Podcast / On The Nose
On the Nose is our biweekly podcast. The editorial staff discusses the politics, culture, and questions that animate today’s Jewish left.
Elon Musk, the Jews, and the ADL, with Know Your Enemy
0:00 / 01:05:14
September 28, 2023

Throughout September, Elon Musk, the billionaire owner of X—the social media platform formerly known as Twitter—has targeted the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in response to the group’s attempts, along with several other advocacy organizations, to encourage an advertiser boycott of X. The ADL’s proposed ad boycott was an effort to curb hate speech on the platform, which has grown since Musk’s purchase of the site.

Many observers viewed Musk’s singling out of the ADL, which located the source of his financial troubles in one of the most prominent Jewish groups in the country, as a repurposing of an age-old antisemitic conspiracy theory. And his tweeting spree whipped up anti-ADL sentiment on the far right, with some antisemitic activists calling to “#BanTheADL” from X. Yet in responding to these attacks, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt has conflated far-right attacks with criticisms of his organization from the left, recently comparing the white nationalist #BantheADL tweets to the #DroptheADL campaign, a progressive push to discourage partnership with the ADL.

This week, Jewish Currents associate editor Mari Cohen, senior reporter Alex Kane, and editor-at-large Peter Beinart joined contributor Sam Adler Bell on the Know Your Enemy podcast to untangle the contradictions of an organization that has faced unjust attacks from the right-wing, but has also allied itself with the right in its effort to protect the State of Israel from criticism or protest. Drawing on several years of Jewish Currents reporting, the conversation touched on the ADL’s political history, explored whether the organization’s commitment to Israel advocacy impedes its ability to take on the right, and asked how leftists should respond to Musk’s attacks. Know Your Enemy, produced in partnership with Dissent Magazine and co-hosted by Adler Bell and Matthew Sitman, investigates the history and politics of the American right wing from a leftist perspective.

Thanks to Jesse Brenneman for producing and to Nathan Salsburg for the use of his song “VIII (All That Were Calculated Have Passed).”

Articles Mentioned and Further Reading:

The Anti-Democratic Origins of the ADL and AJC,” Emmaia Gelman, Jewish Currents

Has the Fight Against Antisemitism Lost Its Way?,” Peter Beinart, New York Times

The ADL’s Antisemitism Findings, Explained,” Mari Cohen, Jewish Currents

The ADL Doubles Down on Opposing the Anti-Zionist Left,” Mari Cohen and Isaac Scher, Jewish Currents

How the ADL’s Israel Advocacy Undermines Its Civil Rights Work,” Alex Kane and Jacob Hutt, Jewish Currents

The Unbearable Ignorance of the ADL,” Noah Kulwin, Jewish Currents

ADL Staffers Dissented After CEO Compared Palestinian Rights Groups to Right-Wing Extremists, Leaked Audio Reveals,” Mari Cohen and Alex Kane, Jewish Currents (2023)

Internal ADL Memo Recommended Ending Police Delegations to Israel Amid Backlash,” Alex Kane and Sam Levin, Jewish Currents

Does Abe Foxman Have an Anti-Anti-Semite Problem?,” James Traub, New York Times


Arielle Angel: Hey On the Nose listeners, we just sent the Fall issue of Jewish Currents to the printers, which is full of a ton of great stuff. If you’re one of those podcast listeners who doesn’t get the magazine, I’m here to tell you it’s time to subscribe. You get three beautiful print issues each year along with this special winter gift that’s always a fun surprise. It’s always changing. Our upcoming Fall 2023 issue is arriving in mailboxes next month. And if you like our work on On the Nose, I think you’ll like our magazine. If you’re already a subscriber login on our website to make sure that your address is up to date. And if you’re not yet a subscriber, we’d like to offer you a special discount for being a devoted On the Nose listener: For the next week, receive 50% off a subscription by using the code ONTHENOSE2023 in all caps at checkout. Our Fall issue contains a fascinating and frankly terrifying look at the National Conservatism movement, an exploration of efforts to use restorative justice techniques to deal with traffic crimes, and a lot more. You don’t want to miss it. Again, use ONTHENOSE2023, all caps, at checkout for 50% off a subscription, either for you or for a friend. With that, on to the episode.

Mari Cohen: Hi, this is Mari Cohen, Associate Editor at Jewish Currents. This week, we have a special treat for you: a joint episode with Know Your Enemy. Know Your Enemy is a podcast hosted by Jewish Currents contributor Sam Adler-Bell and the writer Matthew Sitman, in partnership with Dissent magazine, that seeks to investigate the history and politics of the American right wing from a leftist perspective. For this week, in light of Elon Musk’s recent attacks on the Anti-Defamation League that play on antisemitic tropes, Sam invited me and my colleagues, Senior Reporter Alex Kane and Editor-at-Large Peter Beinart, to the podcast to discuss the latest news and the contradictions of an organization that has faced unjust attacks from the right wing but has also allied itself with the right in its effort to protect the state of Israel from criticism or protest. We had a rich conversation and covered the ins and outs of much of Jewish Currents’ reporting on the ADL. We hope you enjoy.

Sam Adler-Bell: Alright, welcome Mari Alex and Peter to Know Your Enemy.

MC: Hi.

Alex Kane: Thanks for having us on.

Peter Beinart: Thanks.

SAB: We got the Jewish Currents Zoo Crew on the podcast, which I’m really excited about. Matt’s not here, unfortunately, but he did give an excuse, which is that he said—and I want to get this quote right—“Too many Jews.” He’s not here, so he can’t say that that’s not true. But I’m really excited about this episode.

