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August 19, 2016

The Living Memory of a Lynching

How an Injustice Committed Over 100 Years Ago Inspires Our Commitment to Justice Today

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog orig­i­nally appeared on Medium

Leo Frank

This week, we mark a somber anniversary of the 101st anniversary of the lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish businessman sent to Georgia to manage his family’s pencil factory. This lynching took place at a time of rampant anti-Semitism in the South and more broadly in American society. So it was no surprise that when a young Christian girl was found murdered on the property, fingers were pointed at the outsider Frank. Despite a lack of evidence, and in part due to an environment of incitement, Frank was found guilty and sentenced to death.

When the governor of Georgia subsequently commuted Frank’s sentence from capital punishment to life imprisonment, a mob was enraged by this act of mercy for a Jew. At midnight just over 100 years ago, they tore Frank from his prison cell at the Milledgeville State Penitentiary and hung him on a tree in Marietta. Photographers captured the grotesquerie for posterity.

The sham trial and brutal lynching were an injustice and a wound whose pain still sears the Jewish community. It was an isolated incident for the Jewish community, but just one of thousands of lynchings carried out against black Americans during that time, murders that still scar our national psyche. And it was a moment in time that made clear the need for ADL, which had been founded in 1913.

In this moment, our founders huddled in Chicago and laid out a charter for a new organization they called the Anti-Defamation League. They wrote that it would be energized by a simple mission: “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure fair treatment and justice to all.”

These activists set out to address a mission which eventually led ADL to address the systemic discrimination and pervasive prejudice that kept Jews from achieving full equality in the United States. Decades later, this led to the break down of quotas that kept Jews out of higher education and the tearing down of cultural barriers that prevented our community from participating fully in American life. Their passion prompted our work to unmask hate groups and expose bigots. It motivated our commitment to use education to tear out hatred at its roots. It drives our work today to understand anti-Semitism around the world and to use innovation to identify and call out hate in all its forms.

Basically, the ADL could not have saved Leo Frank, but we since have endeavored to build a world where this kind of lynching never again would take place.

In 2016, the American Jewish community certainly has overcome many of the obstacles that once held us back. We now possess a degree of political power and social capital that was unimaginable in the early twentieth century. To a large extent, the open anti-Semitism that was woven into the culture of a prior generation has been pushed out of the realm of polite conversation. But it has not gone away.

Anti-Semitism remains a potent force and a persistent problem in our society, even if it now assumes different forms. In an age of filter bubbles and personal news feeds, self-selecting communities traffic in anti-Semitism and reinforce each other’s conspiracies. We also encounter this hatred in radically different ways on social mediaon our college campuses or even on the wrestling mat in the Olympics.

Indeed, though open anti-Semitism remains largely taboo in the mainstream, we see haters often hiding behind a veneer of ‘political correct’ hostility, directing their animus toward the Jewish state rather than Jews as a religious group. But we recognize the double standards, overt demonization and the denial of the very right of the Jewish state to exist, a phenomenon also known as delegitimization. Despite all the grave injustices in the world, these are tactics only directed at Israel. They are reminders that what we are facing in a rising tide of anti-Zionism is little more than a modern version of the Oldest Hatred.

That is why ADL remains dedicated to our founding purpose. We never will relent in the fight against anti-Semitism. And that is why we also speak out against all forms of bigotry.

Some seek to portray ADL’s one hundred year commitment to fight hatred in all forms as a dilution of our focus. They say that ADL has lost its way. But we are not distracted by armchair critics who mischaracterize our work from the comfort of the sidelines. We know that our case is strengthened when we dare greatly, that we are stronger when we find common cause with others who also face hate.

The pursuit of partners does not mean that we will shy away fighting anti-Semitism whenever it comes from. ADL will continue to call out anyone who peddles in prejudice regardless of their party or station, whether it’s those seeking public office who resort to cartoonish slander or those who traffic in a modern version of the age-old blood libel.

And we will continue to stand by other communities who suffer from hatred and terror. That is ADL stood with the Sikh community after the murder of four worshippers at a Gurdwara in the summer of 2012. That is why in the wake of the massacre at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last year, ADL launched 50 States Against Hate, to ensure that there are adequate hate crimes laws in all 50 states to protect marginalized communities. That is why we supported the LGBT community after the heinous terror attack perpetrated in Orlando earlier this summer. And that is why ADL will call outanti-Muslim bigotry and the worrying increase in violence targeting Muslim communities and places of worship.

Our tradition implores us: “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” On this anniversary, Leo Frank’s memory impels us to ignore the critics and fight ferociously against anti-Semitism and bigotry in all its forms. To paraphrase Dr. King, we recommit to the struggle because the work is not yet done.

