When the Anti-Defamation League was established in 1913, its mission was clear: “To stop, by appeals to reason and conscience and, if necessary, by appeals to law, the defamation of the Jewish people.” The ADL’s credo has changed a bit since—it now aspires to an “ever-more just society”—but it still presents itself as the nation’s primary watchdog against anti-Semitism. With nearly 2,000 hate crimes against Jews last year, the most in more than two decades, the group could—sadly—still have its hands full with the challenges of its original mission.
Which is why it was so dismaying to see the ADL release a statement denouncing Judge Brett Kavanaugh minutes after President Trump announced his nomination to the Supreme Court. The ADL complained of Judge Kavanaugh’s “demonstrated hostility to reproductive freedom” and worried that his “judicial record does not reflect the demonstrated independence and commitment to fair treatment for all that is necessary to merit a seat on our nation’s highest court.”
Why would a group dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism engage in this sort of partisan warfare? The answer lies with the group’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, who succeeded Abe Foxman in 2015. A former junior aide in the Clinton White House and special assistant to President Obama, Mr. Greenblatt has frequently steered the ADL into the murky waters of party politics.
In March 2017, when hundreds of Jewish communal institutions received bomb threats, the ADL found a culprit in the Trump administration’s supposed embrace of the far right. “We’re in unprecedented times,” Oren Segal, director of the league’s Center on Extremism, said at a press conference convened to discuss the bomb threats. “White supremacists in this country feel more emboldened than they ever have before because of the public discourse and divisive rhetoric.”
That’s true enough, but the threats turned out to be the work of a mentally unwell Israeli teenager. Far from chastened, Mr. Greenblatt doubled down on partisanship. “The impact is still the same,” he said. “The emergence of the ‘alt right’ and the rising levels of abuse they perpetrated during the campaign against Jews and other minorities is despicable.”
Four months later, the ADL published “Naming the Hate,” a guide designed to identify the most menacing anti-Semites in America. It profiled 36 people—all of them on the right.
It’s obvious why the list includes Andrew Anglin, proprietor of the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer. It’s less obvious why it wouldn’t also include bigots like Joy Karega, the Oberlin professor who blamed Jews for 9/11, or Linda Sarsour, the Women’s March organizer who has celebrated Rasmea Odeh, a Palestinian terrorist convicted of murdering two Israelis, or the organizers of Chicago’s Dyke March, who last year expelled Jewish marchers holding up rainbow flags emblazoned with the Star of David. I posed this question to the ADL at the time and received no answer.
You hardly have to be a national organization dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism to realize that the threats to Jews these days come as fiercely from the left as they do from the right. When anti-Israeli activists slip fake eviction notices under the dorm-room doors of Jewish students at New York University, and a popular progressive running for California’s Assembly hails Louis Farrakhan, it is crucial that any watchdog rise to address bigotry no matter its partisan origins.
By focusing increasingly on the battles of the Democratic Party, and by weighing in on matters far removed from its traditional mandate, the ADL is leaving American Jews behind. The dangers we face these days are real, as the ADL itself is quick to report. We need a principled organization committed to meeting threats wherever they arise and practically positioned to do so, not another feeble voice in the hallelujah chorus of progressive dogma.
Mr. Leibovitz is a senior writer for Tablet Magazine and a co-host of its podcast, “Unorthodox.”
Appeared in the July 24, 2018, print edition. The original article was posted online here.