:39

The Anti-Defamation League was founded in 1913 to serve the interests of American Jews. In those days, the defaming was mostly done in print newspapers. As we live in an age of progress, it is now also possible to defame Jews on the radio, on the screen and on your phone.

We might think that the ADL has its hands full. But the ADL has long since found time to campaign on non-Jewish causes. If you represent only 2 per cent of the population, alliances make political sense. But it makes less sense to dilute the ADL’s duty to its constituents in a generalised denunciation of “hate”.

The ADL now calls itself the world’s leading anti-hate organisation. It is certainly one of the most influential. But does it still serve the interests of American Jews?

In 2014, Jonathan Greenblatt replaced Abe Foxman as the ADL’s CEO. Foxman was a Holocaust survivor and not a punch-puller. Greenblatt made a lot of money after co-founding a bottled-water company and selling it to Starbucks, then worked as an aide to Barack Obama.

The ADL has grown wealthier under Greenblatt, but its ethos has been watered down. It has identified its moral imprimatur as the voice of the Jews with the agenda of the Democratic Party and volunteered for one side in the culture war.

The ADL has mobilised the authority of its noble role in the civil rights campaigns of the Sixties in support of radical culture warriors such as Black Lives Matter and trans rights campaigners. These are not Jewish issues. They are the pet issues of the Democrats’ identitarian left, which also happens to be hostile to Israel and to Jews in general. Culture-war issues are “wedge issues”, used to force voters to pick one party over another.

Since Donald Trump’s election in 2016, the ADL has operated as the sharp end of the Democratic wedge. Which is to say, it smears red-state America as racist in order to push through policies that lack public support. That includes the ADL’s drive for censorship of social media. The ADL claims that discussing George Soros’s role as an electoral donor, especially in supporting would-be district attorneys whose politics place them on the crankish left of the Democratic Party, is a “conspiracy theory”.

It says that because Soros’s Jewishness is “so well-known”, it is “hard not to infer” antisemitic intent. This is unserious. And it is immoral to “infer” racism without evidence.

The internet has democratised communication. Social media are designed to turn private thoughts inside-out. This is a commercial exercise in mass disinhibition, so of course expressions of fear and loathing towards Jews will multiply.

The bigger question is, do social media platforms teach people to hate Jews, just as they funnel gender dysmorphia towards teenage girls? We may not like the answer to that one, because we are supposed to believe in rationality and democracy.

Since Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, the ADL has volunteered to shoot the digital messenger because some of the messages are objectionable. Many of them are, unfortunately or not, within the bounds of the First Amendment. Is it in the interest of American Jews that their most prominent organisation is leading the charge to limit the first and most vital clause of the Constitution.

“Since the acquisition, the ADL has been trying to kill this platform by falsely accusing it and me of being antisemitic,” Musk tweeted this week.

Messaging with an Irish white nationalist, Musk claimed that “the ADL, because they are so aggressive in their demands to ban social media accounts for even minor infractions, are ironically the biggest generators of antisemitism on this platform!”

Is Musk blaming the Jews for antisemitism? Musk would say that he’s walking the talk of First Amendment free speech, which includes the right to offend and also to be wrong. The ADL might “infer” that Musk is antisemitic because he talked with an antisemite. This is no different to the Inquisition peering into men’s souls in search of heresy.

They say you should never pick a fight with a man who has a barrel of ink. The ADL has one, but Musk makes both the barrel and the ink. The ADL will not win, especially if it comes to a vote. Which is why Musk mused whether his digital public should vote on giving the ADL the treatment it seeks for its ideological enemies, and banning it. It would be better if, as he has threatened to, he sued it for defamation.

There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to Jewish history. The ADL has become a classic exercise in shtadlanut: interceding with the authorities so that its patrons, whether they are czars or the federal bureaucracy, will rein in the peasants. When the Jews identified themselves with the rulers, they became a lightning rod for the peasants’ dissatisfaction. See the less cheery parts of Fiddler on the Roof.  What’s remarkable is that this pre-democratic pattern has replicated itself in democratic America.

September 07, 2023 14:39

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