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Reforming the Anti-Defamation League? Why Bother? American Jewry Needs New Structures

November 28, 2019

November 2016. Several hundred Denver Jews, organized by “Not In Our Name’ come together to protest the failure of the city’s Jewish leadership to criticize the anti-Semitic blatherings of the incoming Trump Administration.

The ADL Cannot Lead in Civil Rights (from an article in Jewish Currents)

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(The above link – it should be read prior to my comments – it is interesting piece on the ADL – the Anti-Defamation League – ). Have long had mixed emotions about the organization which has placed Palestinian supporters in the same league as Nazis and KKK – type elements.)

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But the ADL is old wine in a not-so-new bottle, an old structure that for many reasons is impervious to serious reform. Something new is needed.

Some organizations are beyond reform – they should close shops “gracefully” rather than limping along gracelessly. They should leave the scene knowing that there are positive accomplishments, yes, but not denying that over time they have become old, scleratic and despite some genuine achievements, outdated.

Time to fold. Old structures need to be replaced, some simply cannot be reformed, despite the good will to do so. Classic example – Gorbachev’s USSR. Such is also the case with many of the old Communist Parties who limp along despite the fact that they are from a historical view point spent forces.

There are other spent forces which are very much alive, looking for meaning in this post Cold War era – NATO prime among them. I would put the Anti-Deformation League of the B’nai Brith (ADL)in the same category, a spent force with very much of a mixed heritage.

But rather than closing shop as history would suggest it do, dissolve itself and make way for a new American Jewish civil rights organization that takes into consideration not just the new social and racial realities in the United States, the ADL slogs on. Of late it has been the recipient in a sizeable uptick in contributions as a result of the outburst in anti-Semitic violence that has accompanied the Trump Presidency, especially from its Christian-fundamentalist wacko base.

But the ADL is old wine in a not-so-new bottle, an old structure that for many reasons is impervious to serious reform. Something new is needed.

There is a need for a broad based – kind of left-liberal Jewish coalition, something new, reflective of the changing attitudes among American Jews – the clear majority of which stay far from synagogues – who are increasingly ill at east with Zionism and the unending sufferings it has caused the Palestinian people.

The Anti-Defamation League, simply isn’t it. Too much Cold War thinking, too white, too upper middle and upper class influence and money to meet the challenges of the day. Too much intelligence sharing with the FBI and local police forces.

Beyond its virtually un-redeemable Zionism – very harmful – there is something else that has been worrisome – its deep and enduring close cooperation, information sharing with the FBI that, at least according to Victor Navasky (Naming Names) goes back to the 1930s when in exchange for FBI information on possible attacks on the Jewish Community then, the ADL, then in its infancy was willing to turn the names of Jewish leftists and Communists over to the FBI. In many ways it’s become an informal – but clearly integrated part of “the deep state” as it is called.

And then there was its open and enthusiastic support for what is known as the Bakke Supreme Court Decision – which opened the dark door to “reverse-racism” and attacks on racial quotas, opening the door for the re-assertion of legal racism in America after several decades of civil rights advances. Bakke is the first step backwards and there was the ADL presenting briefs in its favor.

This is not to say that all its work has been in the service of reaction … it has some good work under its belt too – for example its exposure of Christian fundamentalist – and blatant antisemitic influences at the Air Force Academy here in Colorado some years ago, its constant watch-dogging of neo-Nazi, KKK elements.

Yes, anti-Semitism in the USA needs urgent addressing – as a part of the overall racist offensive underway in this country. Maybe the “reformed” ADL can play a role in this great democratic movement, but given its history I doubt it can go very far. Again… a too many anti-Palestinian witch hunts, too little open self criticism. Something new is needed.

The worse period was during the presidency of Abe Foxman – a rightwing Cold War nutcase who led the organization to see as its prime purpose doing p.r. and intelligence for Israel with a dumbing down on its actual anti-racist work – think of him as a kind of “Trump of the Jews”. This lasted for decades and severely damaged the ADL’s credibility. The idea that the organization can simply “come back from” or erase the Foxman years is ludicrous.

