Dear ADL: there’s no place for “No Place For Hate” in our schools

Dear ADL: there’s no place for “No Place For Hate” in our schools

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) claims to both fight for justice and stand up for the State of Israel. Are these goals mutually exclusive?

The Anti-Defamation League wants to train our children to treat all people equally and with respect. They refuse to take their own advice when it comes to Palestinians, preferring instead to silence their calls for justice and turn a blind eye to Israel’s human rights abuses.
A discriminatory organization that bullies others should not be in our schools.

by Kathryn Shihadah

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is a self-proclaimed “worldwide leader in anti-bias education” and “a relentless advocate for vulnerable communities of all kinds.” The organization claims that it is “viewed as having unquestioned credibility.” 

As a self-identified watchdog for the world, this private institution has worked its way into schools, communities, and various levels of government. Through its training programs (some offered for free), it has influenced over one million children and adults. 

The ADL (in partnership with Everfi –  “empowering organizations everywhere to instill knowledge around critical topics in the classroom, in the office and in the community”) released its newest school program this month: BINAH (Building Insights to Navigate Antisemitism and Hate). Its goal is to train students to “identify as global citizens with respect for all people.”

But before entrusting the hearts and minds of our children to more of the ADL’s agenda, it is worth investigating the organization that otherwise is accountable to no one.

That is, does the Anti-Defamation League practice what it preaches?

ADL’s other agenda

The ADL cites as its guiding principle what it calls the “Jewish values” of respect, collaboration, inclusion, integrity, credibility, accountability (values not at all exclusive to Jewish individuals, but espoused by most religious and non-religious groups).

Notably, many Jews (as well as non-Jews) regard these values to be incompatible with the ADL’s less heralded ambition: supporting and defending the state of Israel at any cost. 

In its efforts to protect Israel from criticism – despite that country’s long record of human rights violations and racism (more below) – the ADL has worked against various movements whose efforts actually lined up with the ADL’s own (non-Israel) proclaimed mission of bringing justice and equality to all.

A disabled activist, Ibrahim Abu Thruaya, was one of four Palestinians shot dead by Israeli troops during a peaceful protest. Abu Thuraya had lost both legs in an Israeli attack years earlier. (Ruptly)

ADL statistics on “antisemitism”

The Anti-Defamation League patrols activity on college campuses, in communities, in the media, and online, reporting regularly on what it calls “antisemitic hate speech” and “antisemitic incidents.” 

While genuine antisemitism is a real danger (as is all bigotry), it is difficult to know with certainty how much of what the ADL reports is actual antisemitism and how much is merely the demonization of efforts to achieve justice for Palestinians and others, including for Navy personnel attacked by Israel.

The ADL opposes criticism of Israel’s 1967 attack on the USS Liberty, a ruthless onslaught that killed 34 Americans and injured over 170. It misrepresents the facts, condemns crew members who provide firsthand accounts of the attack as “conspiracy theorists,” and takes the side of their attackers.

The ADL has openly admitted that it includes what it considers “anti-Israel” events as part of its “antisemitism” tally, and works tirelessly to shut down, and even legislate against such events on college campuses – even as it recognizes that its actions may be unconstitutional.

The ADL declares that the word ‘Zionist’ (supporter of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine) is “often used as an antisemitic code word for ‘Jew’. In reality, however, Zionism is Israel’s official founding ideology. ADL’s accusation insinuates that antisemitism lurks behind much of the criticism of Israel’s policies – again inflating the number of “antisemitic” incidents.

As the ADL patrols live and virtual activities, it therefore mischaracterizes much legitimate dialogue about Zionism – for example, dialogue about its systematic ethnic cleansing of indigenous Palestinians – as “antisemitic hate speech.”

“Not what it seems”

In a 2019 article entitled, “The ADL is not what it seems,” the Boston Review pointed out that ADL reports on antisemitic incidents lack transparency and, at times, integrity – but are widely accepted at face value as “a measure of how well the United States [is] living up to its values of racial inclusion.” 

The article reveals, “The ADL’s persistent power in US politics has been strangely unaffected by its history” – a history that has included spying on and/or conducting smear campaigns against a number of human rights organizations, including the civil rights-era Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the NAACP, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and the Movement for Black Lives. (A few even question its founding event, which blamed a murder on a young African American man.)

But the ADL’s self-contradiction and duplicity are most visible when it is held to its own standards. Below are statements from its signature No Place For Hate (NP4H) program, followed by factual, verified information about the practices of the organization.

anti defamation league
The UN reports that the Israel-led blockade of the Gaza Strip cost the Palestinian enclave more than $16 billion and pushed more than one million people below the poverty line in just over 10 years. (imemc.org)

“Be open”

NP4H challenges students to be “open to different and multiple viewpoints and perspectives, especially those that differ from yours,” proclaiming that the journey to respect and equality starts here.

