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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 5, 2016

Eyes on The Prize: In Pursuit of Racial Justice, Stick to the Facts and Avoid the Fiction

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog orig­i­nally appeared on Medium

Black Lives Matter

Earlier this week, a collective of more than 50 organizations associated with the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) released a detailed platform, A Vision for Black Lives, Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom & Justice. There are other groups associated with BLM who have not signed onto the Platform and offered different approaches. Nonetheless, the Platform is bold and provocative in its demands. It pointedly rejects many racial equality approaches tried over the past four decades. Instead, the document proposes a transformational policy frame for many ideas that previously have been articulated by activists, scholars and writers like Bryan StevensonMichelle Alexander and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

We do not agree with many of the specific demands of the Platform, but the document appropriately highlights the need to address mass incarceration and a wide range of racial inequities and socio-economic issues facing African Americans today. Beyond hand-wringing and soul-searching, the Platform proposes a number of specific legal, administrative, and legislative remedies to address identified challenges.

We appreciate these points because the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is deeply committed to addressing many of these issues, too. ADL’s longtime dedication to fighting bigotry in all forms includes building a just society where fair and equal treatment is guaranteed for all. Along with coalition partners, we are tackling critical civil rights issues such as ending racial profiling, addressing educational equity and economic inequalities, disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline and reforming our criminal justice system.

This work is not new. For decades, we have been working closely with our civil rights partners in the hard fight to advance a shared agenda of equality, justice, and respect for human dignity through leadership work in education, legislation, and litigation. Where possible, we want to engage with a range of activists to achieve these goals.

But would-be allies in the struggle for civil and human rights along with justice and fair treatment cannot ignore the Platform’s false and blatantly one-sided position on US-Israel relations and Israeli-Palestinian issues. We categorically reject the document’s criticism of the United States and Israel as being “complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people.” The Jewish community knows too much about genocide.

Whatever one’s position on the relationship between Israel, its Palestinian citizens, and the residents in the West Bank and Gaza, it’s repellent and completely inaccurate to label Israel’s policy as “genocide.” And the Platform completely ignores incitement and violence perpetrated against Israelis by some Palestinians, including terror inside the country and rocket attacks lobbed from Gaza. Unfortunately, these phenomena are not new but have been challenges that have faced the Jewish state since its inception more than half a century ago.

We strongly disagree with the Platform’s erroneous broad-brush conflating of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with civil and human rights abuses discussed in the document. Although Israel is far from a principal focal point in the more than 40,000-word document, it’s the irresponsible and completely over-the-top references to the Jewish state — as well as later gross mischaracterizations of Israel as “an apartheid state,” and calls for support of the BDS movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel) that alienate us and bear little resemblance to reality. These points are wrong on the facts and offensive in tone. Importantly, for ADL and many in the Jewish community, such false characterizations and misguided calls to action distract us from the task of addressing other, critically-important justice and equality priorities.

So let’s work to keep our eyes on the prize.

In the past few weeks, we have seen significant progress in pushing back against state voter suppression laws and advancing criminal justice reforms. The Justice Department is appropriately highlighting the need to address the criminalization of povertyThe President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing is actively promoting many worthwhile ideas to increase police accountability and enhance police-community relations.

The vital issues of racial justice we are confronting now — and the need to directly combat extremism, hate violence, immigrant bashing, and stereotyping — require sustained commitments. They necessitate a disciplined, relentless focus. They demand clear-headed, fact based approaches.

We cannot walk away. We cannot be distracted or dispirited. Those of us committed to justice cannot afford to stray from addressing the very real injustices facing our communities.

We are committed to doing just that.

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April 20, 2016

Why I’m Speaking to Students at J Street U

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog orig­i­nally appeared on Medium on April 17, 2016.

J Street U

This morning, I will speak to students at the J Street U National Assembly, the annual gathering of more than 200 young leaders from across the country who converge on Washington D.C. to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to exchange views about what they can do on campus to advance a two-state solution. J Street U reached out to me seeking to engage with the Jewish community, eager to establish a relationship with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) which it has never had.

As I begin to chart the course of my leadership, I felt it was important that I accept this invitation. I feel this way because of my conviction that it is vital to engage with all members of our community, even and especially those with whom we might have disagreements.

We can’t talk only to those who are aligned with us on every point.

In our time of hyper-polarization and the erosion of civil discourse, I believe it’s imperative that the organized Jewish leadership models the traits that we want to define the broader politics in our country. When I started my tenure as CEO, the country was locked in a bitter debate over the Iran deal. More than anything, the experience showed me that our community suffers from an inability to thoughtfully and respectfully engage across political divides.