But that is what the organization is trying to do, to position itself in the forefront of the anti-racist movement. Leave aside the fact that people of color are hardly or poorly represented – thus another attempt of white Americans to speak for non-Whites – that in its arrogance it has never engaged in a public self criticism of its wayward ways.. I simply doubt that it can reform itself as it is quietly trying to do.

But now the organization is trying to do just that. Won’t happen.

Of course there is an urgent need for Jewish anti-racist work. No question that anti-Semitism in the United States is on the rise. Never thought I’d see the day when it would, in the United States, take the increasingly virulent forms that it is taking – the Pittsburg synagogue murders, the targeting of George Soros as the source of all capitalist evil, etc. So the question is not if Jewish civil rights work is needed, but what form it will take.

Regardless of the specific organizational form, the new struggle against anti-Semitism needs to place itself in a contemporary context. Meaning?

1. Jews in America have to rebuild the relationship long weakened if not shattered with people of color in the United States. It has to become part and parcel of anti-racist struggles be it in the Immigration Rights movement, the movement against police violence against people of color, American Jews need to understand that they/we will not be leading such a movement and that the anti-racist leadership has moved from the Black-Jewish coalition of the 1940s, 1950s to a Black, Brown, Red leadership. This is just a fact. There is a whole history – that any person of color can recount in great detail – of white paternalism, racism in the Left, Civil Rights Movements, etc.
Young radicalized Jews already understand this – it doesn’t have to be explained. For some of us older folk, defensive and blinded by our own racism, it is a little more difficult

2. Any new Jewish civil rights work has to address the fundamental racism of Zionism and its treatment of the Palestinian people. Every people, ethnic group religious group has “a hard issue” – for Jews in America, the hard issue is Zionism and the resulting ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. Jews in the United States have to make the clear delineation between Zionism – clearly defined as a settler colonial movement – and Judaism. They are not one and indivisible, To the contrary.

3. New organizational forms. I am cloudy on this point. Whether it is working in separate Jewish organizations or within more broad-based anti-racist organizations – that is a tactical question. The important point… the end the separation, the gap that exists between American Jews and people of color as it exists today. All the nostalgia of the old Black-Jewish alliances of days of yore are just that – nostalgia.

I am encouraged by the work of groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (and others) which seems serious in its commitment to anti-racist work. Was moved by the cooperation that existed between JVP and the Black Community of Birmingham Alabama over the attempt to deny Angela Davis a human rights award (in which prominent local Jews put pressure on the city to deny Davis the award). Also noticed the re-founding of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression.

Yes, anti-Semitism in the USA needs urgent addressing – as a part of the overall racist offensive underway in this country. Maybe the “reformed” ADL can play a role in this great democratic movement, but given its history I doubt it can go very far. Again… too much baggage – too little open self criticism.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. William Conklin permalink
    November 28, 2019 11:09 am

    Great points! Let’s hope the increasing awarness of Zionist racism and the younger generations create reforms and changes to bring a humane solution to the occupation.

  2. Phil Jones permalink
    November 28, 2019 1:08 pm

    So where do you view J Street – an organization of the past or…..?

    • November 28, 2019 9:07 pm

      Interesting formation… main stream Dems in the main, “love Israel” but understand that Israel has no future without a viable Palestinian state next door. From what I can tell, they are serious about that, not like some who mouth support for two states but actually do nothing to counter settlement growth. Moving left but like ADL they too have “baggage” (although not quite as odious as ADLs) that somewhere down the line they’ll have to deal with.

      Not a member but…I can work with them and here in Colorado do – with a number of J-Street individuals…

      Main criticism if I think about it, is not so much their political line but that at least from what I have seen a lot of folks over sixty…

      • Phil Jones permalink
        November 28, 2019 9:15 pm

        What? You don’t like us guys over 60???

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