Left-wing leaders of the anti-Trump Women’s March have blasted Starbucks for tapping the Anti-Defamation League to help defuse the mushrooming controversy over a Philadelphia coffee shop manager’s decision to call the police on two young black men.
Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour accused the civil rights group of bias against “black and brown people” and called it a bad choice to help direct sensitivity efforts at the coffeehouse chain, in part because of its strong support for Israel.
Some Jewish activists and organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace echoed the criticism of the Women’s March leaders, who themselves have been accused of anti-Semitism.
“Lots of people are bringing up these concerns about the ADL in various communities, and it’s a real reflection of a deep-seated concern about the role that it plays portraying itself as a progressive organization,” the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, Rebecca Vilkomerson, told the Forward.
The ADL has a long history of anti-bias training. As its director Jonathan Greenblatt told CNN on Wednesday, the ADL is “one of the largest providers of anti-bias education programming in the country,” with programs reaching 1.5 million schoolchildren and 15,000 law enforcement officials every year.
Still, the news that Greenblatt would partner with Starbucks did not sit well for some on the left, who have criticized the organization for its work with police departments, especially its trips for U.S. law enforcement officers to meet and train with Israeli counter-terrorism experts.
Mallory, who is the Women’s March co-president, angered many Jewish supporters last month when she refused to renounce her longstanding ties to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. On Tuesday, she denounced the ADL on Twitter for, in her words, “CONSTANTLY attacking black and brown people.”
Her critique was echoed by fellow Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist who has angered many Jews by saying that Zionism was incompatible with feminism.
“We are talking about anti-bias training, which has mainly been happening to black people,” Mallory tweeted. “The ADL sends US police to Israel to learn their military practices. This is deeply troubling. Let’s not even talk abt their attacks against .@blacklivesmatter.”
The ADL had also been highly critical of Mallory after she attended a Farrakhan rally in February, in which the preacher gave her a shout-out after claiming that Jews control government agencies like the FBI and are responsible for “degenerate behavior in Hollywood turning men into women and women into men.”
Mallory’s subsequent lack of contrition was also criticized both by left-wing Jewish allies and by other Women’s March leaders.
But Mallory has continued to be outspoken on public issues.
After a 911 call from an employee led to the detention last week of two African-American men sitting at a counter at a Philadelphia Starbucks, which created an incident that attracted national criticism, the coffeehouse company announced that it would partner with a number of organizations to train its employees about implicit bias. In addition to ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, others who were announced as consulting on the project included the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Sherrilyn Ifill, and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Mallory wrote on Tuesday that she believed Ifill “will fight to keep ADL etc in line, but they should have never been enlisted in the first place. There are other great Jewish orgs who fight racism of ALL kinds every day,” specifically citing Jewish Voice for Peace.
Indeed, JVP has been one of the harshest critics of the ADL’s police exchange program, which it calls “Deadly Exchange.”
“Our concern is that the [ADL’s] police exchange programs are essentially like an exchange of worst practices between the two police departments,” Vilkomerson said.
“There’s a real sense that the ADL does not equally apply its civil rights standards…and has an insensitivity when it comes to communities of color about policing,” she added.
She cited the ADL’s decision to [give an award] to a New York Police Department commander who was found to have surveilled Muslim communities, and another award to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department less than a year after it was criticized for heavy-handed tactics during protests in nearby Ferguson.
Starbucks partnering with the ADL “really gives the wrong message to Muslim-Americans in this country and Black-Americans in this country who have real and legitimate concerns,” she said.
Thanks in part to campaigning from JVP, the city council of Durham, North Carolina voted unanimously on Monday to bar its police department from engaging in “military-style training” programs abroad, thanks in part to campaigning from JVP.
But Vilkomerson’s critiques of the ADL’s new Starbucks role are not fully shared even by other prominent left-wing Jewish activists.
The ADL “is one of the oldest & most respected anti-hate groups in the US,” the executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday night. She noted that she disagreed with the organization on Israeli and American policies, but noted that “They’ve long understood that fighting anti-Semitism must include fighting racism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. Their legal & advocacy work is a testament to this conviction….Dismissing @adl as only racist ignores history.”
The ADL says that the allegations against its police outreach are unfounded.
“Far from training that ‘helps the police terrorize black and brown communities,’ ADL’s law enforcement programs, including those in Israel, are designed to equip officers with the knowledge, understanding, and sense of accountability necessary to help safeguard all of our communities and ensure that our civil rights and liberties are rigorously protected,” the ADL’s Washington, D.C., regional director, Doron F. Ezickson, told JTA last month.
An ADL spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Aiden Pink is the Deputy News Editor for the Forward.