Top 10 List

Once Again, the Anti-Defamation League Defames

The ADL has once again trotted out its list of “top ten anti-Israel groups based in America.” Jay Michaelson explains why everything about this is ridiculous.

Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images

The Anti-Defamation League is like a wonderful, kind, and successful leader who happens to have a nasty meth habit. They do fantastic work on combating bigotry, racism, and homophobia, earning respect all around. And then Abraham Foxman starts talking about Israel, and all respect is lost.

First it was the ADL’s outrageous opposition to the “Ground Zero Mosque”—not a mosque, not at Ground Zero, but an Islamic center run by exactly the sort of progressive Muslims whom America (and Israel) should support. Then it was the increasing cascade of claims that opposition to Israel—or indeed, Israel’s policies—is anti-Semitism. And now, as in recent years, the ADL once again trots out its ridiculous list of “the top ten anti-Israel groups based in America,” including Students for Justice in Palestine, Code Pink, and Jewish Voice for Peace. Come on.

Here’s the part of the article where I rehearse, once again, my own centrist bona fides. I am a two-stater, J-Streeter, and progressive Zionist. I have been vilified by some on the Left for being an apologist for colonialism, racism, and genocide. I do not support BDS, and do not believe the State of Israel is inherently immoral. Okay?But this is ridiculous.

First, what were the criteria for the ADL’s list? Support for BDS, participating in anti-Israel activities, and supporting anti-Israel policies. In fact, none of these is actually anti-Israel.

BDS is a political tactic that is entirely rational, and need not be “anti-Israel” at all. It proceeds from the rational premise that Israel’s policies are enabled by international support and opinion. Therefore, to change those policies, it makes sense to change that international support and opinion. Boycotting and eventually sanctioning Israel is a way to do that, to de-normalize the occupation of the West Bank, and lessen (or reverse) the distorting effect of international support for Israeli policies.

To repeat, I don’t agree with this logic. But not only is it not anti-Semitic, it’s not even anti-Israel. One could support BDS, engage in “anti-Israel” activities and support “anti-Israel” policies if one believes that the occupation is bad for Israel.

An analogy. If your friend is an alcoholic, is it “anti-friend” to stage an intervention and compel her to quit drinking? Is the only way to be “pro-friend” to continue to enable her habit—indeed, to buy her bottles of whiskey?

Israel is that alcoholic, addicted to a habit that will lead to demographic suicide and moral turpitude. And worse, its enabler (that’s the U.S.) is buying her booze.

In this light, it is pro-Israel to support actions that help Israel kick the habit. I don’t think BDS is one of those actions, but it’s hardly irrational, bigoted, or anti-Israel to think that it is.

Now, I’m not naïve. Obviously, many members of the ADL’s blacklist do, indeed, oppose the very existence of the state of Israel. But the inclusion of groups that state that their interest is opposing the occupation, not the State of Israel, itself undermines any credibility the list might have.

But let’s go a step further. Why is the ADL putting out this list at all? The ADL’s job is supposed to be opposing defamation. Yet being anti-Israel is not defamation.

On the contrary, some see it as morally necessary. Suppose one believes, as many JVP-ers do, that it is morally wrong to establish a state wherein citizens are treated unequally. Since unequal treatment is a necessary consequence of a group-specific state, especially one built on top of a population from another group, such a state is morally unsupportable. Where is the bigotry here?

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Now, it’s true that the ADL’s list is billed as a list of anti-Israel, not anti-Semitic, organizations. But this is the ADL. For an anti-defamation league to put out a blacklist is to imply that those blacklisted are in the business of defamation.

This is actually, as well as theoretically, outrageous. I know several JVP supporters personally, and I know that they oppose the state of Israel for Jewish moral reasons specifically. They think it undermines Jewish values to have a Jewish state, with a Jewish military and a thousand preferences for Jews over non-Jews. And so not only are they not defaming Jews or Jewish values—they are, in the way they see fit, trying to support them.

Once again, it is surely the case that many people in the organizations on the ADL list are indeed anti-Semitic. But many are not. The ADL’s broad brush lumps them all together. Indeed, this form of shaming, blacklisting, and guilt-by-association is, itself, a form of defamation.

Moreover, this kind of behavior only delegitimizes Israel. Attempting to squelch political speech by calling it hate speech only makes Israel look weaker. It’s as if Israel’s partisans can’t win a debate, so they call the other side racist. That is pathetic, and anyone not already in the AIPAC camp can see that.

In short, it is not anti-Israel to be anti-occupation. It is not anti-Semitic to be anti-Israel. And it is not the ADL’s mission to defame others for espousing political views.