As I already said, we’re going to be talking about the Anti-Defamation League and its history, but just for the listeners (and so we’re all on the same page), I wanted to give a sense of what the inciting event for this episode is, which is the recent showdown between the Anti-Defamation League—the ADL, a century-old Jewish civil rights and advocacy organization—and Elon Musk. In brief, Musk has recently blamed the ADL and threatened to sue them over Twitter’s cratering revenue, citing the organization’s role in an advertiser boycott against the platform. Notably, the ADL had been a member of Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council, which Musk disbanded in December 2022, and Musk’s criticism contributed to a wave of anti-ADL and often anti-Jewish sentiment from basically the entire right. From its nastiest corners to its tonier types, from the groypers to Ben Shapiro, everyone had something negative to say about the ADL, and many of them echoed calls originating on the far right to, quote, “Ban the ADL.” And so, from the outside—probably many of our listeners and especially progressives—this conflict could look quite simple and quite horrifying. The richest man in the world was teaming up with the most racist and antisemitic factions of the right to attack a legacy civil rights organization, basically for the crime of doing its job—that is, calling out Musk and X, aka Twitter, for allowing anti-Jewish and white supremacist hate speech to proliferate on the platform.

But the reason we’re here is that there’s a much longer and more complicated prehistory to this conflict involving the inherent contradictions in what we might call the ADL’s dual mandate: to fight hate and support civil rights for all while defending Israel in basically every instance. And really, I have to say, only Jewish Currents and only the reporting that you all have done have really kept up with the twists and turns of this messy story, the recent history of the ADL in all its nuance, and that’s why I was so happy that you guys agreed to come on. I think only you all are really equipped to make sense of this story and all of its twists and turns and tensions—and that’s why we’re here. So I’ve just given the briefest possible description of the recent Musk/ADL showdown, but I was hoping that you, Alex Kane, could fill in some of the texture of that conflict and bring the story up to last Monday, September 18, when Elon Musk met in California with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a meeting that we could reasonably interpret as a kind of damage control. And after that, we can go back and tell the longer story of the ADL. Alex.

AK: So, ever since Musk took over, the ADL has been sounding the alarm. Although I should say, given that we’re talking about the ADL’s internal contradictions, that Jonathan Greenblatt caused a big stir in the weeks before Musk actually took the reins when he favorably compared Musk to Henry Ford, who of course, was famously an antisemite.

SAB: He didn’t know how right he was, perhaps. Now, just for the listeners, Jonathan Greenblatt is the head of the ADL.


AK: To be fair to our friend Jonathan, he did walk it back and say that that was not the best comparison. So the relationship began strangely. But in late 2022, the ADL really ramped up its criticism of Musk because Musk, of course, basically removed any of the safeguards that Twitter had previously to try to prevent blatant hate speech and white supremacy. Obviously, Musk was very loud about saying like, “He’s gonna restore free speech to Twitter,” and, “Enough with this woke censorship agenda,” which to him meant allowing openly white supremacist neo-Nazi accounts to organize. And so, in November 2022—the ADL and eight other groups (which included the NAACP, Mozilla, and a bunch of other groups) had formed a coalition beforehand called Stop Hate For Profit—and in November, called for an advertising boycott of Twitter (or X). That was the beginning of a tense relationship between Greenblatt and Twitter.

And the reason why this got kicked up recently was kind of random. Greenblatt met with a Twitter executive, Linda Yaccarino, and then they both tweeted about it. And that kicked up a storm on the far right because the far right views the ADL as a censorious, progressive, woke force that is trying to censor their free speech. And then Musk joined in, of course, and it’s not just that Musk went against the ADL—it’s that he blamed the ADL single-handedly for his woes in terms of losing advertising profit, and in doing so, basically repurposed a very classic antisemitic conspiracy theory, which is locating the source of his financial troubles in the Anti-Defamation League, meaning the Jews. And so that sparked a lot of controversy. And Musk, of course, repeatedly said, “I’m not antisemitic, but I am pro-free speech.”

And earlier this week, as part of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the United States, he met with Musk in California. And they had a really bizarre, rambling conversation about AI, and Twitter, and free speech, and Musk’s great contributions to humanity and—just absolutely weird and bizarre—but they did for like a brief second address the elephant in the room, which was antisemitism. And Netanyahu said to Musk, “I know that you’re against antisemitism, and I hope that you try to balance free speech against antisemitism.” And Musk was like, “Yeah, you know, I’m anti anything that is bad for humanity. And as you know, against a certain group of people—”

MC: Yes, I think, specifically, he was saying that he’s against anything that thwarts our ability to, like, achieve humanity’s potential, like, in terms of space and exploring space. And so that’s why he’s against hate, because hate will divide us and make it harder to do that.

PB: It’ll keep us Earthbound.

MC: Yes. That is, I think, essentially what he said.

AK: And just to put a fine point on this, the controversy with Musk really put the ADL in its comfortable place. It is in the place that it wants to be: as the premier Jewish civil rights organization that is battling the far right.

SAB: I’m glad that you said that. That was something that I had a sense of about this whole controversy. It’s that in one sense, you’d think, “Oh, well, this is a bad couple of weeks for the ADL.” But in another, it’s exactly where the ADL wants to be: treated as a sort of totemic symbol of the civil rights struggle and the struggle against anti-Jewish hatred, who everyone of good conscience is obligated to defend, when the story that I think we want to tell on this podcast is that it’s a little more complicated than that, and that this organization actually has antagonized the left just as much, and that there’s this inherent tension, as I already mentioned, between its civil rights agenda and its agenda as this uncritical defender of Israel in most cases.

