The Anti-Defamation League is forcefully pushing back on criticism that the Jewish-rooted civil rights group has drifted too far to the left after emerging as a frequent and vociferous critic of Donald Trump and members of his incoming administration.
“Over the past year, certain columnists and elements of the US Jewish community have engaged in a full-scale assault on ADL and its CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt,” read a letter sent out to the organization’s membership and reviewed by POLITICO. “We came back from Thanksgiving to find that an organized, concerted effort to delegitimize ADL was underway. These charges against ADL are a significant and deliberate misrepresentation of our positions and actions.”
The ADL and its CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, were often critical of Trump during the campaign, frequently calling on Trump to distance himself from white supremacists and lambasting his call for a ban on Muslim immigration. After Trump’s win, the ADL strongly condemned the appointment of Stephen Bannon— who has served as executive chairman of Breitbart News — to a role as senior adviser and chief strategist in Trump’s White House, calling it “a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the Alt Right, a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists,” assumed a top position in a presidential administration.
That posture, which was echoed by a long list of other Jewish groups, still earned the ADL criticism from outposts like the Zionist Organization of America, a deeply conservative group with close ties to Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. The Republican Jewish Coalition — of which Adelson is a board member — has also been critical of the ADL, suggesting their remarks about Trump have gone too far, and the organization has not opposed Bannon, with one board member coming out strongly in support of him, though other board members were quietly divided over Trump throughout the campaign.
In the letter, the ADL put forth what they characterized as five “myths” about the organization, from accusations that the organization does not support Israel (“False. ADL always has been and always will be a fierce advocate for the Jewish State of Israel,”), to the notion that the organization was much tougher on Bannon than on Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a possible Democratic National Committee chair who has been critical of Israel.
“Myth: ADL attacked Steve Bannon but gave Keith Ellison a pass,” the letter read. “Fact: False. We voiced our concerns about the placement of Steve Bannon in a senior White House role based on his statements about the “Alt-Right” and the writing at Breitbart. As for Representative Ellison, we also expressed concerns: ‘it is very disturbing that someone who has been excessively critical of the State of Israel at key junctures in recent history might become the titular head of the Democratic Party.’”
But overall, the group rankled some conservatives because it was much more measured in its assessment of Ellison than it was of Bannon, noted the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which also first reported the letter.
Still, Greenblatt stressed in the letter that the nonpartisan organization was just as willing to call out what they sees as problematic statements that stem from the left as from the right, adding in a separate part of the letter that the group’s first priority remains combating anti-Semitism wherever it emerges. He noted that a recent conference the ADL hosted “explored [anti-Semitism] from all angles, including discussions of manifestations of anti-Semitism from the radical Left in the form of the [Boycott, Divest, Sanction] movement as well as extreme Right in the form of white supremacy.”
“Remember that much of this campaign reflects wider trends of our time: the dangerous polarization in the US, Israel and within our community fed by the dogma that if you are not 100 percent with me you are the enemy, as well as the phenomenon of ‘fake news’ where agenda-driven half-truths are presented as fact, reinforcing these hardened positions,” the letter warned. “But it also reflects willingness by some to pass along lies because, frankly, there are few consequences for doing so.”
The organization, Greenblatt pledged, will “vigorously dispute” them.