The ADL (Anti-Defamation League) has just launched a new initiative for college students called “ADL CAMPUS: Tools for Dealing with Anti-Semitic and Anti-Israel Incidents on Campus.”
This resource contains much useful information about addressing anti-Semitism, endorses such valuable principles as freedom of speech and non-violence, and recommends that students talk to others who may hold different perspectives.
It also, however, contains some deeply problematic components for anyone who believes that human rights and justice should apply to all people without exception.
Unfortunately, the ADL does not share this belief. While it announces prominently, “We protect the Jewish people and secure justice and fair treatment to all,” in reality the ADL supports Israeli injustice against Palestinians.
Its recent campus resource exemplifies this, and distorts facts and words in order to do so.
First of all, ADL Campus conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Rather than meaning bigotry against Jewish people, the ADL’s use of the term anti-Semitism includes many forms of criticism of Israel. The Israeli government and certain of its partisans have been pushing this new, expanded definition in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.
Below, this article will look in more detail at what kinds of criticism of Israel the ADL considers unacceptable, and why its parameters will include virtually all speakers truly critical of Israeli oppression of Palestinians. First, however, let us turn to the ADL’s advice on blocking events championing Palestinian human rights (and undermining free speech and academic inquiry).
ADL Campus provides an entire section on how to block events on Palestine. The section starts out by assuring students that they have tremendous resources on their campuses to help them in this: faculty, Hillel, Chabad, J Street U, Stand With Us, The David Project, off-campus organizations like ADL, the Israel Action Network, Israel on Campus Coalition, AIPAC, and “your local Israeli Consulate.”
It provides an array of “Proactive Strategies to Prevent Anti-Israel Activity” – “steps you can take year-round to prevent an anti-Israel event from taking place on your campus, and to be prepared if and when an anti-Israel event does take place.”
They are advised to join – and lead, when possible – student organizations so that they can use this position to advocate for Israel and prevent campus activism on Palestine. The guide advises students to:
“Run for student government. Write for the campus newspaper. Join committees and other student organizations. Holding leadership positions on campus provides a great opportunity to meet new people, build coalitions, and exchange views with your peers. With a seat at the table, you can more effectively speak out (or even vote) against anti-Israel actions, including divestment resolutions.”
This is not a new idea. In 2010 an AIPAC official (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) said that AIPAC was going to take over student governments in order to block resolutions on behalf of Palestinian rights:
More recently, pro-Israel students have been working to insert an Israel-centric definition of anti-Semitism into student governments. This then blocks university funding for student groups wishing to bring speakers on Palestine.
ADL Campus expands further upon the value of building relationships with other students as a strategy to prevent Palestine activism:
“Build coalitions with other student groups. Take the time to understand the needs and priorities of other groups and learn how to be an ally to other communities. Attend their events and meetings. Join advocacy efforts for issues you care about. Think about opportunities for co-sponsoring events with these groups.”
Another suggested strategy is to put on Israel-related events; again the document suggests resources students can tap into:
“Hillel, the Israeli consulate responsible for the region in which your campus is located, ADL and other organizations, on campus and off, can help provide you with speakers and ideas.”
If, despite their efforts, a program on Palestine is scheduled for their campus, ADL Campus tells students what to do next: investigate the speaker by contacting Hillel, ADL, ICC (Israel on Campus), or other organizations. (Some of these groups compile witch-hunt-like dossierson Palestinian rights speakers which often contain inaccurate information, grossly exaggerated ad hominem attacks and claims that they are “anti-Semitic.”)
If they find that the speaker has engaged in alleged “hate speech, including anti-Semitic comments [sic],” ADL Campus tells them to contact the administration about it. Given that the ADL labels numerous valid statements about Israel “anti-Semitic (see below),” this could apply to virtually all honest and committed speakers on Palestine, and is often used in attempts to impugn the speaker’s integrity and block his or her talk. Such misrepresentations sometimes cause academic departments and other organizations to back out of sponsoring a lecture.
If an event does go forward with speakers that don’t pass ADL muster, ADL Campus tells students they should consider “an active, organized effort.” It advises them to “send a small contingent of pro-Israel students to the event to question the speaker about their views. Prepare some questions in advance based on what you’ve learned about the speaker [sic] in your research.”
ADL Campus also tells students: “Share information with fellow students attending the event about the speakers and organizations they’re about to hear from. Prepare fact sheets [sic] in advance that highlight how extreme the views of the speaker really are. ADL and other organizations make it easy to access information on extreme speakers who frequently appear on campuses.”
In reality, such “fact sheets” typically misrepresent speakers’ statements and contain non-factual information about Israel-Palestine in general and about the speaker in particular.
ADL Campus contains an entire section and video that claim to help students decipher when something is anti-Semitic or contains “anti-Israel bias” (the latter seems to be anti-Semitism’s almost equally objectionable sister sin).
According to the ADL, you are anti-Semitic if you who fail to affirm Israel’s alleged “right to exist as a Jewish state.”
