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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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July 28, 2016

Rep. Hank Johnson, Your Words Have a History

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

Much has been said and written about our response at the Anti-Defamation League to the recent comments by U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) comparing the Israeli settlement enterprise to “termites” undermining the two-state solution. (You can watch the offending comments here beginning at 34:00). Some appreciated our strong words. Others anguished over our response on Twitter, suggesting that we did not go far enough in condemning him.

This was one of those moments when 140 characters failed to fully convey our feelings.

So I wanted to take the opportunity now to put this issue into full context, to explain why the remarks were so offensive both to Israelis and Jews across the political spectrum and to elucidate what elected officials must do in such instances to assure the public that they do not support the kind of anti-Semitic notions the remark suggested for so many.

First, to the remarks themselves: As I myself tweeted, there’s absolutely no doubt that Rep. Johnson’s comments were both irresponsible and reprehensible, particularly because they played into traditional anti-Semitic canards. The image of “termites” being used to describe Jews has sordid connotations. In the annals of anti-Semitism, from the medieval period to Czarist Russia, and most pronouncedly in Nazi Germany, there is a common leitmotif of Jews being portrayed as subhuman – rats, cockroaches and other undesirable creatures. Even today, depictions of Jews in anti-Semitic cartoons that pervade the Arab press often conform to this legacy.

Surely Rep. Johnson can understand a people’s legitimate sensitivities that emerge from a long history of oppression. And surely there is room for legitimate and balanced criticisms of policy which do not resort to these prejudiced tropes.

In light of the fact that the comment – inadvertently or not – evoked classic anti-Semitic stereotypes, our initial tweet on the remarks calling it an “offensive and unhelpful characterization” did not go far enough in spelling out precisely why it was so objectionable. Indeed, that impelled my subsequent tweet that “yes, there was apology, but no ‘point’ justifies referring to human beings in such an abhorrent, inappropriate manner.”

Our concern about Rep. Johnson’s remarks and those of others whom we have taken umbrage with during the campaign is not about politics—it’s about an expectation of civility in our politics. ADL consistently has spoken out about inappropriate and offensive language made by candidates and supporters of both political parties. This is not new and will never change.

Because this is an election year, people tend to read more deeply into our criticism of candidates and other political pundits, suggesting our statements reflect a “hidden” agenda or trying to pigeonhole us as “left” or “right.”  Let me be crystal clear on this point. For us, it does not matter whether it is a Democrat or a Republican or an Independent. It is the comment itself that justifies our response. This is not about candidates or parties – it is about ideas.

We will call out ideas that run counter to the values we believe in so deeply – civility, pluralism and tolerance – even as we continue to abide strictly by our status as a 501c3 nonprofit which appropriately requires us not to oppose or support candidates for office.

All should understand that Rep. Johnson quickly apologized and subsequently restated his apology to me and to Rabbi David Wolpe. This was meaningful because we have seen others who refuse to demonstrate any public contrition after analogous lapses. But he and others need to know that it is unacceptable to denigrate any group of human beings regardless of one’s views on the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

Considering the where Rep. Johnson was speaking adds additional context to the situation. His remarks were delivered at an event sponsored by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, a group with a one-sided view of this long-standing and deeply complex conflict, who advocate for boycotting Israel and who provide a platform for the most outrageous charges against Israel. Rep. Johnson was playing to a crowd—a crowd that eagerly applauded his remarks.

If we hope in any way to advance the cause of peace and reconciliation, we need to resist demonization of the other side, to desist from incitement and refuse to slide into slander.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an enduring one and its history is complex. It has so far frustrated the attempts of our country’s most able negotiators. Achieving its resolution will not be easy and may not happen soon. But one thing is for sure: assigning blame only to one side fails to move us any closer to that destination.

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May 20, 2016

Isi Leibler: Wrong on All Counts

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Jerusalem Post Blog

Isi Leibler gets it wrong on almost all counts in his criticism of my appearance in April before J Street U, the student arm of J Street.

As I made clear publicly in accepting the invitation to speak, I did so both because of my conviction that it is vital to engage with all members of our community, even and especially those with whom we might disagree.

I used this stage to deliver a double message.  First, that ADL is committed to ensuring Israel remains a safe and secure, Jewish and democratic state; and second, that peace cannot be brought about by applying pressure only to one side of the conflict—Israel.  This in many ways is the crux of our disagreement with J Street—that further isolating Israel at a time of great tumult and regional volatility is bound to make peace less likely.

Therefore, Leibler’s accusation that I made a moral equivalence between Israel and the Palestinians when I called for acknowledgement of “responsibility of both parties” turned my point on its head. In speaking to a group that is often critical of Israel, I was making clear that “champions of Palestinian self-determination must hold the Palestinian leadership to task for its failures as well.” Leibler ignores—or worse—willfully distorts my message.

What is more outrageous is that any aspect of my remarks to these students could be misconstrued as “indirectly gave a seal of approval for the Obama administration to impose solutions on future borders that could dramatically compromise Israel’s security.”

Recognizing that there are steps Israel can take to ensure the viability of a two-state solution bears no resemblance to supporting an imposed solution. I delivered that message even while reiterating that a reasonable approach must have expectations of the Palestinians as well.

In talking about the need to recognize two narratives, I was, of course, not referring to the Palestinian rejection of Israel’s legitimacy, which ADL condemns over and over again, but that there is a Palestinian people and population whose future has to be dealt with in order to have peace and security for Israel.

And in calling out the need for Israel to protect the rights of all its citizens, I was not challenging the fact that Israel is one of the great democratic societies in the world. Instead, just as we do in that other great democracy, the United States, we urge ourselves to do better, to make sure that all segments of society are full participants in our democracy and entitled to the full benefits of rights—a noble ideal, but hardly a betrayal of Israel.

As to the criticism of my decision to speak to J Street U, I have no apologies. I do not know if Leibler ever bothered to attempt to meet these young people, but I was impressed: They are a group of deeply thoughtful college students whose commitment to Israel is genuine and whose passion on the issues is impressive. Whether Leibler likes it or not, these are future leaders in our community and in our country.

Again, while I may disagree with many of their parent organization’s positions and tactics—and ADL has expressed such sentiment publicly in the past—if we are going to maintain a true sense of community and inclusion, particularly among younger Jews, then we must engage those with whom we have disagreements and explain our positions. We certainly must be wary of those who castigate those who are willing to engage broadly.

Israel continues to face many threats from terrorists and extremists, as well as in the form of calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions. We must stand against all. But there are also dangers to Israel from those who do not want a two-state solution, from those who do not worry about maintaining Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

And there are those within our own community who seem to forget that disagreement and dissent are not just Jewish ideas – they are Jewish ideals.

The challenge for all of us is how to be a strong advocate for Israel while respecting a broad range of views on how best to move forward.

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