The program exhorts students, “If people share experiences and feelings that are different or unfamiliar to you, show respect by taking them seriously.”

While the Anti-Defamation League expects elementary-aged students to be open-minded, the organization itself has refused to “be open” to taking seriously the Palestinian voice in the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement

Ever since BDS began in 2005, the Anti-Defamation League has mischaracterized it as a movement that demonizes Israel and seeks to “undermine Israel’s existence,” discounting BDS’s clear pro-justice objectives:

[T]o pressure Israel to comply with international law by:

1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall

2. Granting Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel their right to full equality

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194

ADL claims that the third goal of BDS – the Palestinian right of return (guaranteed by international law) – denies Jews the alleged right to a state. It fails, however, to acknowledge the fact that the creation of Israel on Palestinian land has denied Palestinians that same right.

Cornel West, a supporter of the BDS movement, demonstrated appropriate respect for both Jewish people and the people of Palestine: 

We’ve got to fight antisemitism, anti-Jewish hatred. It’s wrong, it’s unjust. But that cannot be the excuse for in any way downplaying the unbelievable misery that we see in Gaza and the West Bank and other places.

Palestinian children ride their bike past Israeli soldiers patrolling in the old city of Hebron in the West Bank.
Palestinian children ride their bike past Israeli soldiers patrolling in the old city of Hebron in the West Bank. (AFP)

“Making the invisible visible”

No Place For Hate calls on students to “explore the impact of invisibility on people and how different groups [for example the LGBTQ community] have been made invisible in mainstream accounts of history.” 

The program encourages marginalized students to speak up about their experiences in the safe environment of the school program, to raise awareness of their struggle and gain allies.

The Anti-Defamation League has refused to apply this advice when it comes to the people of Palestine by actively muffling the voices of both Palestinians and their allies. The organization works to shut down not only BDS and other pro-Palestine events, but also UN reports, proclamations, and events.

The ADL has also interfered in groups as disparate as the Women’s March movement and the World Chess Federation, as well as scrutinizing media and rebutting articles critical of Israel – from the New York Times to the Poughkeepsie Journal and the Daily Gazette of Schenectady, NY. Even Saturday Night Live and the Vatican have not escaped censure.

Criticism of the ADL itself is also deemed antisemitic.

In addition, the ADL has, over the years, spied on and/or conducted smear campaigns against a number of organizations, including the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the NAACP, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and anti-South African apartheid organizers.

It refused to partner with the Black Lives Matter movement in 2016 because BLM called for justice for Palestinians.

ADL has worked to undermine other respected organizations for the same reason – including those working to end South African apartheid and hundreds of other groups (the ADL was sued by several of the targeted groups, and later settled the federal class-action lawsuit).

While the ADL has been tabulating what it labels as “anti-Semitic incidents,” it has viewed events calling for Palestinian rights as something that need to be stopped, and the Palestinian people as a group that needs to become invisible.

(In fact, mainstream media has for decades been promulgating a pro-Israel version of history and current events. ADL and other pro-Israel groups regularly pressure news organizations to cast Israel in a favorable light.)

“Pyramid of hate”

NP4H teaches students that when small biased behaviors go unchecked, the behavior tends to escalate. The program calls on children to take small aggressions seriously, and stop them before they grow.

This theory plays out in Israel, thanks to a failure of the global community (including watchdog ADL) to hold that state accountable. 

Ever since its birth in 1948, Israel has regularly violated international laws, ignored relentless (but impotent) opposition from the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, and hundreds of human rights organizations. While the European Union has made some half-hearted attempts to censure Israel, the US has – especially in the last four years – turned a blind eye toward Israel’s actions (and the Palestinian suffering they have caused), even proactively supporting its crimes. 

For example, ever since 1967, Israel has, with little meaningful objection, allowed or actively encouraged Israeli Jews to illegally appropriate Palestinian land. The ADL vigorously supports the practice. In 1972, there were under 1,200 settlers; today, over 600,000 Israeli settlers live on stolen Palestinian land, and Israel is preparing to annex some of that land.

The ADL occasionally goes on record opposing a specific action by the Israeli government – yet overwhelmingly upholds Israel’s apartheid system, although it runs contrary to everything the ADL claims to fight for in the US.

(Some of the many organizations that regularly report on Israel’s actions are Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Christian Aid, the Israeli NGO B’Tselem, the International Red Cross, Physicians for Human Rights, Reporters Without Borders, Foreign Service Journal, and even the U.S. State Department (more are here.)

anti defamation league
The Israeli West Bank barrier is a separation barrier built by Israel around the West Bank, appropriating large swaths of Palestinian land. Many Palestinians refer to it as the “apartheid wall.”

