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ADL: We’re proud of our record defending Jews — and Muslims

As one of the oldest civil-rights organizations in the Jewish community, we’re not unaccustomed to criticism, even in the pages of one of America’s oldest Jewish news outlets. But the OpEd by Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which the Forward published on Tuesday morning, was illuminating about how certain quarters in our society desperately try to employ cancel culture to silence others. In this case, the author is trying to marginalize ADL and make support for the State of Israel disqualifying in pursuing civil rights for all Americans, including the Muslim-American community.

Al-Marayati argues that ADL is a source of “anti-Muslim” rhetoric and cannot be fully trusted as an ally in the fight for civil rights because of our support of the Jewish state. It is an argument taken from the playbook of a fringe smear campaign being run against ADL that, to its credit, MPAC has not signed his name to, but which he still chose to directly quote in his piece. Still, their campaign is wrong and without merit on a number of levels. It is also dangerous, creating a space where we as a Jewish organization are judged more for what we do or do not say about Israel than for all of the advocacy work we do here in the U.S. and abroad fighting for marginalized communities.

This is a common tactic in a smear campaign – narrow down a broader argument (in this case, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) into a singular, unfounded allegation (in this case, that ADL is Islamophobic because of our support for the Jewish State). But the allegation that ADL falls along the same side of Islamophobes is patently false.

Let’s look at the facts.

ADL was established in 1913 with a mission that hasn’t changed in more than a century: “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.” Over that history, we have been at the forefront of fighting for civil rights for American Jews — and, alongside many storied civil-rights leaders and groups, for marginalized people including African-Americans, the LGBTQ community, refugees and the Muslim community. We have taken risks, dealt with countless threats and not always succeeded at our task, but always labored to create a more inclusive society.

Indeed, over the past several years, we have been especially outspoken in our defense of American Muslims. ADL has filed amicus briefs in numerous civil rights and freedom of religion cases on behalf of Muslim communities and individuals. This includes taking a strong, unequivocal stand in public and in court opposing President Trump’s hideous attempts to ban immigrants from Muslim nations.

ADL repeatedly has called out xenophobic policies of the Trump Administration, many of which impacted the Muslim community. In September 2018, ADL condemned the Trump Administration’s decision to cut annual refugee-admission numbers to 30,000 – the lowest level in history. “This decision is a moral failure,” ADL said. “These xenophobic immigration policies fly in the face of our values as Americans.”

When it comes to security, we share our expertise on protecting religious institutions and sensitive locations with local mosques and Islamic Centers in communities across the country so that they can better protect themselves from threats. We also share the signature work of our Center on Extremism, which tracks, exposes and combats violent domestic threats from white supremacists and other extremists, whose numbers and impact have surged.

At the same time, ADL, like the vast majority of the American Jewish community, is proudly Zionist. We are committed deeply to a democratic and Jewish homeland in Israel. We will make no apologies for this stance.

And yet, that does not inhibit us from criticizing the government of Israel in regards to certain policies. We’ve done so in recent years around the highly-problematic nation-state law passed in the Knesset in 2018 and the talk by Israeli leaders about annexing of the West Bank, and we also spoke out against the recent appointment of a new head of Yad Vashem who has made a series of hateful claims slandering Palestinians.

We also repeatedly have called out anti-Arab racism in Israeli society, criticized the Israeli government for its ill-treatment of African asylum seekers, and launched A League of Respect, a new initiative to fight bigotry and racism in Israeli sports.

ADL also remains a staunch supporter of the two-state solution. Even if it is out of vogue in some circles, we firmly believe that it is the only just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one that provides the Palestinian people with dignity and statehood even as it provides Israelis with safety and security. Repeatedly, we have stood our ground on this position, even when attacked on both ends of the political spectrum for doing so.

And we believe that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign is antithetical to this value. It is absolute fiction to claim, as Al-Marayati does, that ADL “has campaigned to make [BDS] a criminal act.” We strongly advocate for resolutions condemning BDS, while also recognizing that it’s protected free speech. But let’s be clear, the BDS movement is misguided and dangerous. The BDS movement, as described over and over again by its founder, Omar Bargouti, is not intended to make Israel better, but rather to make the Jewish state disappear. But denying the Jewish people the same right to self-determination that you would extend to other people and delegitimizing the validity of the Jewish narrative are little more than modern manifestations of the oldest hatred, anti-Semitism. Again, we will not apologize for opposing BDS.

No organization with a history as long as ours will ever be perfect. We have made our fair share of mistakes. Fair criticism certainly is warranted. Frankly, we welcome and we appreciate good-faith dialogue about both how to address historical wrongs and how we can promote policies today that move our nation and our world towards a less hateful and more peaceful place.

If Al-Marayati intended for a good faith dialogue, blindsiding the organizers and panelists with an inflammatory opinion piece on the day of the event was not an appropriate way to try and start the ball rolling. A phone call might have been a better approach. And, contrary to an email blasted out by The Forward that was later corrected, ADL did not force him off of last night’s panel discussion.

In his OpEd, Al-Marayati called on “ADL to fulfill its mission as a human- and civil-rights organization by denouncing all instances of dehumanization, discrimination, and state-sponsored violence, regardless of who commits such acts…”

ADL already does this and will continue to do so.

But we don’t limit ourselves to OpEds or Tweets, where many seem to think the work takes place these days. Instead we will continue to press forward on the ground across America – in schools, community centers, houses of worships and city halls where, on a daily basis, we support victims of hate as well as engage educators, elected officials, public figures and coalition partners of all backgrounds.

In closing, I am open to a dialogue with Al-Marayati and other community leaders who are ready for authentic, productive dialogue. The work will continue regardless of any efforts to smear our organization by those who want to score meaningless political points. ADL is above that. That’s how we have accomplished so much for more than 100 years, and how we will stay on the path for the next 100 years or however long it takes to create a society that truly is no place for hate.

Jonathan A. Greenblatt is CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.


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