WASHINGTON (JTA) — In a major policy speech, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt doubled down on his argument that anti-Zionism is antisemitism, emphasized the threat to visibly Orthodox Jews and accused the New York Times of an “antisemitic attack” in its coverage of Hasidic movements.
One topic he didn’t discuss: former President Donald Trump and his extremist supporters, a frequent topic of concern for the ADL and Greenblatt in recent years.
The speech Monday morning, at the ADL’s annual leadership summit in Washington, DC, was remarkable for barely mentioning what has, for years, been the group’s focus: the threat from the far right, spurred in part by Trump’s ascendance. Instead Greenblatt, in prepared remarks, tacked to the center, remaining focused on a message he sounded at the same summit a year ago — that anti-Zionism is unquestionably antisemitism.
“I know that for bigots — especially those who self-style as ‘anti-Zionists’ — Israel’s Independence Day is a day to redouble their efforts to make sure it is Israel’s last Independence Day,” he said, adding later, “To underscore what I said at this event last year: Anti-Zionism is antisemitism. Full stop.”
His speech last year drew criticism from the left for marginalizing parts of the Jewish community that criticize Israel, and for equating that sector with a stream of extremism on the other end of the political spectrum that has fueled deadly attacks on Jews.
Despite not featuring in Greenblatt’s speech, the threat from the right was nonetheless very much embedded in the conference agenda; one session was dedicated to the surge of the far right on social media and another was dedicated to ties between the extremes of the conservative movement today and the John Birch Society, the seminal extremist movement founded in the anticommunist fervor of the mid-20th century.
The conference will culminate on Tuesday with a Capitol Hill rally against antisemitism, held together with the ADL’s traditional partners from minority, LGBTQ, and civil rights groups. Its featured speakers include Susan Rice, the former national security advisor who now serves as a domestic policy adviser to the Biden administration, as well as Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, Israeli President Isaac Herzog, and Reza Pahlavi, the son of the deposed shah of Iran, who has positioned himself as an advocate of Iran-Israel ties.
At Israel’s 75th Anniversary, we're honored to have @IsaacHerzog’s message of hope at #NLS2023. Thank you for all your tireless work on behalf of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. pic.twitter.com/xgiOsugqtI
— ADL (@ADL) May 1, 2023
Greenblatt emphasized in his speech that antisemitism knows no single ideological home. He noted what the ADL has documented as an alarming spike in antisemitic attacks and that more than half of violent attacks have targeted visibly Orthodox Jews.
“This year, we find that the dramatic increase in antisemitic incidents is not due to any single ideology fueling violence, or one group becoming more accepting of antisemitism than another,” he said. “It’s due to every ideology becoming more comfortable with anti-Jewish hate.”
Since he took the ADL’s helm in 2015, Greenblatt has been under fire from conservatives for the organization’s emphasis on threats emerging from the extreme right, though the organization has always focused on far-right antisemitism. On Monday, Greenblatt’s speech touched almost exclusively on themes that have troubled Jewish conservatives: the perceived threat to pro-Israel Jews on campuses, attacks on visibly Orthodox Jews in the northeast, and defending Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox Jews, from perceived attacks on their lifestyles and education system.
Greenblatt took the New York Times to task for its series of articles reporting on deficiencies and malfeasance in Hasidic schools in New York.
“Our Orthodox brothers and sisters are constantly under threat,” he said. “It is one that needs solidarity and support from everyone – Jewish and non-Jewish alike. So to see this community singled out by elite institutions, like the New York Times, arguably the most important paper in the world, depicting them as clannish and using power to manipulate events… that represents an antisemitic attack on their community.”
Absent from his speech was any mention of Trump, although the former president is seen as the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 and has intensified his attacks on “globalists” and on progressive Jewish billionaire George Soros, tropes that the ADL and other groups have said fuel antisemitism. Greenblatt was outspoken last year in criticizing Trump for having dinner with Kanye West after the rapper, who now calls himself Ye, embarked on a string of antisemitic comments. That dinner also included Nick Fuentes, the Holocaust denier and far-right provocateur.
Greenblatt also didn’t mention Ye in a section of his speech on the ADL’s work with corporations, even though the ADL led a campaign last year urging Adidas to end its partnership with Ye. After Adidas ended the collaboration, it announced a partnership with the ADL.
Greenblatt began his speech by celebrating Israel on the occasion of its 75th birthday, despite what he acknowledged as “complexity, worry, anxiety and concern” about the country’s future. A large part of that concern, within the country, has centered on the debate over the government’s effort to weaken the judiciary, which has brought hundreds of thousands of Israelis to protest in the streets. Greenblatt called the protests “something really special,” and “the triumph of Zionism.” He urged compromise on the judicial overhaul.
An ADL report from two weeks ago noted another worry — that Israel’s government includes politicians who “have polluted Israeli public discourse with chilling racist expressions that would have led to the immediate termination of their political careers in other democracies.” The report added that “Jewish racism is as deplorable as other forms of racism, and should never be excused or tolerated.”
Greenblatt did not mention that concern in his speech, though he called for Israel to have “a civil society where non-Jews enjoy the same rights and fulfill the same responsibilities as their Jewish neighbors.”
“There are challenges in Israel right now – and there will be challenges and difficult conversations to come, but ADL will never waver in its support of a democratic, Jewish state,” Greenblatt said in the speech. “Israel is a miracle, and I will never apologize for being a proud Zionist.”
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