A new, highly publicized report from the Anti-Defamation League claims that anti-Semitic incidents across the United States have skyrocketed by more than 400%. But these ADL numbers do not add up – unless one equates opposition to the Israeli bombardment of Gaza with hatred of Jews.
The Anti-Defamation League’s findings that anti-Semitic incidents in the United States have risen exponentially have made headlines, both in America and worldwide (e.g., Reuters, CBS News, PBS, CNN, Washington Post). American Jews are purportedly facing a wave of hatred and violence like never before, leaving many terrified at the prospect of merely leaving the house.
In the month since Hamas’ surprise attack, the Israeli bombardment of Gaza has killed more than 10,000 people, including well over 3,000 children. Dozens of hospitals, schools and places of worship have been destroyed, as Israel has openly announced its plan to drive the densely-populated strip’s population into Egypt’s Sinai Desert, ethnically cleansing them from their land. In response to Israel’s actions, the United States has seen an unprecedented wave of demonstrations calling for a ceasefire.
As proof of this wave, the ADL published an interactive (and regularly updated) map of hundreds of incidents nationwide. Yet included in this map of anti-Jewish hate were 153 rallies and demonstrations for Palestine, which the influential NGO reflexively labeled as problematic, providing no further evidence. There were also 84 further rallies across the U.S. that the ADL claimed “supported terror.” These protests, the organization insisted, included “explicit or strong implicit support for Hamas,” although, again, the map does not explain further.
Together, these demonstrations represent essentially every major outburst of public solidarity for the people of Gaza, meaning that the ADL has tarred the entire movement as anti-Semitic. This is a highly controversial position, yet none of the news outlets referencing the ADL’s findings informed their readers of this.
Other episodes included in the ADL list are also potentially questionable. For example, one incident in Chicago was described as such: “Individuals at a pro-Palestinian rally chased and physically assaulted an individual holding a picture of an Israeli flag.” From the description, it is far from clear whether this was an anti-Semitic attack or a skirmish between rival groups protesting. If an individual showed up to a pro-Israel rally with a Palestinian flag and was assaulted, would this necessarily constitute an Islamophobic hate crime?
Nor does the list differentiate between trivial matters and extremely serious events. A large percentage of the incidents noted were simply racist signs being spotted. For instance, in Medfield, MA, “a swastika was carved into a portable toilet at a school,” while in Warrington, PA, “A swastika was spray painted on a utility pole.” It is unlikely, however, that toilet graffiti is the sort of incident that comes to many Americans’ minds when they read headlines about a shocking and dangerous rise in anti-Semitism.
There certainly have been extremely serious anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in the wake of Hamas’ surprise attack and Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. For example, in Albuquerque, NM, a man phoned in a (phony) bomb threat, claiming he was in a messianic synagogue with a backpack full of explosives, causing the building to be evacuated. The ADL effectively puts incidents like this on par with marches calling for a ceasefire, thereby tacitly equating the rejection of Israel’s murderous war with a desire to kill Jews.
Some cynics might say that is precisely the point. Historian Norman Finkelstein, for example, has claimed that the ADL regularly announces the arrival of a new wave of anti-Semitism and that these pronouncements often coincide with international condemnation of Israeli violence, and has suggested that these amount to attempts to run interference for the State of Israel, changing the subject to distract from its crimes.
Miko Peled, an Israeli-American activist and son of a former top Israeli general, went further, writing that:
The ADL is clearly a racist, Zionist, anti-Palestinian organization that makes it its mission to delegitimize the Palestinian struggle by equating it first with terrorism and now, since that claim has proven to be absurd, with extremism and anti-Semitism.”
The ADL is not the only pro-Israel NGO attempting to portray opposition to Israeli violence as inherently racist. Stop Antisemitism, for instance, posted pictures of a truck displaying messages reading “Israel kills one child every 10 minutes. End U.S. aid to Israel” and “Free Palestine,” along with the truck’s number plate. Another choice piece of “anti-Semitism” they profiled was the words “liberate Palestine” etched onto a toilet cubicle.
