FACT CHECK: Is The Anti-Defamation League ‘Anti-Black’?

David Sivak | Fact Check Editor

Tamika Mallory and other Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists have promoted the idea that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish nonprofit organization, is “anti-black.”

“The ADL is CONSTANTLY attacking black and brown people,” Mallory tweeted Tuesday.

Verdict: False

The ADL does criticize black nationalist groups like the Nation of Islam that espouse anti-Semitic views, but the organization has a decades-long track record of promoting civil rights and agrees with most of the BLM platform.

Fact Check:

Starbucks faced criticism last week after a store manager in Philadelphia called the police on two black men who asked to use the bathroom without making a purchase. In response, Starbucks apologized and promised to close 8,000 stores for an afternoon of racial bias training.

The company enlisted the help of groups focused on civil rights including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the ADL to put together the training. But Mallory and others objected to the partnership with ADL, with some claiming that the organization is “anti-black.”

“The ADL is CONSTANTLY attacking black and brown people. This is a sign that they are tone deaf and not committed to addressing the concerns of black folks,” Mallory tweeted.

“Another example of how @Starbucks just doesn’t get it. Their remedy to anti-Black racism is to have trainings at all stores organized by the @ADL_National …with its own history of anti-Blackness and Islamophobia?!?!” said a professor at California State University, Los Angeles.

The ADL was founded in 1913 to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people and secure justice and fair treatment for all.”

Although it has primarily sought to combat bigotry against Jews, the ADL developed a reputation as a civil rights ally in the 1950s and 1960s. The organization filed an amicus brief in the landmark desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education, lobbied for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and marched with demonstrators in Selma, Alabama.

In some ways, the mission of the ADL naturally aligned with the agenda of the civil rights movement; for example, the organization worked to counter the Klu Klux Klan, which discriminated against both Jewish and black people.

But BLM activists say the ADL has departed from its legacy as a civil rights advocate.

“These were indeed inspiring moments of solidarity – but they are in the past. If the ADL and other Jewish organizations wish to remain relevant, they must embrace the future of the movement, rather than revisiting past triumphs with nostalgic ‘legacy tours’ of the Deep South,” writes Lesley Williams, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace.

The future of the movement, according to these activists, includes staunch opposition to the state of Israel, which they say is committing “genocide” against the Palestinian people. “We say no to all forms of oppression. We respect the uniqueness of our struggles and our varied histories,” says a video produced by the Black-Palestinian Solidarity campaign. “When I see them, I see us.”

The ADL, a pro-Israel organization, has been ostracized, in part, for the support it provides to the Jewish state even though it broadly agrees with the BLM agenda.

“We do not agree with every tenet in the Black Lives Matter platform,” writes Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and National Director of the ADL. “However, we find common cause with many in the BLM movement around the quest to achieve educational equity, end the school-to-prison pipeline and stop the use of excessive force and the killing of unarmed African Americans by some in law enforcement.”

The ADL has called for federal investigations into several police killings and even produced educational materials to teach students about the BLM movement. But it believes that an organization doesn’t have to embrace every tenet to be an ally.

Martin Luther “King’s message was about building bridges, bringing people together, and joining forces to fight hate and oppression,” writes Kenneth Jacobson, deputy national director for the ADL. “Comparing American racism and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, by contrast, seems driven by individuals more invested in undermining the Jewish state than in furthering race relations in America or working toward a solution to the conflict the Middle East.”

The ADL has not endorsed BLM and criticizes what it calls the anti-Semitic positions of some of its leaders. The organization readily criticizes black nationalist groups that espouse anti-Semitic views, including the Nation of Islam and the New Black Panthers.

“When hatred comes from individuals in those very communities or organizations for whom we advocate, we are duty bound to raise our voice,” writes Greenblatt.

The ADL speaks out against white supremacist and Islamic extremist groups as well.

Its work also includes training police departments on how to respond to terrorism and hate crimes. “ADL is the nation’s top non-governmental law enforcement training organization,” reads the ADL website.

BLM activists, who distrust and are sometimes hostile towards the police, point to this relationship as an example of why the organization cannot fairly represent the views of the black community.

“I have a message for the ADL: Take a good hard look at yourselves,” writes Williams. “You can’t warn about the dangers of race-based, overly aggressive policing and then teach race-based, overly aggressive policing.”

The ADL has called these sort of accusations “false and defamatory.” “On the contrary, ADL’s law enforcement missions have a goal of doing exactly the opposite, by strengthening law enforcement’s connection to the communities they serve,” an ADL spokesperson told The Intercept.

The organization runs a training program on how to prevent racial bias in law enforcement.

The ADL draws especial ire from BLM because it annually sponsors a program to send police executives to Israel for counter-terrorism training.

Despite criticism, the ADL maintains a strong relationship with historic civil rights organizations like the NAACP. The ADL received the 2015 NAACP Presidential Award and has issued joint statements in recent years affirming the partnership.

“We are as one, bound by the common cause of civil rights, justice and fair treatment for all Americans,” reads a 2017 op-ed published by the two organizations.

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David Sivak

Fact Check Editor
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