MC: Yes. And I think in some ways, it does put leftists in a challenging position in a way that I think perhaps does benefit the ADL, because they think many of us who have been critical of a lot of the ADL’s work also are quite critical of what Musk is doing, of how the far right is targeting them. And it is a moment in which we have to be able to like thread the needle and have the nuanced conversation about how, despite a lot of what the ADL has done, the attacks on them are problematic, and that there is something quite sinister at work there. And it’s not the easiest conversation to have,

SAB: As long as we all end the conversation feeling really uncomfortable and unsatisfied, then we know that we’ve had a good conversation on Know your Enemy. But I was reminded when you were speaking that there’s a little bit of a resonance—and I think even Greenblatt has pointed this out—between this far-right “Ban ADL” campaign and a campaign that originated on the left a few years ago, which was “Drop ADL.” And so, the idea that it’s only been the right that have been critical of the ADL and only for nefarious racist reasons—obviously, we know that’s not true. Your reporting has shown that that’s not true.

MC: And I think the ADL feels very comfortable when it can say, “We’re being criticized by both the right and the left.” So the ADL really benefits from being able to present itself as the sort of centrist organization that’s removed from politics, that’s just calling balls and strikes, “We’ll fight antisemitism everywhere we see it.” And I think, obviously, a reasonable observer can say, “Okay, well, just because you’re being criticized by both sides doesn’t mean that you’re right.” But I think they like to kind of employ that defense to argue that that’s why they’re more reasoned and above the fray,

SAB: For sure. And as we’re going to talk about later on, a huge part of Greenblatt’s approach to leading ADL has been equating the threat of antisemitism and white supremacy from the right and the threat of anti-Zionism or just criticisms of Israel from the left, and saying, like, “These are the two threats to Jewish safety that we’re preoccupied with.” And, of course, as a lot of your reporting (and the people you talk to for your reporting) have pointed out, conflating those two things is really pretty absurd and offensive. But before we get there, because this is Know Your Enemy, I’d love if we could give a capsule history of this organization.

PB: Sure. I can take a shot at that.

SAB: And that voice is Peter Beinart, for listeners who are keeping track of the different male voices here.

PB: That’s right. So the ADL is founded in 1913. It’s founded by another organization called B’nai Brith. B’nai Brith was actually an organization founded in the 19th century by German Jews, a very establishment American Jewish organization. But in 1913, the head of B’nai Brith, in Atlanta, the president of their Atlanta branch, a guy named Leo Frank, is framed for allegedly murdering a 13-year-old at his factory and then lynched. So this is a terrible antisemitic incident, and B’nai Brith creates the Anti-Defamation League to fight against antisemitism. And the ADL from its very beginning, like B’nai Brith, is a liberal establishment organization. It’s liberal in that it frames things in an integrationist framework, but it’s very much suspicious of radicalism and represents a kind of conservative vision of what liberalism is. So the founding statement is that this organization is going to fight antisemitism, but the fight against antisemitism is going to be part of a broader struggle against discrimination. So that’s the liberal vision that the ADL is founded with, and the ADL becomes really, in the middle of the 20th century, a quintessential Cold War liberal organization. It supports civil rights. It’s somewhat suspicious of the far right, and the ADL even actually spies on the John Birch Society.

SAB: Matthew Dallek’s new book on the John Birch Society has a lot of interesting new sources about the ADL’s spying on the Birch Society.

PB: Yes, so it’s afraid of the far right and it supports civil rights, which it sees as in the Jewish self-interest and part of its mission, but it is also very explicitly anti-communist. It participates with McCarthy and the FBI during the Red Scare of the 1950s. It purges communists from its own ranks. Actually, Irving Kaufman, the judge in the Rosenberg case, was on the National Civil Rights Committee of the ADL. And then, as elements in the Civil Rights movement move left in the 70s—Black Power and other things—the ADL is very, very suspicious and critical of that. So, in some ways, the organization is very well-positioned in the mid-20th century when the left is very weak. But then, in the 1970s, the ADL undergoes this transformation because in the 50s and 60s, Israel and Zionism has not been central to the organization’s mission. It’s really focused mostly on these domestic issues. But after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when the left both globally and in the United States starts to become much more critical of Israel, and in the wake of the upsurge of American Jewish Zionism after the Six Day War in 1967, the ADL starts to become much more focused on Israel through this concept of what’s called The New Anti-Semitism, which is the title of a book written by two ADL officials in 1974. The ADL doesn’t even have an office in Israel until 1977, to show how distant it had been, but with the emergence of a kind of left critique of Israel—famously symbolized (or infamously, depending on your point of view) with the Zionism equals racism resolution at the UN in 1975—this starts to become a really central part of the ADL’s self-definition: that part of fighting antisemitism is fighting the new antisemitism, which expresses itself not against Jews as individuals but against the Jewish state. And that has remained a central element of this organization ever since, even as it has tried to maintain a liberal vision—again, very much not a radical or leftist vision, but a somewhat liberal vision on domestic affairs.

AK: Yeah. And just to add to that, the ADL really went to war with the Black left after the beginning of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, of course, famously split from its integrationist past and went towards Black power and in 1967, published a famous article very critical of Zionism. The ADL called them pro-Arab, Soviet, smacking very heavily of antisemitism. And in the late 70s, when Andrew Young, who was Jimmy Carter’s Black US Ambassador to the UN and a civil rights figure, met with the Palestine Liberation Organization, the ADL was really upset at that. They were also upset after Nelson Mandela compared the Palestinian struggle to South Africans’ struggle against apartheid. And I think the ADL is really proud of the United States (at least the United States in the Civil Rights era), and they viewed the Civil Rights movement and their own battle against antisemitism as trying to fulfill the promise of the United States.

SAB: As Peter pointed out, it’s really the Cold War liberal vision of what the United States is and can be—which is, yes, the Civil Rights revolution. Yes, the melting pot. Yes, upward mobility. No, the left. No, communism, no socialism, etc.

