Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism.
The ADL has been irrelevant for 50 years.
Its full organizational name, the Anti-Defamation League, like that of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is rarely used because that identity and mission lie in another era.
The ADL was founded in 1913 to promote the acceptance of Jews in mainstream society. Its founding charter was concerned with "the caricaturing and defaming of Jews on the stage, in moving pictures". Its original plan was to fight anti-Semitic prejudice by lobbying theater managers and newspaper editors.
Jews won acceptance in mainstream society over 50 years ago. Hollywood has more Jewish caricatures than ever. The revival of Murphy Brown means that CBS now will have three sitcoms featuring grotesque caricatures that play every negative Jewish stereotype for laughs. But that’s okay.
The ADL long ceased fighting that battle. And all the others. It’s an irrelevant organization on its last legs.
Its original mission became irrelevant when Jews won mainstream acceptance. Jews are the best liked (or perhaps least disliked) religious group in America. Yet anti-Semitic hate crimes dominate the roster.
How can both be true?
As anti-Semitism declined nationally, it receded to the racial and political margins. Instead of a lukewarm prejudice of many, it became the passionate creed of political extremists. The ADL shifted to combating anti-Semitism on the margins instead of in the mainstream. Instead of critiquing movies, it monitored hate groups. But, unlike mainstream lobbying, its monitoring of the margins was ineffectual.
Neo-Nazis wouldn’t be dissuaded by the ADL. Neither would any other fringe group. The ADL’s monitoring only fed into their anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and gave them an enemy to fight. But the ADL also needed an enemy to fight, a reason to exist and an incentive to keep the donations coming.
Meanwhile it was ignoring the threat of a breakout from the margins becoming mainstream.
The far right had been growing less relevant for most of the ADL’s existence. The Klan had gone from marching in the tens of thousands and dominating entire cities to being unable to fill a small room. But the far left had been steadily growing in influence. And its takeover would change everything.
By the sixties, anti-Semitism in America was profoundly changing. But the ADL didn’t change.
Anti-Semitic violence was now largely a feature of urban life. The new Jewish middle class, many of them Holocaust survivors and accented immigrants who had worked tirelessly in sweatshops to put their kids through college, was driven out of its comfortable urban enclaves by racial violence.
Jewish neighborhoods and businesses built by the immigrant generation vanished in riots, firebombs, muggings and stabbings. The second act of the civil rights movement was an anti-civil rights movement that, had it been directed at blacks, would have been met with protests and outrage. Instead the left defended the perpetrators and condemned the victims. Black leadership jettisoned Martin Luther King’s calls for equality and co-existence, replacing them with nationalism and racial supremacism.
And the left cheered.
That’s how Al Sharpton went from leading anti-Semitic pogroms to addressing the DNC. It’s why Obama and the Congressional Black Caucus met with Farrakhan. It’s why Bernie Sanders backed Jesse “Hymietown” Jackson despite his anti-Semitism. It’s why anti-Semitic black literature is celebrated.
That is how Tamika Mallory ended up in the audience at a Farrakhan speech. And that’s how Eric Holder likely contrived to help Mallory boot the ADL from Starbucks for calling out her anti-Semitism. When two black men were kicked out of Starbucks, there was outrage. When a Jewish organization was kicked out of Starbucks at the behest of the fan of a black supremacist who admires Hitler, there were shrugs.
The left has been dismissing concerns about black nationalist anti-Semitism for 50 years.
Defenders and condemners of this phenomenon will blame the unique issue of race in America. But that doesn’t hold up. The left did the same exact thing with pogroms in Russia. Whether it was Russian peasants or urban thugs, the left defended the violence as the outcry of an oppressed class or race against the privileged Jewish bourgeoisie, even though the targets were inevitably the Jewish poor.
American Jews, whose ancestors largely arrived from Russia before the Communist violence, were under the impression that anti-Semitic violence was a feature of Czarist life being combatted by the left. This distorted view of what was really going on was encouraged by lefty propaganda rags like The Forward.
Both sides opportunistically encouraged anti-Semitic violence (while occasionally condemning it) when it served their political interests. One mob would shout, “Death to the Jews and the Commissars!” The other mob would shout, “Smash the Jews and the bourgeoisie!” And often, they were the same mob.
Few American Jews have ever heard of the Glukhov pogrom by the Red Army in which leftists massacred 450 Jews, including children, to shouts of, "We are going to slaughter all the bourgeoisie and the Yids." The Communist Pravda described this anti-Semitic massacre as a victory over the “counter-revolution.”
Soviet anti-Semitism was not a break from its revolutionary principles, as some liberals liked to think. It was the execution of those principles. The Bolsheviks had repeatedly hounded their Menshevik rivals as the “yids” or “kikes”. As they consolidated power, they discouraged pogroms by individual bands and instead implemented a national Jewish pogrom of gulags, torture, execution and religious repression.
The attacks on Jewish neighborhoods and stores by black nationalists like Sharpton were a carbon copy of the pogroms that had been organized in Russia and Ukraine, by the same leftist ideology. A decade after the Glukhov pogrom, the Young Communist League and the Young Liberators were already working Harlem trying to stir up riots against Jewish storeowners.
The glamorization of Hitler in the black community did not begin with Farrakhan. Back in the thirties, Sufi Abdul Hamid, now known as a “pioneering labor leader”, but then dubbed the Black Hitler, was vowing, "an open bloody war against the Jews who are much worse than all other whites."
