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By Arno Rosenfeld
September 6, 2023

The Anti-Defamation League, the leading nonprofit fighting antisemitism, is often itself targeted by antisemites. The current #BanTheADL campaign on social media, for example, is driven by people who have made their hatred of Jews explicit. But criticism of the ADL also comes from other quarters.

Critics from right and left take issue with the ADL’s approach to fighting antisemitism. Some would prefer it focus exclusively on bigotry aimed at Jews rather than, as its 1913 founding mission statement declares, work “to secure justice and fair treatment to all.” Others accuse the group of exaggerating the dangers faced by Jews.

Much of the recent attacks on the ADL reflects the polarized politics of our era, amplified of course by social media — where most of the attacks take shape. The critics generally fall into three distinct ideological categories: white supremacists and other overt antisemites; right-wing Jews and other conservatives who believe the organization is too focused on liberal causes unrelated to antisemitism; and left-wing Jews and others who believe the ADL is too harsh on Palestinian activists, including anti-Zionists, and too supportive of law enforcement.

Despite its many critics, the ADL also appears to have remained broadly popular with American Jews and the general public. Greenblatt, its chief executive, has grown the organization’s operating budget from around $60 million when he took over in 2015 to more than $80 million today, and it remains a go-to group for companies, organizations and individuals interested in fighting antisemitism.

Here’s a guide to the ADL’s critics, and its responses to them.

White supremacists

  • General problem with the ADL: It’s Jewish
  • Conspiratorial tropes: The ADL promotes “Jewish supremacy” and was founded to support a pedophile
  • How you might recognize them: Social media and in-person signs call to #BanTheADL

White supremacists are a frequent target of the ADL, and have made the organization a target of their own — blaming it for various often imagined maladies, from online censorship to peddling drugs and supporting pedophilia.

Keith Woods, an Irish white nationalist who has referred to himself as a “raging antisemite,” launched the latest #BanTheADL campaign last month on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, which has since been endorsed by the company’s owner Elon Musk.


Elsewhere on the Right

  • General problem with the ADL: It’s too liberal
  • Specific accusations: The ADL is too critical of conservatives, the ADL doesn’t focus enough on “woke antisemitism” and anti-Zionism, the ADL spends too much time on civil rights causes unrelated to Jewish safety
  • Organizations you might recognize: Americans for Peace and Tolerance, the Jewish Leadership Project

Beyond the world of white supremacists, there is a segment of the political right — including many Jews — who believe the ADL has drifted too far to the left. These critics frame their complaints in a variety of ways.

Organizations like Americans for Peace and Tolerance, a Boston-based advocacy group founded in 2008, have accused the ADL of prioritizing the fight against Islamophobia over the protection of Jews.

“ADL policy is driven not by Jewish needs for self-defense, but by the organization’s left-wing policy agenda,” the group wrote in a 2019 blog post. “Perhaps the organization should now be called ‘Al-Defamation League.’”

Many Jewish leaders have shunned this group and its founder, Charles Jacobs, for their hostile attitude toward Muslims, though they are part of some coalitions including the Combat Antisemitism Movement.


From the Left

  • General problem with the ADL: It’s too supportive of Israel
  • Specific accusations: The ADL wants to silence Palestinian activists, is racist and does not genuinely support civil rights
  • Campaigns and organizations you might recognize: #DropTheADL, Deadly Exchange, Jewish Voice for Peace, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, American Muslims for Palestine,

A coalition of progressive groups started the #DropTheADL campaign in 2020 with the goal of convincing left-wing groups that they should not work with the organizations or join coalitions that include it. It has since been endorsed by more than 200 mostly obscure groups, as well as some more prominent ones including: American Friends Service Committee, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Democratic Socialists of America, IfNotNow, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Jewish Voice for Peace and the National Lawyers Guild.

The campaign contends that the ADL supports “racist, militarized policing,” unfairly smears pro-Palestinian activists as antisemites by equating anti-Zionism with antisemitism, and in the past has facilitated the surveillance of leftist movements.

“The Anti-Defamation League has branded itself as a civil rights organization in ways that conceal and legitimize its right-wing activities undermining the rights of Black, immigrant, queer, Muslim, Arab, and other marginalized communities,” organizers of #DropTheADL wrote on their website.

Read the full article from The Forward