PB: Right. Starting in the 70s, in particular in the late 60s, a lot of those leftist organizations that are leveling fundamental critiques about American society are also leveling critiques at Israel and against American foreign policy in general. So, the ADL is also quite suspicious of groups that are on the left. In Latin America, for instance, the Sandinistas, which at one point they suggest have some kind of anti-Jewish agenda, again, because it’s part of that larger worldview.

MC: An interesting aspect of this too (that comes out of a complex intra-Jewish history that Emmaia Gelman wrote an interesting piece about for Jewish Currents a couple of years ago that I would encourage people to check out) comes in part out of this intra-Jewish tension between the earlier German Jewish immigrants, who often came over somewhat earlier in the 19th century, and then the Eastern European Jewish masses that arrived closer to the turn of the 20th century, and the ways in which these organizations like the ADL (and many of the other legacy Jewish organizations, including the ADL) were founded by these more elite, well-off, liberal German Jews who felt somewhat threatened by the radicalism and working-class status and lack of assimilation of all these Eastern European Jewish immigrants that were coming in droves. And they felt that that threatened their own status as Jews in America because they felt like that brought negative attention, or that people were going to associate them with this rabble, and all of those things. So a lot of their early work was geared to encourage the Jewish masses to acculturate and to assimilate, and also to encourage people not to associate Jewishness with any of these more radical movements, whether that be communism, socialism, anarchism, but also maybe more observant orthodoxy, Yiddish speaking—all of that.

And so, from the beginning, they did place themselves at odds with these working-class masses in that way. And it’s complicated because at that time, often it was the elite German Jews who were less Zionist, in part because they were really focused on the promise of American assimilation and suspicious of the national character of Zionism. And so obviously, over time, that really changes for groups in that position, but it is that kind of intra-Jewish conflict that I think originally birthed some of those political divisions. I’m glad you brought that in, because I think the idea of the ADL as being founded on the principle of a Jewish respectability politics helps make sense of the rest of the history that we learn, including their approach to the Civil Rights movement, because when the Civil Rights movement was all about nonviolence, and American patriotism, and Black respectability politics, that was much more consonant with their vision of how Jewish assimilation and Jewish uplift in American life would work. And when the Black politics of the Civil Rights movement becomes more focused on radicalism, on redistribution, socialism, internationalism, and in some cases, violence, that’s when they take the Black respectability politics side of that conflict as well.

PB: Right. In fact, there’s a great line from the very piece that Mari just mentioned by Emmaia Gelman, where she quotes Bayard Rustin, and Rustin says—this is from 1966—he’s criticizing groups like the ADL, and he says, quote, “If you’re going to remain Jews only so long as Negroes remain nice, give it up.” So that kind of gets at this idea that, basically, we support the Civil Rights movement, but as he says, only when there’s a certain respectability to it. And frankly, like so many other organizations based in the North, when the fundamental work that’s being done is challenging the power structure in the South, not in the North.

AK: Right. And we should say that the ADL really was a core part of the pro-Civil Rights wing of the Jewish community. They were a founding member group of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, which lobbied Congress to pass Civil Rights laws. They lobbied for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And for them, they saw this as self-interest and also solidarity. I think both. They said If the Negro is not safe, the Jew is not safe, and there’s no security for one unless there’s security for all, which is a message that they’ve continued up until today when they explain why they work not just against antisemitism, but for the civil rights of LGBTQ people, Black people, Muslims to some extent—and that’s complicated.

PB: Right. There’s a real paradox between that history of the way they relate to Black Americans and the way they relate to Muslim Americans. Because Jonathan Greenblatt does say, during the Trump years, that he denounces the Muslim ban, and he says, “If there’s going to be registration of American Muslims, I’m going to sign up at the very beginning.” But if American Muslims become involved in pro-Palestinian activism, or if they become publicly anti-Zionist, if they’ve kind of left that respectability, then the ADL comes down on them like a ton of bricks.

SAB: Right. I wanted to get in here because it would be impossible to tell the history of the ADL faithfully without talking about Abe Foxman, who took over the organization in the late 80s. The organization became really kind of coterminous with him, and his personality, and his particular preoccupations, political and his peccadilloes. So, can we talk a little bit about Foxman? I think that’ll help us bring this history up to the present, because Jonathan Greenblatt, whom we’ve been describing, took over from Foxman in 2015.

PB: Foxman is a very big personality, very quotable. He himself is a Holocaust survivor as a child. And I think this confluence, which really becomes so central to American Jewish life in the 70s and 80s, of the Holocaust and Israel, the message of the role of American Jews is to prevent another Holocaust by keeping Israel safe. I think Foxman becomes the kind of embodiment of that political combination, but he’s also relatively secular—I mean, somewhat traditional, but not orthodox. And I think that also typifies the leadership of that generation of American Jews. There is a connection to Europe, but he certainly solidifies supporting Israel as absolutely central to what the ADL’s mission is. One thing he does kind of infamously (which goes back to this point about the ADL’s relationship to Muslim civil rights, which is ambiguous at best), is that in the wake of 9/11, he opposes the construction of an Islamic community center at Ground Zero, which shows the ways in which, during the fervor about the “War on Terror,” the ADL, as it does during McCarthyism, stops being such a vigilant defender of civil rights in certain political climates when it has to do with the civil rights of people who are being demonized.