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August 3, 2016

Anti-Muslim Extremists’ Disgraceful Attack On The Family Of An American Hero

Khizr Khan has been in the public eye since he spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.  In reacting to Khan’s prominence, some long-time anti-Muslim activists are seeking to discredit him.

Walid Shoebat

Walid Shoebat

Anti-Muslim extremist, Walid Shoebat, who is known for promoting Christian militancy, published an article on his website claiming that Khizr Khan, the father of Cpt. Humayan Khan is “a Muslim Brotherhood Agent Who Wants To Advance Sharia Law And Bring Muslims Into The United States.” Cpt. Khan was killed in combat in Iraq in 2004 and posthumously was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service.

The article bases this claim on a scholarly paper published in the Houston Journal of International Law in 1983 titled Juristic Classification of Islamic Law, which Shoebat claims was written by Khizr Khan. However, it is not clear that this is the same Khizr Khan who is the father of the slain Cpt. Khan.

Based on this scholarly paper, Shoebat claims that Khan’s fascination with Islamic Sharia stems from his life in Saudi Arabia, and that the paper cites Islamic Law, a book written by a Muslim Brotherhood ideologue, Said Ramadan.  For Shoebat and others like him, fabricating absurd claims to attack opponents is nothing new. However, what is unusual here is that anti-Muslim extremists are using this vile tactic to defame grieving families of fallen American soldiers.

Publicly exposed after a 2011 investigative CNN report revealed his fabrication of several stories about his background, Shoebat promotes a form of anti-LGBT/anti-Muslim Christian militancy. He also posts articles on his website that express hostility towards Jews. One article written by his son Theodore published on Shoebat’s website on June 18, 2015 claims, “There are many Jews (the majority in America are far-left) who harbor anti-Christian sentiments, and express vitriol when you try to talk about Christ with them.”

In February 2016, Shoebat, who claims to have converted to Christianity, attacked evangelical leaders who condemned his son’s remarks that in “a biblical society…every f-g would be rounded up and killed.” Shoebat responded to their criticism of this comment by asking, “So how far will the Evangelical movement in the United States go to please the LGBT agenda?”

Other anti-Muslim extremists echoed Shoebat’s attack on the Khan family. Some of them are planning to attend an upcoming anti-Muslim event in Los Angeles about Islam and Western Civilization on August 21st.

The event will feature speakers known for their anti-Islamic bigotry including Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, Frank Gaffney, and Pamela Geller. The event will also feature Morton Klein, President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) as a speaker.

By attacking the Khan family, who made the biggest sacrifice a human can endure, the hateful agenda of anti-Muslim extremists has reached a new low.

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July 29, 2016

Poland: Revisionism, Remembrance, Revival

“…the memories will stay with me long into the future.”

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

The 75th Anniversary Commemoration of the Polish Pogrom at Jedwabne

The 75th Anniversary Commemoration of the Polish Pogrom at Jedwabne

In the closing days of my first year on the job as ADL CEO, I selected Poland as the site for my first international ADL leadership mission. Historical events in Poland will forever anchor the country to ADL’s founding purpose — to protect the Jewish people. And contemporary developments give us cause for new concern.

A small group of ADL’s top national leadership joined me on this trip, including National Chair Marvin Nathan, to pursue three goals: (1) to demonstrate solidarity with the Polish Jewish community in the face of increasing Holocaust revisionism and anti-Semitic political speech, (2) to commemorate victims of anti-Semitism, and (3) to witness the inspiring revival of Jewish life in Poland. This was my first visit to Poland – and the memories will stay with me long into the future.


The urgency of the first goal became even most apparent the day after our visit concluded, when Poland’s Education Minister Anna Zalewska repeatedly refused to acknowledge during a televised interview that Polish citizens were responsible for killing their Jewish neighbors during anti-Semitic pogroms in Jedwabne and Kielce during and after World War II.  The controversy was the top story in the Polish press.

The ADL delegation had attended the 75th anniversary commemoration of the Jedwabne massacre just days earlier. Together with Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, leaders of the Polish Jewish community, and painfully few others, we mourned the hundreds of Jews, murdered by their Polish Catholic neighbors on July 10, 1941, while the town was under Nazi occupation. Most of the Jews were forced into a barn, which was then set on fire.

At the Jedwabne memorial with ADL National Chair Marvin Nathan

At the Jedwabne memorial with ADL National Chair Marvin Nathan

The events of the Jedwabne pogrom were largely unknown until 2001. While centrist Polish leaders have apologized to the Jewish community for the massacre, Polish nationalists have rejected Polish responsibility. They contend that accusations of Polish responsibility are smears against Poland’s reputation. The recent rise of the far-right in Poland led to the election in October 2015 of the Law and Justice party, some of whose government ministers had caused us deep concern, even before Education Minister Zalewska’s comments.