Affirming such a “right” may seem benign. In reality, it means affirming Israel’s “right” to have created its state through the violent expulsion of the majority indigenous population and confiscation of their land, simply because they were not Jewish. It also means you believe Israel has the “right” to prohibit these families from returning to their homes because they are of the “wrong” ethnicity or religion (even though returning to one’s home is aninternationally recognized human right.)
In actuality, saying that Israel has a “right to exist as a Jewish state” entails the morally untenable position that universal human rights do not apply to the residents and indigenous people Israel does not want in its ethnically preferential state.
ADL Campus also states that BDS (Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions), the international nonviolent movement that works to require Israel to adhere to international law and end its violations of human rights, is “anti-Semitic.”
In fact, the ADL head has just endorsed legislation that would make Americans who support boycotts targeting Israel criminals to be punished by fines of up to $1 million and 20 years in prison. Once again, we see the ADL turning morality on its head. Those who stand up for justice and who oppose oppression and discrimination are not bigots or criminals, they are human rights champions.
While the ADL Campus video allows in theory that “people can support the Palestinian cause without being anti-Israel,” it censures what the ADL claims is “illegitimate criticism.” As the narrator’s voice intones that this consists of “false accusations,” the screen shows the words apartheid, genocide, and ethnic cleansing.
Far from being “false accusations” and “illegitimate criticism,” however, all three characterizations of Israel and its actions are based on factual conditions and have been argued for by diverse scholars, institutions, and human rights advocates (see links below*).
ADL campus also decrees that statements comparing Israel to Nazis are “anti-Semitic” (reflecting the international redefinition of the term mentioned above). However, Israeli leaders themselves at times have referred to one another this way, beginning with Ben Gurion, who compared both Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky and future Prime Minister Menachem Begin to Hitler (Begin returned the epithet). An article in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz is headlined: Calling your political rival a Nazi is a time-hallowed tradition in Israel.
And while such comparisons are exaggerated and imprecise, some years ago there was an uproar in Israel when an Israeli military officer suggested that studying how the German army fought in the Warsaw ghetto could be useful in finding strategies to use in seizing “a densely populated refugee camp, or take over the casbah in Nablus.” Author Melvin Goodman, describing the cruel situation in Gaza, concludes: “Perhaps the comparison with the Warsaw Ghetto is not completely far-fetched after all.”
In one case, the ADL’s characterization of some statements about Israel as “anti-Semitic” may be legitimate. The ADL accuses individuals of being “anti-Semitic”– i.e. bigots – if they suggest that all Jewish people are responsible for the actions of Israel.
Such a conflation is erroneous and should be corrected. However, it is important to understand that the state of Israel itself and its strongest partisans, including the ADL, actively work to conflate Judaism and Jewish identity with Israel. This intentional conflation has gone on for decades. A century ago Supreme Court Justice and Zionist leader Louis Brandeis was known for specifically working to conflate Zionism with being Jewish at a time when most Jewish people were not Zionists.
The Israeli flag, which adorns tanks, helicopter gunships, and fighter jets that periodically attack Gaza civilians, consists of a star of David, thus working to symbolically conflate Israel and its actions with Judaism and Jews. Israelis regularly call the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. “the Jewish lobby.”
In addition, virtually every mainstream national Jewish institution in the U.S. publicly supports Israel, numerous synagogues and schools across the country exhibit the Israeli flag and affirm their attachment to Israel, and Jewish Community Relations Councils and Jewish Federations advocate for Israel in cities throughout the country.
The ADL’s 2015 Annual Report itself conflates Israel and “the Jewish people,” stating: “Since the founding purpose of ADL is to protect the Jewish people, our work on behalf of and in support of the State of Israel is a significant way of fulfilling that mission.” The ADL Campus video itself uses an image of a menorah, a religious symbol, to represent Israel.
If some people critical of human rights abuses or other actions by the government of Israel or certain Israel partisans connect all Jews to Israel’s actions, this intentional conflation is part of the problem, not the solution. Those taken in by it are mistaken, not necessarily prejudiced.
For many years the ADL has been held in high regard by many Americans who believe its purpose is to oppose bigotry and assist those being treated unfairly, and who are unaware of the ADL’s work to defame human rights defenders and maintain Israel’s power over Palestinians, one of the world’s most oppressed populations.
Through its own well-funded efforts combined with the support of media figures who may also be pro-Israel, the ADL has attained considerable power. Its frequent reports on alleged anti-Semitism are cited regularly as though they are the work of an objective, official, accountable entity.
In reality, the ADL is a non-governmental organization without public accountability whose work is non-transparent, lacks objective review, and which has a publicly stated goal of advocating for a foreign country—a nation whose system is antithetical to the principles held by most Americans, and whose actions are frequently harmful to the United States.
With its $142 million assets, the ADL crows that it helps “shape laws locally and nationally, and develop groundbreaking model legislation,” thus exerting influence from the highest levels of the U.S. government down to American campuses.
ADL Campus is its latest effort to maintain US taxpayers’ $10 million+ per day to Israel, and thus maintain Israel’s hegemony over Palestinians and others in the region.
Opposing bigotry, prejudice, and racism are noble actions that benefit everyone. Sadly, that’s not what the ADL is about.
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