AK: Yeah. There’s this really great New York Times Magazine profile of Foxman titled “Does Abe Foxman Have an Anti-Anti-Semite problem?” And it paints this really great portrait of Foxman as this domineering, punch-throwing Jewish figure who never loses an opportunity to accuse someone of antisemitism. Now, of course, antisemitism exists, and he called those figures out, from neo-Nazis to the Nation of Islam. And yet, he also expanded the definition of what antisemitism is into criticism of Israel and Israeli policy. He doesn’t believe that criticism of Zionism as a philosophy, or criticism of the concept of a Jewish state, or criticism of Israel’s occupation is really ever legitimate and should be fought against, just as the antisemitism of neo-Nazis and the Nation of Islam should be fought against.

SAB: And I think Peter got to this when he said he was a big personality, very quotable. One thing that I associated with his tenure (which was a long time, a very long time) as the face of the organization, is this cult of personality of making sure that anytime antisemitism is mentioned in a newspaper, you have to call Abe Foxman. And anytime there’s a controversy involving the Jews, it’s like, “Well, let’s call the ADL.” Just becoming hegemonic in this space of antisemitism in America and antisemitism abroad, the force of his personality seemed to facilitate that. It’s something I find interesting about Greenblatt—in some ways by contrast—which is that he doesn’t really have as forceful a personality. Doesn’t really have the goods, in a way, is my impression of him. And some of the sense of ADL policy ping ponging back and forth between being preoccupied with the far right and being preoccupied with the far left; of getting out ahead of his skis and then apologizing for something he said; of cozying up to donors in such a way that, when they criticize some position the ADL takes, he then has to go and apologize to them and apologize to the media; that him not fully being able to fill Foxman’s shoes has something to do with the internal tension of the organization, and this sense that you get so strongly from the reporting that Jewish Currents has done, that the organization can seem adrift and trapped between its various priorities and the factions within it, which are genuinely dedicated to its civil rights agenda versus those who are just doing the bidding of vehemently pro-Israel elites.

PB: I think it’s not only the difference in their personalities, it’s also the different moment which makes the ADL’s position more difficult. The polarization of American politics means that it’s hard to occupy the center in a way the ADL did then. The ADL has always fought the far left and the far right. Both the far left and the far right have grown stronger since Foxman left. The far left has grown stronger in its criticisms of Israel, the far right has obviously grown stronger in its basic fundamental hostility to the whole basic notion of the liberal vision that the ADL peddled. And I also think that in the Trump era, both the rise of anti-Zionism and the BDS movement and the rise of Trump have basically meant that more people want to get into the anti-antisemitism game. So you’ve heard from people like Sheldon Adelson to Robert Kraft—there’ve been a whole bunch of new groups fighting hate. And I think that has also been seen as a threat by the ADL of their monopoly over this space.

MC: It’s also a time of major polarization and changing discourse within the Jewish community itself, just in terms of groups that have risen and gained some level of increasing prominence in the discourse around challenging the Jewish community’s pro-Israel Zionist positioning and support for the occupation. Even though I think main legacy organizations that represent the community and that have a lot of the power have continued to hew to the consensus, pro-Israel position, the way those organizations used to be able to rely on that being a consensus position within these communities, within their synagogues, it’s been fracturing a lot. Beginning, I think, with some of the movements starting after the 2014 invasion of Gaza. But then, since Netanyahu’s most recent attempts to push this really controversial judicial overhaul in Israel and the rise of these far-right government ministers that are unabashedly talking about wanting to expel Palestinians from the land, it’s created a lot of divisions within the Jewish community. And so, the ADL also cannot just rely on this consensus Jewish Zionist positioning anymore. And then, also, there is polarization in terms of the Jewish right wing, which has gotten more polarized in the direction of Trump, in the direction of supporting Netanyahu, opposing the two-state solution and supporting more of an annexation of the West Bank, and that kind of thing. And so that centrist position has also eroded within the Jewish community.

AK: And now, that polarization that Mari was talking about is also within the organization itself. It is within the Anti-Defamation League itself.

SAB: Right. And I want to talk about that. Before we do, there was something that came up a few times in the stories that I read from Jewish Currents preparing for this episode that I found really fascinating. That was from a different moment than we’re describing now but does kind of underscore the longer tail of this conflicted position in the center of American Jewish politics and American liberal politics that the ADL has staked out for most of its existence, which was this FBI raid in 1993 of the ADL’s offices, which revealed the extent to which they had been spying on the left. Could one of you talk about that for just a second before we move on to the Trump era?

AK: So, there was a police raid of the ADL’s West Coast offices in 1993, and they picked up a lot of boxes of what they called “contraband.” And what they found in those boxes was evidence of a widespread surveillance campaign, not only of the left, but also of the right—there were different categories. And basically, the ADL in California had employed this art dealer named Roy Bullock for many decades. The ADL referred to him as a freelancer. He’s basically an informant that the ADL paid, and Bullock infiltrated a number of organizations, a lot on the left and also on the right—you know, this was the KKK, neo-Nazis, but also Arab American organizations, anti-apartheid activists, Palestinian rights organizations, collecting a lot of files on them. And also, it was suspected that he had gotten some information illegally from a former San Francisco Police Department officer. So, this was evidence that the ADL was going beyond just monitoring these groups, which they always acknowledged—you know, going to public events and maybe taking notes and doing that kind of monitoring. But there was something more sinister about the paying-off of an informant who infiltrated organizations and took photos of their license plate numbers—and Bullock also sold some of that information to the South African apartheid regime. Now, it’s not like the ADL signed off on that. But this was the kind of figure that they were dealing with. Now, the ADL, when this first broke, they always said, “We fight hate against all people, we didn’t do anything wrong. We didn’t break the law.” And the ADL was never convicted of any violation. They were sued by the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. They eventually settled that lawsuit in 1999, and they consented to a court settlement that said, “We’re not going to use illegal means to monitor other groups,” and they paid $175,000 towards the plaintiff’s attorney fees and tried to put it behind them.