“Promoting an anti-bias environment”

No Place For Hate invites school administrators to fill out a questionnaire that includes questions like, 

  • Does the school’s mission statement communicate values of respect, equity and inclusion? 
  • Do the school’s symbols, signs, mascots and insignias reflect diversity and inclusion?
  • Do celebrations, festivals and special events reflect a variety of cultural groups and holidays?

If the government of Israel were to answer these ADL-posed questions, it would expose at least sixty-five laws that discriminate against Palestinians. One highly publicized law that un-checks all the boxes is Israel’s 2018 Nation-State Law, which declares:

  • The State of Israel is the nation state of the Jewish People [not of the indigenous Palestinian People], in which it [the Jewish people group] realizes its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination. 
  • The State anthem is “Hatikvah” [a Hebrew language song about Jewish hopes]; Hebrew is the State language; Jewish and Israeli holidays are celebrated.
  • The State shall be open for Jewish immigration, and for the Ingathering of the [Jewish] Exiles [but not for the return of Palestinians who were expelled]. 
  • The State views the development of Jewish settlement [on land expropriated from the Palestinian people] as a national value, and shall act to encourage and promote its establishment and strengthening [although this contravenes international law]. 

A number of human rights experts insist that Israel is operating an apartheid system; some South African experts consider Israel worse than South Africa. (The ADL recently put out a memo to pro-Israel organizations describing how to argue against the “apartheid” accusation – the memo was leaked – and produced a manual outlining ways that students can interrupt events on college campuses.)

Policies and consequences

NP4H encourages school administrators to update school policies on bullying and harassment, spell out consequences for rule-breaking, and then enforce those consequences “equitably and consistently.” 

These guidelines, applied to Israel, would require a complete overhaul of its law enforcement system and practices. Many well-respected human rights organizations (see list above) have tracked routine behavior of Israel’s police and military as they interact with Palestinians, and have reported unacceptable rates of unprovoked or disproportionate violence against Palestinians, as well as a military court system positioned to hand down unjust rulings, and nearly total impunity for Israelis – law enforcers and civilians – who perpetrate crimes against Palestinians.

anti defamation league
2013 incident in which seven Israeli soldiers and an officer detained a five-year-old Palestinian child for allegedly throwing a stone that hit the tire of an Israeli car (the age of criminal responsibility is 12). In the photo, his father is blindfolded. (ISM)

Anti-bias training for the long term

The Anti-Defamation League endorses professional development opportunities for school personnel in order to enhance their anti-bias leadership skills and create a safe environment for everyone.

On this issue, the ADL not only ignores its own admonition – it does the opposite, and has done so for decades.

Through its Law Enforcement and Society program, National Counter-Terrorism Seminar, and Advanced Training School, the ADL claims to have trained over 140,000 US law enforcement personnel – some in Israel, some in the US using Israeli coaches (other pro-Israel organizations also sponsor exchange programs for police).

Amnesty International has reported on American police trainings by a “chronic human rights violator” that is known for state violence against not only Palestinians, but also Jews of color and African refugees in Israel.

The methods that American cops learn from their Israeli counterparts can be deadly. In fact, officers from the Minneapolis police department that killed George Floyd were trained by Israelis.

“Holocaust and genocide education”

The Anti-Defamation League’s website comments on several modern-day genocides, including the Armenians and some Filipinos, and prioritizes the acknowledgement and teaching of such atrocities because of “universal lessons” to be learned.

However, in the case of Israel’s genocide and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinians, the ADL offers a “fact sheet” explaining why the expulsion of over one million Palestinians in 1948 and 1967, and the killing of tens of thousands more is “not a genocide.”

In May, the US Congress passed into law H.R.943, the Never Again Education Act, with a similar objective to “raise awareness about the importance of preventing genocide, hate, and bigotry against any group of people.”

But Congress, like the ADL, routinely turns a blind eye to Israel’s atrocities and ignores the plight of Palestinians – supporting Israel not only legislatively, but financially to the tune of over $10 million a day in military aid.

Anti-Defamation League fails to meet its own criteria

ADL self-describes as “principled, not political,” and claims to “choose action, not sides” – statements which do not stand up to scrutiny.

Alison Weir summed it up:

The fact is that the ADL works to maintain oppression and discrimination against Palestinian Muslims and Christians.

[During Israel’s short and bloody history] the ADL has been in the forefront of supporting Israel. It has also used its $57 million budget to smear those who support fairness, justice, and equality for Palestinians.

The fact is that the ADL is a nonprofit organization without accountability that raises money through claims of rising antisemitism, even though at times these claims are questionable.

It uses a distorted definition of antisemitism that includes many statements critical of Israel, and works to block events about Palestine on campuses.

The sad fact is that donations to the ADL, rather than fighting racism, will be used to enable it.

This is not a group to entrust with our children.  Americans need to Drop the ADL.


Kathryn Shihadah is staff writer for If Americans Knew. She also writes for MintPress News and blogs at Palestine Home.

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