While the small Jewish community in Poland has suffered very few anti-Semitic incidents, the political atmosphere has noticeably changed in Poland with increasing anti-Semitic rhetoric on the far-right.  The controversy over Jedwabne is its symbol.  The week we were there a major news magazine, W Siece, put on its cover a burning barn and the headline, “Jedwabne: We need to investigate anew.”

Polish Paper

Speaking at the Jedwabne commemoration, in front of a small memorial on the site of the barn, moved me as much as anything else I have done in my first year at ADL. It was an incredibly powerful moment. I pledged on behalf of ADL to remember the victims, to protect that memory from distortion by those who would re-write history for their own political purposes, and to stand in solidarity with the current Jewish community against the challenges they face.

Speaking at the Jedwabne commemoration, July 10

Speaking at the Jedwabne commemoration, July 10

The next day we met with government leaders, including Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski, and told them directly of our concerns. We expressed appreciation for President Andrzej Duda’s remarks at the commemoration of the Kielce pogrom, where he said “there is no room for anti-Semitism” in Poland and acknowledged that “ordinary [Polish] people were involved in the attack.”  But, we noted that no senior government official had condemned the burning of an effigy of a Hassidic Jew at a far-right demonstration just weeks after Law and Justice came to power.  We were disappointed in Foreign Minister Waszczykowski’s dismissive attitude toward the issue.

The ADL delegation meeting with Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski and ministry officials

The ADL delegation meeting with Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski and ministry officials

We reminded Minister Waszczykowski that ADL has been a leading voice against the defamatory phrase “Polish death camps” (which should be “Nazi death camps”), and we expected Poland’s leaders to speak out against anti-Semitic rhetoric or incidents to demonstrate that anti-Semitism is unacceptable in Poland.  Given the pervasive belief in Jewish stereotypes among the Polish public, as shown in ADL’s Global 100 survey, we underscored the importance of such condemnations.  From the Foreign Ministry, we left for Krakow and our visit the following day to Auschwitz.


At Auschwitz, after a long tour of horrors, we stood in front of a pit where ashes from the crematoria were dumped by the Nazis as they implemented the Final Solution. We said Kaddish, but nothing else other than silence seemed appropriate. No other moment in the past year has so viscerally reinforced my commitment to ADL’s mission.

The ash pit and a destroyed crematorium at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Past National Chair Glen Lewy and National Commissioner Michael Sheetz.

The ash pit and a destroyed crematorium at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Past National Chair Glen Lewy and National Commissioner Michael Sheetz.

ADL’s education programs present our Pyramid of Hate with genocide at its apex. I had just seen another pyramid of hate, a mountain of shoes taken from thousands of Jews murdered over the course of just a few hours.

Shoe Exhibit - Poland

ADL National Chair Marvin Nathan at the shoe exhibit in Auschwitz

ADL National Chair Marvin Nathan at the shoe exhibit in Auschwitz

Pondering a cattle car at Auschwitz-Birkenau, I thought about Elie Wiesel, the unsurpassed master of bearing witness, who must have arrived at this spot in one just like it.  His passing on July 2 bereaved us all.

ADL delegation at Auschwitz-Birkenau in front of a cattle car used for deportations.

ADL delegation at Auschwitz-Birkenau in front of a cattle car used for deportations.


The Jewish Community Center of Krakow is an hour from Auschwitz by car and couldn’t be farther by nature. The JCC is a scene of Jewish revival and of optimism. Jewish identity is celebrated, and young Poles with Jewish roots are affiliating with their heritage. Under the impressive leadership of its Executive Director Jonathan Ornstein, the JCC offers opportunities for all to connect, to learn, and to create community.


Over a delightful dinner, the ADL delegation heard from young men and women who are intent on rebuilding Krakow’s Jewish community.  The food itself – homemade, fresh and kosher – symbolized the community’s ethos of renewal. But their words made an even deeper impression on our group.  Though the community is very small, their sense of commitment bodes well for the future.


ADL’s Continuing Mission

Krakow is the home to the Jewish Culture Festival, attended by 20,000 people each year, and we saw minimal security at Jewish institutions in the city.  However, we know Krakow is not an oasis devoid of anti-Semitism. ADL can support the development of these small communities in Krakow, Warsaw, and elsewhere in Poland by keeping up the pressure on elected officials, law enforcement, and civil society leaders to speak out against anti-Semitism, to take legal action when appropriate, and in general to make clear to the Jewish community that they are equal members of Polish society, entitled to the same protections and respect as all other Polish citizens.

Through our regular conversations with leaders of the Polish Jewish community and with anti-racism watchdogs like the NEVER AGAIN Association, ADL can respond to concerns in solidarity and cooperation.  On this leadership mission, ADL’s leaders and local community leaders faced challenging issues together and at the end raised glasses l’chaim, to life. It should always be so.

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