SAB: There’s a sense in which the interest of this event, for the long history we’re describing here, is that it’s a post-Cold War moment where—you know, during the Cold War, of course there’s spies everywhere. We’re watching them, they’re watching us. And the conflation of all kinds of internationalist left activity with Soviet communism was both an easy elision, but also, often, you could find some kind of tie between this group and that group, this member and that member, this money and that money. And then, once we get to the 1990s, there’s a sense of, like: Wait a second, what’s going on? Is civil society well-served by there being both governmental and non-governmental and alliances between governmental and non-governmental actors infiltrating organizations that are doing political work, whether they’re on the right or the left, in this way? Is that acceptable in this society that we have in the post-Cold War moment? But of course, as we’ve talked about in this podcast before, after 9/11, that anxiety about like: Is it alright for different aspects of civil society to be infiltrated by police, federal agents, and by organizations which are rooting out “terrorism,” to be engaged in these kinds of nefarious projects?—after 9/11, that kind of concern dissipates somewhat, and then the ADL has a new lease on life, in a way. Not that there has been a lot of reporting about the ADL’s infiltration of these groups. But as Peter mentioned earlier, just the posture of the ADL towards Muslim American civil society in the years after 9/11 is a kind of resurgence, as it was for much of the government, of the Cold War mentality about enemies at home and their danger to the fabric of American society.

MC: Wasn’t there another spying incident that you reported on, Alex? And I guess it’s kind of interesting, because this is an intra-Jewish thing, but they were spying on JVP in DC.

AK: Yeah. So, we reviewed public records that revealed that the ADL had collaborated with a private security firm in DC to keep tabs on Jewish Voice for Peace.

SAB: Which is a left-wing anti-Zionist Jewish organization.

AK: Yes. Although at the time, they weren’t explicitly anti-Zionist, but they were very critical of Israel. And they were part of this coalition called the Occupation Free DC, whose main idea was to stop the Washington DC police from traveling to Israel on these delegations (some of which the ADL led) to learn from Israeli security forces. The records show that the ADL was collaborating with this private security firm, the firm sent information about the coalition to an officer in the DC Metropolitan Police Department. So that’s all we know about that. But we do know more about the ADL’s relationship to this era of surveillance of Muslims. For instance, in 2017 Greenblatt hired a man named George Selim; he ran the Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Violent Extremism program under the Obama administration. And CVE was cast by Obama as a sort of community law enforcement partnership to counter extremism. But the vast majority of their resources were targeted at Muslim Americans and stopping so-called extremism in Muslim American communities. And there was a lot of reporting that showed that in some parts of the country, CVE was used as a cover for blatant surveillance. And the ADL hired the guy who oversaw them. The ADL also handed out awards to people like NYPD commissioners Ray Kelly and Bill Bratton, both of whom were huge proponents of repressive policies. And Ray Kelly, specifically, of course, oversaw a massive surveillance program targeting Muslims.

SAB: Right. And this kind of conflict between the ADL and the civil libertarian and Black left around policing policy becomes a big part of the story by the time we get to the Black Lives Matter era. And maybe now would be a good time to talk about the reporting that you guys have done on Greenblatt’s tenure at ADL and the internal tensions between its civil rights agenda and its Israel advocacy. You guys put out, in Spring 2021, this incredibly detailed and wonderful piece that we’ll put in the show notes called “How the ADL’s Israel Advocacy Undermines Its Civil Rights Work” incorporating a lot of the anecdotes we’ve referred to, but really laying out this inherent tension, which has grown into a full-on contradiction during the Trump years, which I’d love to talk about for a little bit here.

AK: The fundamental way that this contradiction has played out is basically around criticisms of Israel in the United States and when those criticisms of Israel bleed into antisemitism. Now, in the early 2010s, the global movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel, called the BDS movement, grew in prominence following Israel’s invasion of Gaza in 2009 and Israel’s raid on a flotilla killing nine people who were trying to deliver aid to Gaza in 2010. And so, in response to the growth of the BDS movement, a lot of states in the United States started passing anti-BDS laws, which the basic premise is to prevent state money from going to entities that boycott Israel, and also to divest state pension funds from any entity that boycotts or divests from Israel. And that also extended into individual contractors. So there’s famous cases of a speech therapist in Texas who wouldn’t take a job because she’s a Palestinian American, and she didn’t want to sign a contract that said “In order to receive this contract, you have to pledge that you do not boycott Israel.”

So that’s the convoluted background to what I wanted to say, which was that Abe Foxman, for all his faults, was very clearly in opposition to these kinds of laws. He gave interviews where he said this seems like a violation of the First Amendment. Now, Greenblatt has taken a different tact. For instance, when Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York signed an executive order directing state agencies and authorities to divest from any company that supported the BDS movement, that raised a lot of alarm from civil liberties advocates who said that this threatens to punish constitutionally-protected speech. But Greenblatt tweeted “Bravo Cuomo, for your executive order against BDS.” A lot of people in the ADL’s civil rights office were alarmed by that. Why would he say that? That totally went against what a Civil Rights Office should be doing. Similarly, in 2016, there was legislation that was being talked about called the Antisemitism Awareness Act. The bill’s purpose was to amend federal civil rights law to employ this definition of antisemitism that included delegitimizing Israel, blaming Israel for all political tensions, and in the case of international organizations, focusing on Israel only for peace or human rights investigations. Now, particularly the delegitimizing Israel line, that’s a really broad category. And under the law, those guilty of that, under that definition, could be investigated by the Department of Education for violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964. So, it was specifically around college campuses or other schools. At one point, the ADL had opposed that, but Greenblatt reversed the ADL’s position on that and said, “No, we’re going to lobby for it.” And these are just two examples of free speech around Israel and the ADL’s Israel advocacy intertwining, and the ADL chose Israel advocacy over a civil liberties position.

