I’m a non-Jewish Latina who works at the Anti-Defamation League.
I love this work. I’m proud of this work. I’ve taken up the cause of fighting anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry because, as a Latina, I can’t simply be concerned with anti-immigrant or anti-Latino hate. To be effective in building a more equal and just society, I believe deeply that I have to fight all forms of hatred. And that includes the hatred of Jews.
To that end, one of ADL’s programs involves working closely with law enforcement in the United States, training them to identify and investigate hate crimes against all vulnerable groups in our society. We train law enforcement to combat extremism and terrorism, but also their own implicit biases. We take a few dozen American law enforcement officials to Israel every year, where they learn from Israel’s national police about how they prevent and respond to international terror attacks and threats, like those from Hezbollah and Hamas. The goal of this program is to help U.S. law enforcement officials prevent attacks in the U.S. and save lives. Seems like a no-brainer, right?
Well, not for everyone, it turns out.
For months now, the far-left anti-Zionist group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) has been targeting our exchange program with Israel with a campaign called “Deadly Exchange”. Now, ADL is a 104-year-old organization, and becoming targets of both fair criticism and inaccurate attacks from the right and the left of the political spectrum comes with the territory for an established institution like ours. But in my time at ADL, I’ve been especially surprised at JVP’s ignorance, dangerous dogmatism and blind efforts at intersectional cause-making.
In their campaign against our program — a program that is designed to save lives — JVP makes the case that American Jewish institutions are responsible for rising levels of police brutality and racism against minorities here in the United States, thanks to their support for these types of exchanges between American and Israeli law enforcement agencies.
In other words, JVP believes Jewish institutions control how the police racially profile people of color in the United States.
I was shocked by this attack. It hewed so closely to anti-Semitic canards about the Jews secretly controlling the levers of power. How could a Jewish organization make such a hateful claim?
This radical — and willful — misunderstanding of our program was compounded last week when JVP came to protest ADL at our New York headquarters.
As the head of communications for the organization, I went to greet them and to receive their petition. But I was only seconds into my conversation with a JVP spokesperson before she demanded to know: Why didn’t ADL send anyone to hear their stories?
“I’m right here,” I said, confused.
Then she asked me point blank how a woman of color could work for ADL. Hadn’t I personally experienced racial profiling?
Yes, she actually asked me that.
It was insulting, doubly so because she seemed to assume that, as a woman of color, I was some junior person being sent down to placate them (I’m one of ADL’s senior leaders).
I once again told her that I was there to officially accept their petitions on behalf of the organization. Still refusing to hand over the petitions until their hour-long program was over, the spokesperson asked me, How could I be proud of working with such an organization?
I stared at her blankly and kept my composure. I told her again that I was there to represent ADL and to receive their petitions. Again, they refused to give them to me.
Despite these many attempts to receive their petition, JVP put out a press release and many tweets falsely claiming we refused to take it. They also claimed ADL called the police to eject them from the 13-story building, which we don’t own and share with 50 other private organizations. It didn’t matter that I had tried to get the building’s private security to let them finish their protest and not call the police. JVP wanted to manufacture an arrest for their public campaign.
In all the commotion, I didn’t get to answer the spokesperson’s question. But I’d like to.
In answer to your question, JVP, yes, I am proud of working for ADL. We’re working every day to fight systemic racism, anti-Jewish hatred, and inequality in this country.
Our organization is reaching 1.5 million kids a year with anti-bullying school programs. Our organization is tracking and outing hate groups, anti-Semites, and white supremacists. Our organization is training law enforcement about how to report hate crimes, which are woefully underreported. Our organization is doing implicit bias training with police. Our organization is working with Mexican consulates to help them report hate crimes against Latinos in the United States. This is the work we are doing every single day.
ADL works through courts, in the halls of Congress, in local communities through our 26 regional offices and through public campaigns to fight racial injustice. We are proud to work with law enforcement to fight hate, even as we recognize there are systemic problems with racial profiling and the criminal justice system.
I’m proud to work for ADL because we’re actually doing the work.
Perhaps JVP is satisfied to spend their time and efforts staging arrests and calling ADL a white supremacist organization. We won’t be distracted or diverted as JVP exploits serious causes for their anti-Israel crusade.
ADL will continue to fight the good fight.
Betsaida Alcantara joined the Anti-Defamation League as the head of communications after serving seven years in the Obama Administration.