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'Don't work with Anti-Defamation League,' progressive groups urge

More than 100 groups accuse ADL of using social justice work to legitimise some of its anti-minority initiatives
A flyer created by the #DropTheADL movement
Flyer created by #DropTheADL movement to accompany joint letter released on 11 August (MEE/droptheadl.org)

More than 100 human rights groups have signed a joint letter asking progressive organisations to stop working with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish-American rights organisation founded in 1913. 

In an open letter released on Tuesday, the groups, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Dream Defenders, called on social justice workers to "drop" their partnerships with the group "in light of a growing understanding of the ADL’s harmful practices". 

"Even though the ADL is integrated into community work on a range of issues, it has a history and ongoing pattern of attacking social justice movements led by communities of color, queer people, immigrants, Muslims, Arabs, and other marginalized groups, while aligning itself with police, right-wing leaders, and perpetrators of state violence," the letter reads. 

On the website DropTheADL.org, the groups also posted a collection of links and resources to back up their stance. 

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The ADL, a pro-Israel organisation, has a long history of describing Palestinian rights movements as antisemitic and has in the past worked with US law enforcement to spy on and target Arab-American groups, among others. It has also facilitated and funded US police training trips to Israel.

In 2011, Muslim journalist Fareed Zakaria returned the ADL's Hubert H Humphrey First Amendment Freedoms Prize, along with its $10,000 award, after Abraham Foxman, then national director of the ADL, spoke out against plans to build an Islamic centre a few blocks from the World Trade Center.

"I was thrilled to get the award from an organisation that I had long admired. But I cannot in good conscience keep it anymore," Zakaria said at the time, urging the group to reverse its stance. 

The group has also denounced organisations including the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) and has advised police forces to plant undercover agents within anti-racist demonstrations in order to use surveillance footage to prosecute protesters.  

In 2016, not long after the founding of the Black Lives Matter movement, the ADL published a letter in the Times of Israel's New York Jewish Week highlighting and condemning the movement's solidarity work with Palestinian activists. 

Another major point of contention among activists calling for the ADL to be dropped from social justice movements lies with ADL CEO and National Director Jason Greenblatt's role in the Trump administration as a key architect in the US president's "deal of the century" plan for the Middle East. 

"We are deeply concerned that the ADL's credibility in some social justice movements and communities is precisely what allows it to undermine the rights of marginalized communities, shielding it from criticism and accountability while boosting its legitimacy and resources.

"Even when it may seem that our work is benefiting from access to some resources or participation from the ADL, given the destructive role that it too often plays in undermining struggles for justice, we believe that we cannot collaborate with the ADL without betraying our movements," the joint letter reads. 

#DropTheADL on Twitter

The ADL did not respond to Middle East Eye's request for comment, nor did it comment on its Twitter page about the letter. 

Still, other Twitter users were quick to comment on the #DropTheADL letter, with some backing the call and others condemning the initiative as antisemitic. 

"I wonder where those campaigning to drop @ADL were during the fight to pass Hate Crimes legislation? Because @ADL has been a major leader in that fight for two decades, including fighting for federal hate crimes leg for over 13 years and getting laws passed in 45 states," tweeted Carly Pildis, organising director at the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA).

Meanwhile, Jewish Voice for Peace Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson slammed the ADL for trying to definitively link Jewish-Americans to the pro-Israel movement.

"This is SUCH a crucial point," Vilkomerson said, sharing an activist's post in support of the 'Drop The ADL' call. "The ADL uses its status as a supposed civil rights org to try to define the convo about anti-semitism and Israel in incredibly damaging ways. Journalists, activists, schools, politicians--please take note! #DropTheADL"

Palestine Legal, an advocacy group representing Palestinian-American interests, highlighted the ADL's pro-law enforcement work that it said advances "global militarism" and targets "movements for justice led by Black & brown communities".

Meanwhile, Tema Smith, director of professional development at 18Doors, an organisation aimed at supporting interfaith Jewish families, highlighted both sides of the argument. 

"I've certainly had my moments of disagreement with @ADL," Smith said. "But to say they are not a legit civil rights org is beyond belief. Their inter-communal partnerships, and consistent record of combating hate via legislation, public pressure and tracking extremism have moved the needle."