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ADL Staff Internally Dissent Over Group’s Targeting of Pro-Palestine Advocates

The group’s attacks on anti-Zionists are undermining its own research on extremist hate, some staff said.

Jonathan Greenblatt, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO and National Director, speaks at the ADL National Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., on May 6, 2018.

New reporting reveals that workers for Jewish advocacy group Anti-Defamation League, or ADL, have been internally wrestling with the group’s vehemently pro-Israel views, as public stances from the group are threatening to undermine the ADL’s own work on extremism and antisemitism, some staff are saying.

As Israeli forces have waged a relentless bombing campaign against Gaza in recent months, the ADL has ramped up its public support of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. Reports and statements from the group have sought to demonize advocates for Palestinian rights as antisemites — even if it comes at the expense of sidelining actual antisemitic threats, with the group’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt recently going so far in espousing extremist Zionist views as to sweep aside virulent antisemitism from billionaire Elon Musk to praise him for supporting the Gaza assault.

Internally, however, ADL staff across the political spectrum are reportedly saying that it is dangerous for the group to conflate all anti-Zionist rhetoric with antisemitism in their research and in public statements, and are speaking out against this practice, according to a new investigation by the Guardian.

“I resigned because I felt that Jonathan Greenblatt’s comments were undermining my ability as a researcher to fight online hate and harassment,” said Stephen Rea, who worked for the ADL’s Center for Technology and Society before quitting in October.

“Those were Jewish people who we [as the ADL] were defaming, so that felt extremely, extremely confusing, and frustrating to me,” said another former employee who quit after Greenblatt attacked IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace following a massive D.C. rally in November, to the Guardian. “And it makes it harder to talk about that when any criticism of Israel, or anyone who criticizes Israel, just becomes a terrorist.”

ADL has positioned itself as a leading group for research on extremism, with annual reports on white supremacy, antisemitism, and extremist violence, and U.S. media recently widely circulated an ADL report finding that antisemitism rose by over 300 percent year-over-year amid Israel’s current assault on Gaza. But the report included rallies for Palestinian rights as part of that figure; of the 2,031 supposed incidents of antisemitism, over 900 incidents — or nearly half — were rallies for Palestinian rights and a ceasefire in Gaza.

This was just one of the group’s recent moves to paint anti-Zionism as an antisemitic movement, with the ADL taking other steps like sending hundreds of universities letters in October urging them to investigate groups like Students for Justice in Palestine for supposedly supporting terrorism in calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Some Jewish advocates have said that these moves have made it difficult to determine real threats against Jewish communities, especially as the right increasingly embraces antisemitism in the U.S.

The ADL’s attacks on pro-Palestinian advocates have led to calls for academics and the media to seek other sources for data on extremism. As Sarah Lawrence College professor and director of the Institute for the Critical Study of Zionism Emmaia Gelman recently noted in an article for Truthout, ADL has not only long stood against left and anti-Zionist thought, it has also taken strides to rewrite history in order to boost Zionism.

The “ADL is burning through its standing as a credible source,” Gelman wrote, “seizing the opportunity of war to push through long-standing political aims without much concern for the future.” She continued, “The ADL’s aims are not widely understood, precisely because it is so often viewed just as a civil rights group. But looking at the ADL’s larger body of work shows that it is a conservative political institution with core conservative aims.”

Indeed, the ADL and Greenblatt have been publicly attacking supporters of Palestinian rights and anti-Zionism for years now. In 2022, Greenblatt declared in a speech to ADL leaders that “anti-Zionism is antisemitism,” and attacked the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Students for Justice in Palestine, and Jewish Voice for Peace as examples of the “Radical Left” that he suggests is just as dangerous as the “Extreme Right.”

These comments — which came long before Israel’s current massacre in Gaza but during one of the deadliest years for Palestinians under Israeli occupation in history — sparked outrage internally, the Guardian recently found.

“There is no comparison between white supremacists and insurrectionists and those who espouse anti-Israel rhetoric, and to suggest otherwise is both intellectually dishonest and damaging to our reputation as experts in extremism,” one senior leader at the ADL Center on Extremism said in a message on Slack, according to the Guardian.

“The aforementioned false equivalencies and the both-sides-ism are incompatible with the data I have seen,” an ADL researcher on extremism reportedly said in agreement. “[T]he stated concerns about reputational repercussions and societal impacts have already proved to be prescient.”

The Guardian’s report comes just days after Yaël Eisenstat, formerly the head of the ADL’s Center for Technology and Society, resigned this week because of Greenblatt’s handling of Musk, one ADL staffer told Jewish Currents. It also follows other reports that Greenblatt’s friendliness with Musk has been causing tension within the organization.

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