Playing Defense for Israel
That one of the Anti-Defamation League’s core aims is to defend Israel is not in doubt. The data on anti-Semitic attacks in the United States appears on a page titled “Stand with Israel,” after all. Furthermore, the ADL has published strategy guides groups can use to “deal with anti-Israel activity on campus” and recently printed a handbook of guidelines for media to use when covering Israel’s attack on Palestine.
This handbook instructs journalists to:
- Refer to Hamas as “terrorists” rather than militants or fighters;
- Describe Israel’s campaign in Gaza as a “legitimate military action in response to [the Hamas] massacre and to prevent future acts of terror”
- Make sure that their readers understand that pro-Israel protests are morally far superior to their pro-Palestine equivalents. After all, they insist, “the Israeli Army does everything it can to limit and prevent civilian casualties.”
More evidence of the ADL’s true goals can be found on the ADL’s own “Mission and History” page, where it lists its most important moments and achievements. Many of these achievements are clearly just advancing the State of Israel’s interests, including the following:
- The World Conference Against Racism, a U.N.-sanctioned conference held in Durban, South Africa in 2001, turns into an anti-Israel and antisemitic hate fest. ADL convinces the U.S. government and others to withdraw in protest.
- ADL exposes the inherent antisemitism in Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s published accusations that an “Israel lobby” is forcing the U.S. government to adopt policies that are counter to American interests. ADL further renounces similar accusations in former President Jimmy Carter’s book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid.
- ADL advocates for strong international sanctions to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program, exposes European business dealings with Iran and launches the “Stop Nuclear Iran” information campaign.
- In an effort to help address antisemitic and anti-Israel intimidation in schools and on campus, ADL lobbies for the Department of Education to include antisemitism and campus anti-Zionism within its ongoing civil rights enforcement authority.
As can be seen from the final example, the Anti-Defamation League has gone out of its way to consistently equate opposition to Israeli government policy with racism. Indeed, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt has gone further than the standard line that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, stating on MSNBC last month that “anti-Zionism is genocide.” Explaining this position, Greenblatt doubled down, insisting that, “Every Jewish person is a Zionist…it is fundamental to our existence.”
Boycotting the Boycotters
Given their stance on anti-Zionism, it is perhaps no surprise that the Anti-Defamation League has denounced tactic of boycotting Israel as anti-Semitic. And as the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has grown, the ADL has found creative ways to undermine it. Chief amongst these is to move into the field of investing in order to shield Israel from being targeted by ethical investment companies.
Last December, the ADL announced it had acquired financial company JLens to fight so-called anti-Israel activities in the progressive investing arena.
“It’s time for the Jewish community to take a seat at the table to use our power as institutional investors to ensure corporations are aligned with our values, and don’t fall for antisemitic pressures,” Greenblatt said, announcing the move.
Increasing numbers of people wish to invest their money ethically, meaning that corporations that pollute the environment or countries with particularly poor human rights records are off the table. Given the way it treats its Arab population and how it is occupying two neighboring countries, Israel stands to lose from any rise in ethical capitalism, hence the ADL’s attempts to influence the sphere and create an Israeli exception.
Training American Cops to be More Like Israelis
Through its other programs, the Anti-Defamation League has a far greater effect on American society than many realize. For one, the ADL is the single largest non-governmental police trainer in the country. Every major metropolitan police department in America has sent officers to the ADL’s Advanced Training School, which provides instruction on extremism and terrorism for more than 250 U.S. agencies, including ICE and the FBI. In fact, ADL training is now mandatory for all new FBI special agents and intelligence analysts.
The ADL also facilitates American law enforcement officials to train in Israel and for Israeli and American forces to trade practices with one another. Thus, the surveillance and intimidation tactics honed on Palestinians living in open-air prisons find their way back to the United States, where police increasingly treat low-income neighborhoods and communities of color similarly to how Israel suppresses its indigenous population.
A perfect example of this is Ferguson, MO and the killing of Michael Brown. In 2014, police officer Darren Wilson shot the unarmed 18-year-old black male while he had his hands up and was begging him not to fire. The event sparked nationwide protests.
