The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) claims to be a civil rights organisation, standing against antisemitism and for the rights and liberties of the Jewish and non-Jewish people alike. However, a closer examination of this organisation’s activities reveals a different story; a group that actively sabotages interethnic and multicultural solidarity.
Founded in 1913, ostensibly in response to antisemitic attacks, the ADL began its life as a branch of the Jewish service organisation, the B’nai B’rith. It split away from the B’nai B’rith later on, and became an independent nonprofit organisation. Its mission statement says that the ADL fights to stop the defamation of Jewish people, and secure the rights of all American citizens.
However, the ADL spent its considerable resources in attacking African American, migrant and antiracist groups, cooperating with law enforcement agencies in spying operations African American, Arab, and antiracist communities.
Listen to the words of Benjamin Epstein, national director of the ADL in 1961. He wrote:
T]he Anti-Defamation League for many years has maintained a very important, confidential investigative coverage of Arab activities and propaganda….Our information, in addition to being essential for our own operations, has been of great value and service to both the United States State Department and the Israeli government. All data have been made available to both countries with full knowledge to each that we were the source.
The ADL has an extensive website, filled with interesting and relevant information regarding racism in the United States, profiles of extremist groups, and news releases informing the public about current controversies pertaining to civil rights. At first glance, the ADL appears to be an ally of antiracist and progressive organisations. However, its self-description as a civil rights group conceals its long-standing hostility to antiracist movements.
In the 1970s and 80s, as the international community placed sanctions on apartheid South Africa, one of the nations which ignored those sanctions was Israel. Military and intelligence sharing activities continued between Tel Aviv and Pretoria. The ADL, for its part as a supporter of Zionism, used its resources to actively spy on anti-apartheid and antiracist activists in the United States. They collected information on those activists, and shared that information with US law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI.
One of the groups which the ADL collected information about was the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). The west coast chapter of the ADC was headed by a Palestinian Christian, Alex Odeh. The ADL, in cooperation with the FBI, paid a spy to infiltrate the group, and gather intelligence on its members and activities. In 1985, Odeh was assassinated by a bomb planted in his office. The murderers, two Judeo-supremacist militants, had access to the floor plans and map of the ADC offices. You can draw your own conclusions.
Not only are Arab Americans, and Palestine solidarity activists, targeted by the activities of the ADL – routinely smeared as antisemites – so are anti-Zionist and leftist Jews. The group Jewish Currents has elaborated how the ADL’s purported commitment to racial justice and social causes is undermined by its strident advocacy of Zionism. While the ADL has monitored white supremacist and neo-Nazi organisations, it has consistently deployed the accusation of antisemitism against Palestinian, Arab and African American groups in their efforts to criminalise Palestine solidarity campaigns.
In the 1950s, the ADL assisted the anticommunist campaigns of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the US government by cooperating with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), monitoring and informing on Jewish socialist and leftist groups. While there were Jews who condemned the surveillance and intelligence activities of the ADL, their voices were drowned out.
African American organisations, such as Black Lives Matter and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which have taken an anti-Zionist and anti colonialist position, have incurred the wrath of the ADL. The latter, taking up the cudgels in support of the Zionist state, denounced the SNCC as a ‘Negro extremist’ group. At the height of the civil rights movement, the ADL did its utmost to undermine the traditional solidarity between the black and Jewish communities.
While the ADL has spent countless hours and gallons of ink attacking African American groups as antisemitic, it has routinely sanitised the record of actual antisemitic and white supremacist groups, when those groups align with the interests of US foreign policy. In a recent statement, the ADL announced that the white supremacist Azov battalion in Ukraine, which is based on a racist and antisemitic ideology, is no longer a far right institution.
The Azov battalion, along with its ideological brethren in Kyiv, trace their philosophy back to the Nazi-collaborating Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). The latter intended to create an ethnically pure, white Ukraine, cleansed of Jews, Poles, Russians and other non-Ukrainian nationalities. This historical context is important, because it helps us to understand the gyrations of the ADL, in its support for US policies.
The ADL downplayed the Ukrainian nationalist collaboration with Nazi Germany, deeming it purely tactical and opportunistic. The flags of the OUN, and the statues of its wartime white supremacist leader Stepan Bandera, are explained away as just Ukrainians ‘honouring their heritage’, in much the same way that Confederate flags in the US are sanitised as mere expressions of historical curiosity.
The ultranationalist features of the Ukrainian right wing movements somehow provide a shield for covering up their antisemitic crimes and ideology. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, stated that neo-Nazi collaborators cannot keep deflecting attention from their documented massacres by constantly resorting to their nationalist credentials. “Holocaust perpetrators are the last people on Earth who deserve to be glorified”, stated Zuroff.
We must take the advice of Omar Zahzah, the education and advocacy coordinator of Eyewitness Palestine, and drop the ADL, because it is not an ally of antiracist organisations.