Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Concordia Summit
Director of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt speaks on stage during the 2015 Concordia Summit at Grand Hyatt New York on October 2, 2015 in New York City.Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Concordia Summit
Navigate to News section

Does the ADL Know What Anti-Semitism Is?

Another instance of playing partisan politics reveals how dangerously the organization has lost its way

by
Liel Leibovitz
February 21, 2020
Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Concordia Summit
Director of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt speaks on stage during the 2015 Concordia Summit at Grand Hyatt New York on October 2, 2015 in New York City.Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Concordia Summit

Is it anti-Semitic to argue that Michael Bloomberg is using his enormous personal wealth and ownership of a large media outlet to skew the Democratic primary process?

The answer, if you’re remotely honest, is no: A Bezos, Gates, or Koch sprinkling millions in a mad dash effort to blow all competitors out of the race would’ve received the same scrutiny, and rightly so. With two Jews in prime position to win their party’s presidential nomination, and with virulent and violent anti-Semitism raging on both left and right, you would think a venerable historic organization dedicated to fighting the defamation of Jews would play a central role in keeping the national conversation elevated and making sure that anti-Semitic slights and slurs aren’t used as cheap political currency.

No such luck. This week, former Obama administration official and current ADL chief Jonathan Greenblatt entered the fray only to prove again that his chief aim is scoring partisan points, decency and accuracy be damned.

His target, bizarrely, was Senator Ted Cruz, co-sponsor of the landmark bi-partisan Senate resolution opposing anti-Semitism along with Democrat Tim Kaine of Virginia, after the Cruz retweeted a positive story about Bloomberg published by Bloomberg News along with a mildly snarky joke suggesting that, in this case, Bloomberg owned the media that was now powering his presidential run.

Attacking Bloomberg earlier this week at the eight hundred and fourteenth Democratic debate, literally every single one of the billionaire’s opponents made pretty much the same point. Greenblatt, however, said nothing to any of them. For Elizabeth Warren to say that the wealthy New York Jew is trying to buy the election is principled and courageous; for Ted Cruz to crack a lighthearted quip in the same vein is reason enough to trot out the harshest of words. Greenblatt’s logic couldn’t be any clearer: Anti-Semitism is what you do, Republicans, not what we do. It’s a message Greenblatt’s ADL has spent years promoting, issuing report after report about Jew hatred on the right and having very little to say or do about murderous violence on the left.

This attempt to turn the real problem of anti-Semitism in America into political capital to benefit a particular candidate is shameful. It’s intellectually dishonest and morally obtuse, and it flattens a real menace that is putting real Jews in real danger into a stupid debating point tossed around by shallow operatives who seem deliberately insensate to a highly combustible moment in our country’s political history.

Greenblatt and his organization now have two orders of business facing them if they wish to preserve even a shred of credibility moving forward. The first is to offer Senator Cruz a hearty apology, perhaps with another token of gratitude for speaking out against anti-Semitism clearly and unequivocally when so other political leaders offered little more than mealy-mouthed and vague platitudes. The second is to step up and help shepherd us through this contentious election season, confirming that it’s no particular sin to point out a candidate’s egregiously transactional behavior, even if the candidate happens to be Jewish. If we allow the charge of anti-Semitism to become just another silly electoral meme, we may soon find ourselves silenced when the real world bigotry grows more pervasive and destructive. This must never happen, particularly not at the hands of an organization dedicated to keeping Jews safe.

Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One.

Join Us!

All of Tablet’s latest stories—in your inbox, daily. Subscribe to our newsletter.

Please enter a valid email
Check iconSuccess! You have subscribed to the Tablet newsletter.