Police Chief Timothy Fitch, the head of the county police department, had received an ADL-funded trip to Israel, where he met and was trained by Israeli counterinsurgency specialists. Activists have consistently highlighted the parallels and connections between American and Israeli law enforcement, from tactics to weapons.
Brown is far from the only American victim of Israeli-trained police violence. In 2006, Atlanta cops, fresh from a counterterrorism and drug enforcement exchange program with Israeli soldiers, carried out a no-knock raid at the home of 92-year-old black woman Kathryn Johnston. After firing 39 shots, police handcuffed Johnston, planted drugs on her corpse, and left her to bleed to death.
A Shameful History
Training the police is far from the only questionable activity the Anti-Defamation League has been involved in, however. Although it presents itself as a liberal, forward-thinking institution, the ADL has, for nearly a century, been at the forefront of the fight against progressive change in the United States and around the world.
As early as the 1930s, the ADL began carrying out surveillance against leftist organizations, reporting their activities to the House Committee on Un-American Activities – a government organization dedicated to suppressing left-wing thought. Although they formally opposed McCarthyism, the ADL also secretly fed information on a host of organizations to the FBI, becoming, in effect, a private spying agency.
The ADL stood against the student movement of the 1960s, attacking the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and branding them as “racist.” But it reserved special vitriol for the black liberation movement, spying on the NAACP and on Martin Luther King Jr. himself. It also attempted to keep the racist apartheid government in South Africa afloat, spying on the African National Congress Party and top anti-apartheid activists like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, sharing that information with the white supremacist government.
More recently, the ADL has sought to undermine the Movement for Black Lives, strongly criticizing it for highlighting connections between how people of color are treated in the U.S. and how Israel treats Palestinians.
The longer one looks into the history of the Anti-Defamation League, the harder it gets to find a progressive institution, organization or movement that it has not surveilled or attacked. In 1993, it was revealed that the ADL had collected confidential information on nearly 10,000 activists and more than 700 organizations and had infiltrated countless more groups. Those surveilled included the United Farm Workers, the AFL-CIO, Greenpeace and a host of progressive Arab-American and Jewish-American organizations. The ADL even spied on the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) and fought to keep homophobia out of anti-bias curriculums.
The ADL’s former research director Irwin Suall summed up his organization’s position: “It’s the American left that’s the biggest threat to American Jews.” What the “threat” from progressive Americans was not explained. However, since Israel derives crucial political and financial backing from the United States, it could indeed be said that if public opinion turned strongly against Israel, its legitimacy would be in question.
Throughout the period, the ADL passed sensitive data on to the government of Israel, acting as its unofficial spy agency. But many thought this relationship went even further, chief among them the FBI. A 1969 internal FBI memo noted that the ADL was very likely breaking the Foreign Agents Registration Act by acting as an arm of the Israeli state. “It is felt incredible to assume [the ADL] is not furnished to an official of the Government of Israel”, the memo concluded.
And while the ADL attacks and defames public figures like Palestinian-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, claiming that she is anti-Semitic, it has supported many of President Trump’s moves despite his history of making blatantly anti-Semitic statements. In 2017, for instance, it praised him for announcing that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move its embassy to the ethnically cleansed city.
American Jews do face increased threats. In 2018, a gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11. Only a few months later, a terrorist opened fire at the Chabad of Poway in California. But fighting this tide of intolerance is not helped by conflating sympathy with the Palestinian cause and protesting against the State of Israel’s genocidal actions in Gaza with Jew hatred. Yet this is precisely what the Anti-Defamation League continues to do, despite the fact that many of these marches were led by Jewish organizations. The ADL’s actions represent an increasingly desperate rear-guard action to shield Israel from legitimate criticism and smear activists the world over as racists. These attempts are indeed pathetic, but given the ADL’s long history of defending the indefensible, perhaps they are unsurprising.
Feature photo | Illustration by MintPress News
Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.org, The Guardian, Salon, The Grayzone, Jacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.