The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) today criticized the false statements made about the ZOA by Jonathan Greenblatt, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), in an article published by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on August 5, 2016. Attempting to fend off criticism from the ZOA, the Jerusalem Post’s Isi Leibler and others within the Jewish community regarding the ADL’s declining focus on anti-Semitism, its inappropriate criticism of Israel to a J Street audience, and its promotion of anti-Israel groups such as Black Lives Matter, Greenblatt retaliated by stating in the article: “We’re a civil rights organization. The ZOA is not. We’re an organization focused on combating anti-Semitism and bigotry. The ZOA is not. They’ve been doing this [criticizing us] for over 20 years so you can draw your own conclusions.”
Jonathan Greenblatt’s statements about the ZOA’s work are false. The ZOA is in fact a civil rights organization, dedicated to protecting the civil rights of the Jewish people, and to fighting anti-Semitism and bigotry on college campuses and elsewhere. Greenblatt is correct that the ZOA has on occasion criticized the ADL’s positions and actions over the years, with examples provided below. The community should consider these examples and draw its own conclusions about whether that criticism has been justified.
Contrary to Greenblatt’s statements, the ZOA is one of the major civil rights organizations today, fighting anti-Semitism and bigotry on several fronts, including through its campus department – ZOA Campus – and its Center for Law and Justice:
- Just last week, the New York Times published an article about rising tensions on college campuses surrounding the Middle East conflict, and twice highlighted the ZOA’s leading role in fighting campus anti-Semitism: The Times noted the ZOA’s 2014 letter – signed by 13 other national organizations – which was sent to 2500 college presidents around the country – alerting them to rising anti-Semitism and urging them to take specific steps to address the problem, and also noted the ZOA’s letter last February to the leadership at the City University of New York (CUNY), which triggered a now-ongoing independent investigation of anti-Semitism on the CUNY campuses.
- The ZOA’s campus department, ZOA Campus, brings innovative pro-Israel educational programs to college campuses around the country, and helps college students fight BDS and other anti-Semitic and anti-Israel initiatives.
- The ZOA filed a groundbreaking civil rights action to protect students from anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation at the University of California, Irvine; this was the first case of campus anti-Semitism that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights ever agreed to investigate under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Instead of supporting the ZOA’s legal effort, the ADL publicly disparaged it, calling the ZOA an “outside group” – though no different from the ADL – and accusing the ZOA of “com[ing] in with all guns blazing” – even though the ZOA chose a legitimate and peaceful course of action. The ADL also claimed that “changes occur not through lawsuits but by education on campus and by working toward better communications” – even though the most important civil rights achievements in this country were accomplished through litigation, and ADL’s own fruitless efforts at UC Irvine were among the reasons that students backed the ZOA’s legal action.
- When the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights convened its first-ever hearing on campus anti-Semitism, the ZOA was one of three witnesses invited to testify at the hearing, which led to landmark findings and recommendations by the Commission – including that anti-Zionism and anti-Israelism may be manifestations of anti-Semitism, that Jewish students should be protected from anti-Semitic harassment under Title VI, and that publicly-funded schools have the legal obligation to protect them.
- The ZOA led the successful fight to secure legal protection for Jewish students under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, having principally drafted the letter to the Secretary of Education which was signed by the ZOA and 12 other Jewish national organizations, urging that Jewish students be afforded the same legal protections under Title VI as other ethnic and racial groups.
- In 2014, the ZOA negotiated a legal victory for Jewish students who had faced anti-Semitic discrimination at Brooklyn College, resulting in a public statement from the College’s president apologizing to the students and acknowledging wrongdoing by College employees and others, as well as the creation of new policies to prevent the discrimination from recurring.
- The ZOA’s detailed letter to the president of Northeastern University in 2013, detailing incident after incident of anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation, led Northastern’s administration to finally take action after years of ignoring students’ calls for help and support. After an op-ed in the Jewish Advocate, the major Jewish newspaper in the Boston area, strongly praised the ZOA’s letter and stated that “it should be a clarion call for all Jews and people of conscience,” the ADL finally weighed in, urging Northeastern to investigate the incidents identified in the ZOA’s letter.
- The ZOA has exposed and fought against the anti-Semitism of numerous public figures including Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan; Desmond Tutu (whose vicious criticism of Israel resulted in an American university rescinding his invitation speak there, followed by the ADL’s Abraham Foxman’s urging that the invitation be reinstated) and Georgia Congressman Hank Johnson (who recently referred to Jews living in Judea/Samaria as “termites” and when he “tweeted” a lame apology for what Johnson called his “poor choice of words,” the ADL surprisingly accepted his weak and less-than-heartfelt response).
- The ZOA’s civil rights work on behalf of Jewish students facing anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism was acclaimed in a book entitled Jewish Identity and Civil Rights in America, authored by the former head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
- On more than ten occasions, the Forward has named ZOA National President Morton Klein as one of the “50 most influential members of the Jewish community,” in part for his work in exposing and fighting Muslim anti-Semitism. The Forward has similarly acknowledged the work of Susan Tuchman, the Director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, calling her “the first to put legal teeth into Jewish organizations’ warnings of rising anti-Israel sentiment in university classrooms.”
As to Jonathan Greenblatt’s statement that the ZOA has been criticizing the ADL for over 20 years, the fact is that the ZOA has criticized the ADL on occasion over the years, with some examples below. The community should judge for itself whether the ZOA’s criticism was warranted:
- The ADL has repeatedly harmed efforts to fight BDS by publicly opposing and lobbying against needed federal and state anti-BDS laws, including in Maryland, Illinois, New York, and South Carolina. In addition, the ADL has published articles falsely claiming that anti-BDS laws violate free speech.
- When he spoke about the Middle East conflict before the student arm of J Street in April 2016, Jonathan Greenblatt blamed “both sides” for acts that are the sole responsibility of Palestinian Arabs and their leaders. Greenblatt stated: “We must be on guard for those . . . who place blame on one side instead of putting forward solutions that acknowledge the role and responsibility of both sides” and “Both sides need more investment and less intifada, more business and less boycott, more help and less hate.”
- The ADL supports the Black Lives Matter movement and disseminates materials to thousands of students across the country promoting it, and Jonathan Greenblatt highlighted the movement as one of “the struggles of our time,” despite the fact that it is openly hostile to Israel. The movement’s platform calls for an end to U.S. aid for Israel, falsely accuses Israel of “genocide” against the Palestinian Arabs, and describes Israel as “an apartheid state.”
- The ADL’s former National Director, Abe Foxman, welcomed the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the terrorist Yasser Arafat, saying that Arafat had “earned the award.” The ADL’s Foxman also stated that Arafat’s call for jihad was simply a “jihad for peace.”
- The ADL supported Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. The withdrawal left thousands of Jews homeless, and led to Gaza’s takeover by Hamas – a terrorist group committed to Israel’s destruction and the murder of every Jew – and to the firing of 20,000 rockets and missiles from Gaza into Israeli towns and cities, threatening innocent Israeli civilians.
- The ADL’s Abe Foxman defended the 1998 appointment of Professor John Roth as research director for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, even after revelations that Roth had compared some Israeli policies to Nazi policies and made other hostile statements about Israel. The ZOA led the fight against the appointment – and Roth resigned.
Jonathan Greenblatt is understandably troubled by mounting concerns from the ZOA, the Jerusalem Post’s Isi Leibler and others in the Jewish community regarding the ADL’s decreased focus on anti-Semitism and bigotry. But Mr. Greenblatt should be responding responsibly to that criticism with the facts, not by lashing out with false and unwarranted accusations against other organizations.