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Letter | ADL: Critic distorted our record and ignored examples that undermine her argument

OpEd writer ‘entitled to her views’ but ‘loses credibility by creating her own facts,’ group says

To the editor:

It’s deeply disappointing that the Forward decided to print Kathryn Wolf’s opinion essay, “ADL has lost sight of its mission and turned partisan,” which distorted our record and that of our CEO. ADL has never wavered from its clear and unambiguously nonpartisan mission to fight antisemitism, regardless of whether the source is the political right or left — or anywhere else.

As the head of ADL’s work on democracy initiatives, I know that Wolf ignored countless examples of our work that would have effectively undermined her point in order to paint a false picture of partisanship.

For example, Wolf disingenuously claimed that ADL has given up fighting antisemitism emanating from the far left. She claimed that our CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, “far more rarely” calls out antisemitism from Democrats than from Republicans. This ignores countless examples where ADL has clearly and unequivocally called out Democratic politicians for antisemitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric. Even the example she cited, of Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez saying in February that Israel puts Palestinian children in “cages,” was clearly denounced by Greenblatt in a post on Medium

Wolf asked, “Why did it take until last summer for Greenblatt to pen an opinion piece in Newsweek titled ‘It’s Time to Admit it: The Left has an Antisemitism Problem’?”

In fact, Greenblatt earlier wrote similar pieces on this theme in Time Magazine in June 2017 and in November 2017 in the Forward itself, as well as a subsequent one in The Washington Post last October. 

And in November 2021, Greenblatt issued a clarion call against antisemitism from the far left in his annual state of hate remarks, once again putting the issue squarely at the forefront of ADL’s agenda. Wolf ignored, too, our recent work in pushing back against the dangerous anti-Israel “Mapping Project” in Boston.

Wolf protested an article on our website about extremists co-opting school board meetings, claiming that ADL is trying to silence suburban moms like herself, who are worried both about the increase of antisemitism and mask mandates. But anyone reading our school board article can see that its focus is not moms at all, but far-right extremists and antisemites showing up at school board meetings and doxing school officials — behavior that any reasonable person would agree is unacceptable. 

Indeed, the topic that earned Wolf’s ire comes out of one of the newer and more pronounced trends ADL’s experts have been documenting in domestic extremism: the localization of extremism via intentional exploitation of “culture-war” hotspots. These include masking and school curriculum disputes, and the accompanying upsurge of threats made by extremists against school board officials, school administrators and health and hospital workers.

Regardless of one’s views on the underlying issues, the increasingly violent intimidation we are seeing deployed with the goal of silencing civic and civil participation should be decried by all who, like Wolf, worry about our democracy and whether the unprecedented increase in antisemitism and other forms of hate could mean this country would no longer provide safety and opportunity to American Jews and other historically oppressed communities.

With that in mind, in a major address to our recent Virtual National Leadership Summit, Greenblatt clearly denounced antisemitism and extremism from the far left, and made clear that ADL will continue to call out the statements of those in the Democratic party who, as he put it, “knowingly traffic in anti-Zionist tropes and make malicious claims against the Jewish state.”

It’s not that the threats we track from the right and left are identical or represent the same current risk of lethal attacks or an imminent undermining of democracy. But both target Jews and cause harm to our communities. That is why ADL focuses on all these threats in the work I oversee, the protection of our democracy.

Wolf is entitled to her views and has every right to express them to the school board. But she loses credibility by creating her own facts, especially when they are so clearly at odds with ADL’s public record of fighting antisemitism and hate from wherever they come from.

—Eileen B. Hershenov
Senior Vice President, Democracy Initiatives
Anti-Defamation League

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