The ADL is Complicit in Racism and Police Repression. But Better Alternatives Exist.
ART BY ELIKA WILSON
On October 25, the Anti-Defamation League sent out an open letter to colleges urging them to investigate all university campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine. This statement came alongside an international crackdown on pro-Palestinian protests. In October, the faces and names of pro-Palestinian Harvard students were displayed on mobile billboards titled “Harvard’s Leading Antisemites.” In France, the government issued a national ban on all pro-Palestinian demonstrations, and in Germany, protestors were met with water cannons and pepper spray at pro-Palestinian rallies.
Founded in 1913 after the wrongful conviction and later lynching of Jewish-American Leo Frank, the ADL is a prominent nongovernmental organization that seeks to combat antisemitism and extremism. On their website, the group’s stated mission is “To stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.” However, the ADL has fallen short on the second half of their mission. In fact, both at Tufts and around the world, the ADL supports apartheid, promotes repression, and is complicit in genocide—all of which are contradictory to securing “justice and fair treatment to all.” Considering the ADL has leveled allegations against activist groups—such as accusing student groups of supporting terrorism—as well as the ADL’s history of anti-human rights behavior, it’s time to reconsider support for this organization and explore alternatives that prioritize both the fight against antisemitism and human rights for all.
The ADL’s October 25 open letter has contributed to the aforementioned suppression of pro-Palestinian groups. Among other accusations—many without evidence—the organization claimed that SJP chapters “are providing material support to Hamas.” This rhetoric is dangerous and absurd. Since Hamas has been designated a terrorist organization by the US government, providing the organization with material support is a felony. Thankfully, human rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have already begun to reject the ADL’s calls for campus investigations.
Conflating support for Palestine with support for Hamas’ terrorism is dangerous rhetoric that incites racism against Palestinians and other Arabs in the United States. The New York Times has reported that hate crimes against both Jews and Arabs have risen substantially since October 7, 2023. In Illinois, a landlord murdered a six-year-old Palestinian-American boy by stabbing him 26 times. Investigators concluded that the murderer attacked the boy and his mother due to his suspicion of their Muslim faith. By unjustly associating Arabs and Muslims with terrorism, the ADL worsens this already violent climate.
While the organization does work to combat antisemitism, it also actively suppresses the voices of other marginalized groups and progressive movements, notably the Free Palestine movement. Nationally, the ADL has funded programs allowing American police officers to travel to Israel to train. When they return, these police forces bring with them repressive policing tactics—modeled after the Israeli military—that harm individuals and communities. Many residents of America’s most overpoliced neighborhoods describe the police as an occupying army. American police forces also enforce the denigration and maltreatment of people of color. The parallels with Israel are obvious. Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 and besieged the Gaza Strip since 2005, treating non-Israelis as second-class citizens across all of occupied Palestine.
The effects of the ADL’s dangerous rhetoric are felt locally as well. At Tufts, the ADL has participated in the Tisch Summer Fellowship in the past, where students have interned with the group. Considering that the ADL has dangerously charged student groups with providing material support for terrorism, this partnership should not exist in the future. Students who continue to support and engage with the ADL also enable this libel against their peers. Additionally, until several years ago, the Tufts University Police Department (TUPD) participated in Israeli police training. This arrangement, aptly nicknamed the Deadly Exchange Program, saw the former chief of TUPD travel to Israel to participate in “counterterrorism seminars.” Despite Israel’s horrific human rights abuses, including the crime of apartheid, the ADL funded the trip for TUPD officers.
This example is merely one of many, as the ADL has a long history of repressing progressive movements. During the McCarthyism era of the 1940s and 1950s, the ADL fed information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about alleged communists. In the 1990s, the ADL spied on the United Farm Workers and anti-racist activists. At one point, one of their spies was even caught selling sensitive information to Apartheid South Africa, a government the ADL viciously defended. Nowadays, the ADL has encouraged blanket surveillance of Muslim communities and, in one of their most morally repugnant acts, urged media outlets to legitimize Israel’s genocide in Gaza.
Despite targeting progressive movements, much of the public opposition to the ADL comes from the far-right. In September, fascists and Neo-Nazis began pushing the hashtag #BanTheADL on X (formerly known as Twitter). This movement was founded by Keith Woods, a vitriolic antisemite with connections to Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer. Soon, it was picked up by Neo-Nazis such as Nick Fuentes and by X owner Elon Musk. Unfortunately, this opposition to the ADL is not based on any egalitarian principles or a moral revulsion at the ADL’s complicity in genocide, but because the ADL is Jewish-led and the ADL does research into far-right groups. It is important to note that opposition to the ADL does not mean allyship with fascists or far-right extremism.
It is also critical to state that ending support for the ADL does not mean ending the fight against antisemitism. Antisemitism is rising at an alarming rate, and it is essential to support groups that work against this evil. Fortunately, the ADL is not the only organization that claims to do this, and many have a much less questionable history.
Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, founded in 1990, is committed to fighting antisemitism, racism, and economic exploitation. The organization has recently confronted New York City’s rising antisemitism head-on by leading community initiatives to encourage intervention in antisemitic incidents. Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, founded in 2012, advocates for the elimination of injustice and inequality. On their website, the organization emphasizes commitment to various social issues, one notably being “fighting antisemitism.” The Southern Poverty Law Center, founded in 1971, focuses on monitoring and suing hate groups. Much of their work has been towards combating antisemitism, especially among the white supremacist groups in the United States. In 2017, the organization successfully sued
neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin for using his website, The Daily Stormer, to launch a campaign of antisemitic harassment. The ACLU, founded in 1920, defends the rights of everyone in the United States. Naturally, this includes defending the rights of Jewish-Americans. These four organizations are among many that fight antisemitism without endangering the livelihoods of other marginalized people.
Lastly, two of this article’s anonymous authors are Jewish. We know how important it is to combat this rise and protect our communities. However, the ADL is not the solution to this crisis; combating antisemitism should go hand in hand with protecting other marginalized communities, which is a task the ADL has failed to do.
It is important to recognize the ADL’s direct involvement in suppressive police tactics, its targeting of other human rights organizations, its support of Apartheid South Africa, and other aspects of its troublesome history. Now, in 2023, the ADL has continued this pattern by demonizing human rights activists and accusing them of supporting terrorism without actual evidence.
There are other organizations that are committed to ending antisemitism that do not share the ADL’s track record. It is time to redirect support for the ADL to them. As students at a university that takes pride in its supposed commitment to active citizenship, it is crucial to advocate for the human rights of all people. Reconsidering support of the ADL is a small but important step towards ensuring justice for all.