I saw it firsthand as Jews who supported the deal as well as those who opposed the deal both were attacked viciously for their views, particularly by fellow Jews. I was dismayed by the self-destructive behavior — taking out newspaper ads, plastering municipal buses, excoriating others with ad homenim attacks — such attacks don’t advance the debate. They diminish all of us.

For a people who elevated the notion of dissent as a bedrock principle of our religious practice, the unwillingness to countenance opposing views is counter to the best traditions of our people. As a leader, I will not engage in these tactics. Instead, as the CEO of ADL, I will be an active advocate for civility and avoid the politics of personal destruction.

Building from this frame, I see my remarks today as a major opportunity for ADL to accomplish two things.

The first is to deliver the message that, at ADL, we are committed to ensuring Israel remains a safe and secure, Jewish and democratic state, as enshrined in its proclamation of independence. It was that remarkable Zionist vision expressed from the cradle of Israel’s birth that captured the imagination of the Jewish people and the world, the notion that Israel would be a country unlike all others:

“…based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture…”

Frayed Israel Flag

That is why ADL has had a policy of support for a two-state solution for decades. This means advocating for the legitimacy and security of the Jewish state even as we support Palestinian dignity and equality of Arab citizens in Israel. These ideas should not be in conflict. Rather, they are consistent with our centennial commitment to civil rights and social justice.

Secondly, I see an opportunity to deliver an important message to these impassioned students who are galvanized by the imperative to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. At ADL, we equally want to see a resolution of the conflict. Israel must take real, meaningful measures to promote an end to the impasse. However, the idea that peace can be brought about only by applying pressure to one side of the conflict — Israel — is a strategy bound to backfire.

Further isolating Israel at a time of great local tumult and regional volatility will only reinforce the political psychology of Israelis who eye concessions made in the context of negotiations with the Palestinians as inevitably endangering them. And this fear is real. It is substantiated in the unraveling of the modern Middle East, the rise of violent non-state actors committed to the destruction of Israel, terrorist groups like HezbollahISIS and Hamas, and the regional power of Iran whose revolutionary ideology remains firmly rooted in anti-Semitism. As Israelis look around they see regional chaos engulfing their neighborhood: wholesale slaughter in Syria, chaos in Sinai, challenges to the stability of their friends in Jordan. Any reasonable approach to solving the conflict in order to be credible in the eyes of Israel must bear in mind this new reality.

Given these facts, it is only the constancy of American guarantees of moral and physical support that will undergird an eventual agreement. And undermining that support endangers the prospects of peace. While a responsible approach should recognize that there are steps that Israel must take to ensure the viability of a two-state solution, a reasonable approach must have expectations of the Palestinians as well.

Ignoring the steps they also must take, compromises they too must make to achieve peace, does a deep disservice toward that goal.

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The fact is that the Palestinians, under the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas, twice rejected serious Israeli peace offers, once in 2008 during direct talks between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abu Mazen, and again under the Obama Administration — an administration which I was a part of. When President Obama offered President Abbas an American framework document for the resolution of the final status of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Abbas decided to ignore it entirely. That is an inconvenient fact for some who wish to portray the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a simplistic story of Israel’s unwillingness to make peace. But it is a fact that cannot be ignored.

The champions of Palestinian self-determination must hold the Palestinian leadership to task for its failures as well.

But even as I will make these points, I want to stress that despite this, we must find the areas where we can be partners.

It is vital to be in conversation with these students and the next generation of American Jewish leaders because it they who can credibly broker critical conversations on campuses rooted in a commitment to peace, while unmasking the damaging effects of BDS and anti-normalization.

The imperatives for social justice today do not lie in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations alone. We cannot let our differences over how to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace keep us from working together to address so many other challenges facing our nation. There are vital issues of structural racism that we must address now, matters of pressing racial injustice that wrack our own society. There are demagogues rising to power in Europe and the introduction of a terrible new type of political discourse that threatens our fundamental values.

The Anti-Defamation League was founded in 1913 with an enduring mission that still rings true today: to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all. For more than 100 years, we have worked to fight anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry even as we equally have fought for civil rights and social justice for Jews and other marginalized people.

But it always has been a shared struggle, one that we have not waged ourselves but that has been a product of alliances, coalitions and partnerships. And the work is not yet complete. There is still much to do be done. Hopefully we can do it, together.

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