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On the Dangers of ‘New Anti-Semitism’

Anti-Defamation League director Jonathan Greenblatt on how the organization navigates the boundaries of free speech

Jonathan Greenblatt
June 16, 2017

The following is in response to James Kirchick’s article, “On Linda Sarsour’s Politics of Hate and the Pathos of Her Jewish Enablers.”

I have been accused of being hysterical about rising anti-Semitism and accused with equal outrage for not calling out anti-Semitism enough. I have been accused of criticizing the government of Israel and apologizing for the government of Israel.

Despite the critics, I am not deterred. The ADL’s mission is just as critical today as it was when it was founded in 1913: to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment for all.

Because no political party or movement holds a monopoly on hate and intolerance, the ADL calls out extremists on both the left and the right. We expose bigots and bias. And we always strive to do so in a balanced manner that is rooted in principle and avoids politics. We will not allow intolerance coming from either ideological pole to escape the spotlight.

We have been warning about the dangers of the “new anti-Semitism” for years. Many of our existing programs address this serious crossover, when traditional anti-Semitic themes and stereotypes morph into criticism of Israel. This is a hallmark of the BDS movement that we are committed to fight because of the bigotry that lies at its core.

To clarify, we believe that while it is well within bounds to criticize Israeli policies as we do from time to time, it is outside of the bounds of normal discourse to demonize the country and its citizens; to hold it to double standards that are not applied to any other nation; and to de-legitimize its very right to exist. As an organization that defends the Jewish people and other minorities, we know what lurks behind such irrationality and therefore we will not be silent in the face of such intolerance. Unfortunately, this happens all too often—and it should be called out each and every time, whether the source is a fringe element of the right or the left.

As many observers know, as early as March, we publicly condemned Linda Sarsour’s offensive and problematic views on Israel, her support for BDS, and the link between Zionism and feminism. Her claim that one cannot simultaneously be a Zionist and a feminist is deeply offensive, as our Israel Director Carole Nuriel pointed out recently.

In recent weeks, conservatives have spoken out against the ADL, insisting that we should have spoken more forcefully and not defended Sarsour’s right to speak at City University of New York’s Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. We did applaud CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken for his clear statement distancing the university from her views. But while I can accept the criticism that we should have been more nimble in our response, I will not accept the criticism that we were somehow accommodating Sarsour’s views simply because we defended her right to speak. That is a false choice.

At the ADL, we take the First Amendment seriously. We believe our open society and our universities flourish when they remain open to a variety of viewpoints, even those with which we may disagree. The impulse to “shut it down” is counterproductive when it is chanted by the left—and by the right. America was founded on the ideal that everyone has a right to speak—even if we despise their views. Our ability to fight hate depends on our ability to counter bad speech with good speech.

In the end, our mission is our north star.

In the years ahead, you can expect that the ADL will continue to speak out against creeping anti-Semitism from the left and right. We will seek to hear all sides of the issues and to improve our processes. We will fight ferociously against bigotry in all forms even as we work relentlessly to preserve the freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment.

This is our north star and we will remain on course.

James Kirchick replies:

Once again, Jonathan Greenblatt demonstrates—as he did in his gratuitous defense of Linda Sarsour—that silence is sometimes wiser than talking.

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