SAB: Right. I mean, as your reporting makes really clear, tension over this was really high within the organization. You have a quote from a former ADL lawyer who said, “These anti-BDS laws, pretty much every single one of them is blatantly unconstitutional. No one in the Civil Rights team had any doubt about that.” And then you also reported on an internal memo, that the ADL had authorized this New York University law professor Bert Neuborne to evaluate the First Amendment status of the New York State anti-BDS law, and he had very strong pro-Israel credentials. And nonetheless, he came to the conclusion that it would be a clear violation of the first amendment for the government to forbid individuals or companies, however misguided they may be, from resorting to a boycott of Israel aimed at altering government policies in the occupied territories. And this internal self-evaluation did not result in a fundamental change in policy at the top.

But in the interest of giving full credit to the people who work at this organization who are trying to do good work, who are invested in civil liberties, who may be hired to work on the civil rights side of its mandate, there has been a lot of tension. And a lot of the reporting that you’ve done has relied on sources, often anonymous sources, from inside the organization or former employees of the organization who are saying, “No, this isn’t really reconcilable.” You can’t really position yourself as an advocate of freedom of speech, of civil rights, and take these positions on the legitimacy of anti-Israel speech that Greenblatt, in particular, has. Yes, and these are people who are committed liberals and they do the civil rights work within the ADL, which the ADL has continued to do, as I mentioned before. And so, when they see the ADL contorting itself to make an exception for Israel, they have spoken out. And on the topic of the tensions between the ADL’s civil rights position and its Israel advocacy: During the Trump era, you had an administration that was actively hostile to civil rights in almost every respect, and that put the ADL in a position of having to decide how to position itself in relation to that administration, which at the same time was very vehemently pro-Israel and officially very committed to combating antisemitism, especially as antisemitism can be conflated with criticisms of Israel. Can we just quickly talk about the Trump appointees that the ADL on Greenblatt supported and the conflicts of interest around the donations the ADL continued to take from these pro-Israel but also pro-Trump figures?

AK: I think it was Peter who had mentioned Greenblatt’s declaration that “If Muslims are registered, then I will register,” coming out in solidarity with the Muslim community under attack from Trump, and they were a leading voice against Trump’s ban on certain Muslim travelers from Muslim-majority countries. They criticized his appointment of Steve Bannon, they really went hard against Trump’s immigration policies. At the same time, their donors included people like Robert Kraft, whom—we had noted earlier, Kraft was a big time Trump backer—he’s also, of course, the owner of the New England Patriots. And then we spoke with employees who told us that Bernard Marcus, who is another huge pro-Trump donor, and he’s the conservative founder of Home Depot, had been an anonymous underwriter of the ADL’s Center on Extremism. I should say that we reported that Marcus wanted the ADL to more specifically focus on Muslim extremism and not on white supremacist extremism. The ADL did not listen to that, and they did focus on white supremacy, so credit to the ADL on that. But they supported other Trump actions. They, for instance, backed Trump moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Jonathan Greenblatt even went to the celebration in Jerusalem to mark that occasion. And also, Greenblatt supported Trump’s nomination of Kenneth Marcus to serve as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education. Greenblatt said, “Ken is going to do his best to ensure the rights of all communities are protected.” Now, Marcus—maybe Mari, you want to jump into why it’s so absurd?

MC: Yeah. Well, Ken Marcus is a pretty right-wing character. He’s the founder of the Brandeis Center for Civil Rights Under Law. And really the founding mission and defining purpose of the Brandeis Center is to work to tamp down on and marginalize pro-Palestinian activism, particularly on college campuses. And their strategy has often involved filing civil rights complaints, in which they argue that pro-Palestine activists on college campuses are violating the civil rights of Jewish students. So, when Marcus was nominated to the Department of Education, it was very clear that part of what he wanted to do there was make it easier for the Department of Education to rule in the Zionist groups’ favor when they filed these complaints against Palestinian students on campuses. And also, in terms of some of these First Amendment issues, for Jonathan Greenblatt to support him is a very clear choice in that direction.

And then, that did come to materialize, because—people think partly due to Marcus’s input—Trump in December 2019 passed a very controversial executive order, which basically created a policy that the Department of Education would now consider Jewishness to be a nationality, so that they could rule that certain complaints by Jewish students did count as discrimination, and that schools could be sanctioned under Civil Rights law for that reason. And there was a lot of controversy about this. Some people thought that it was Trump trying to single out the Jews as a separate race, but it is actually a little bit more complicated because it really wasn’t designed to target Jewish people. It was really about targeting this kind of Palestinian activism. And also, what that executive order did was, it said the Department of Education would use this controversial definition of antisemitism—the IHRA definition, which also tries to define certain Palestinian and anti-Zionist activism and speech as antisemitic. It said that it would have to use that, and the ADL was very supportive of this executive order. It was very supportive of Trump, they might even have consulted with him on it.

And I think what’s interesting about the ADL under the Trump years, too, is that, obviously, it’s pretty established that Trump’s election did cause a big energizing and reawakening of the far-right, white nationalist, antisemitic, neo-Nazi movements in the United States. And the ADL did do a lot of work to try to speak out against those groups, counter them. They often were putting out reports saying that clearly, the groups responsible for the most violent extremism were these groups on the right, for example. They spoke against the Proud Boys, against a lot of these organizations, but they would not go so far as to try to marginalize the Trump administration or to keep themselves from being able to ally with or consult with Trump on certain moves that they did agree with—particularly often in support of Israel. And so, they did take this very tentative approach.