Neither Tamika Mallory, nor Sharpton, are a break with a mythological past dominated by a black-Jewish civil rights alliance that the ADL and its base are obsessed with, instead they are the fulfillment of a the long, ugly alliance between the left and anti-Semitic black nationalists that grew on the ADL’s watch.
The left’s anti-Semitic tactics have been consistent across countries and cultures. When its regimes rise, they persecute the Jews, whether it’s in the USSR, Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela or the United States.
But the ADL’s liberalism was its undoing. Like most American Jews, it viewed the rise of the left as a progressive phenomenon. It did not matter that the same mistake had been made countless times with the same outcome. There could be no harm in the Democrats leaning further and further to the left.
Except maybe to Israel.
The debate about lefty anti-Semitism centers largely on Israel. And that’s how the left wants it.
Unlike nationalist anti-Semitism, transnationalist anti-Semitism is cloaked in in abstractions. The Red Army pogromists were fighting the bourgeoisie. Sharpton was fighting racism. BDS is battling Zionism.
Leftist anti-Semitism identifies Jews with an ideological abstraction and then attacks the actual people.
The Red Army thugs, Sharpton’s thugs and BDS thugs are anti-Semitic. Capitalism, racism and Zionism are excuses. Lefty anti-Semitism neither began with Zionism nor will it end there. The Jews who were murdered by the Soviet Union, who fled Nicaragua and Brownsville, had nothing to do with Israel.
The ADL wants to be a lefty organization fighting anti-Semitism. Replacing Abe Foxman with Jonathan Greenblatt was meant to adapt it to the new landscape. But the left doesn’t want to fight anti-Semitism.
There is no future for an organization fighting anti-Semitism on the left.
The left has built its own Soros lobby coalition of anti-Jewish organization staffed by activists with Jewish last names. Like their counterparts in the Soviet Union, the Yevsektsiya or Jewish Section, they redefine anti-Semitism as a ‘bourgeois’ phenomenon that the left is immune to. These activist groups seek to destroy Israel and the Jewish community because they interfere with their task of mobilizing Jews as lefty activist cannon fodder. They defend lefty anti-Semitism and accuse the right of anti-Semitism.
Despite the ADL agreeing with 99% of their agenda, the left is determined to destroy or control it. And the ADL still refuses to confront the left because, like most liberals, it believes that it is on the left.
The leftward drift of the people who were once liberals had left them incapable of confronting lefty illiberalism. They know that they agree with the left’s causes, they only question some of its tactics. They talk a great deal about extremism, but they only whisper about the extremism on their own side.
And when the argument becomes about tactics, instead of worldview, the left wins.
The left’s tactical illiberalism isn’t impatience or passion; it’s the product of an illiberal worldview. Anti-Semitism isn’t an aberration on the left. It’s inevitable. A fundamental difference between liberalism and the illiberal left is that the latter defines solutions to social problems through destroying groups.
Destroy the bourgeoisie, smash the deniers, eliminate religion, crush whiteness and wipe out the Jews.
The left needs an “other” to personalize its abstract hatreds. Jews fill the traditional role of the “other” as scapegoat. And anti-Semitism serves the same function on the left as it did throughout history.
It’s no accident that the star of 1984’s Two Minutes Hate was Emmanuel Goldstein.
Multiculturalism doesn’t mean that there is no “other”. It means that there are a plethora of “others”. And when there are a thousand “others”, an “other” that everyone can agree on is urgently needed.
The left can make Jews embody capitalism, whiteness, nationalism, war crimes, exploitation and every evil. The Jews control the weather, a lefty councilman claims, and the left rushes to defend him. The Jews are killing Palestinian babies, stealing organs, training police to shoot black people and controlling the world’s wealth. It’s the same old bigotry in a keffiyah. And it serves the same tawdry function.
Anti-Semitism is the sewer, sausage factory and the boiler room of the leftist soul.
The ADL has tried to find common ground with the left. But the left is not in the common ground business. Where the left takes institutional power, in a country, a state, a college or a profession, ideological diversity quickly vanishes leaving behind its ruling activists and a silent majority.
As a liberal consensus vanishes, the ADL is becoming an organization with no base. The ADL is too pro-Jewish for the left and not pro-Jewish enough for the right. The left has its own collection of organizations that it wants to impose on the Jewish community. The Soros lobby’s JFREJ, Bend the Arc and If Not Now were hurled into action against the ADL. Eventually they will cannibalize the ADL.
The ADL failed to stand up the left. And like other liberal collaborators, it will be replaced with a leftist Yevsektsiya that will divide its time between condemning Israel and denouncing Jews as bigots who need to be reeducated about their privilege and their complicity in whiteness. And then it will get ugly.
When the ADL was founded, there was a mainstream consensus for it to influence. The consensus has been replaced by political and racial tribalism. The margins are becoming mainstream. And it’s dying.
The ADL may choose to shut down. Or like HIAS, it may jettison its Jewish identity and join the anti-Jewish left. Or it can do what it should have done all along. It tried colluding. It promoted Black Lives Matter and signaled softness on BDS. But its efforts to collude with intersectional anti-Semitism failed.
Now an irrelevant organization in its final years has one last chance to stand up to the left.