SAB: Yeah, I think that sets us up to talk about that. There’s been a recent doubling down on Greenblatt’s part of the conflation of BDS activism and anti-Israel criticism as a kind of antisemitism, which is equally dangerous to the Jewish people as far-right antisemitism.

MC: Yeah. And I think that that kind of marks a shift, because during the Trump era, the ADL still was often talking about how: Yes, it is clear that most of the violent extremism is coming from the far right. Even though they were still obviously doing a lot of the Israel advocacy work and all of those things, and they were doing certain things to try to counter pro-Palestine activism. For example, when Airbnb announced that it might stop showing listings in the settlements in Israel, the ADL worked very hard to get them to reverse that policy and argued that it was antisemitism. So, they were doing that, but they still were really emphasizing this right-wing threat, and their website would say something like: Anti-Zionism is not always the same as antisemitism, but it often is in these cases. So, they were a little bit more mealy-mouthed about it.

And then, in May 2022, at the ADL’s annual leadership summit, Greenblatt basically got up and made a big speech. And I think the background for this is the ADL had gotten a lot of criticism from its right-wing critics around all of their focus on the far right during the Trump administration, and I think probably from some of their donors as well. And the right wing accused them of caring too much about white supremacists and not enough about Islam, and far-right, quote-unquote “Black antisemitism.” And so May 2022, Greenblatt gets on stage, and he says very clearly that the ADL’s position is that anti-Zionism is antisemitism, full stop. He said that three groups are going to be basically defined as extremist groups. So: Students for Justice in Palestine, a pro-Palestinian student group; Jewish Voice for Peace, that Jewish left anti-Zionist group we talked about earlier; and then CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations, which is the biggest Muslim rights advocacy organization in United States, were all going to be basically defined as extremist by the ADL. And he described these groups as the photo inverse of the far right. And that sent major shockwaves through the landscape of people who care about these issues.

It also caused a lot of internal dissent. What Alex and I found in a story that we wrote based on some audio of a meeting that we got is that there were a lot of staff members within the ADL pushing back and saying, “Well, is it really fair for us to say that it’s the photo inverse? And is this going to make it hard for us to work with some of our allies?” And all of these things, and Greenblatt, within that meeting, really doubled down and said some things about how people who don’t agree with this anti-Zionism equals antisemitism thing, maybe the ADL is not the right place for them. Now their page, I just checked it, that page on the website—Anti-Zionism—now says that anti-Zionism is antisemitism. And so, they really have affirmed that policy.

PB: What’s so strange about the ADL planting its flag on this idea that anti-Zionism equals antisemitism is that the ADL actually, as an organization, is not set up to know anything about Zionism. It actually doesn’t really know anything about Zionism at all. It doesn’t have people with deep expertise about the history of Zionism, ideologically—and more important, it doesn’t actually do work on the ground that would allow it to make an informed analysis of how Zionism (as the state ideology of Israel) actually functions, particularly for Palestinians. It doesn’t have people in the West Bank looking at, “Well, how does the Israeli military court system work?” for instance. “What does Zionism mean?”—it doesn’t do any of that. In fact, the ADL, if you notice, rarely actually speaks very much about what’s happening in Israel at all. It basically almost entirely avoids substantive debates and always turns conversations about what’s happening to Palestinians into conversations about the effects of condemning Israel on American Jews, because those critiques could have the effect of fueling antisemitism. So, if you ask Jonathan Greenblatt, “Why wouldn’t a Palestinian be anti-Zionist, given that the Palestinian experience with Zionism has been pretty bad?” What you find is that they can’t respond to that question at all because they don’t engage with what life is like for Palestinians at all. And that’s the absurdity of this thing that they keep insisting upon.

MC: And I would say Greenblatt actually has admitted that a Palestinian in that position might be an anti-Zionist, in the meeting with his employees. He basically said, “Yes, someone who was expelled by Israel, I could understand why they oppose the state, why they’re an anti-Zionist,” but then the entire rest of the meeting is him focusing on the ways in which anti-Zionism makes a dangerous environment for Jews, and it’s just not okay to participate in it because it could increase antisemitism, and that they’re going to continue fighting. For example, if like on the yearly commemoration of the Nakba—the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948—Representative Rasheeda Tlaib wants to have an event in the house to speak about the Nakba? The ADL is going to condemn that as antisemitism. And so, he’ll make these gestures towards, “Maybe, yes, a Palestinian could feel this way,” but their policy is that actually, “No, Palestinians are not allowed to publicly feel that way.”

SAB: Especially if they’re elected to Congress.

PB: Yeah, it’s like the equivalent of some organization, if someone got up and condemned Chinese treatment of Uighurs, and they were a Uighur, that an organization would basically completely put aside the question of whether there’s any factual basis about the oppression that they’re describing and say, “Well, that’s basically bigoted because that harsh a condemnation of this state could therefore lead to bigotry against people who share the ethnic-religious identity of those people in the United States.”

AK: The way Greenblatt rationalized this was saying like, “Yeah, like I get Palestinians whose families were expelled by Zionist militias, I get why they’re anti-Zionist. But if you join JVP or SJP, you might not be personally antisemitic, but you should know that you’re joining a movement that is fueling antisemitic hate crimes.” Without ever connecting the dots between: Why would people join JVP and SJP? I mean, 99% of them are not antisemitic. Why would they join JVP and SJP if their core animating ideology was anti-Jewish hatred? They’re joining JVP and SJP because they see what Israel is doing to Palestinians, they see Israel ethnically cleansing Palestinians, and they want to oppose that. But Greenblatt will not go there.

SAB: We really haven’t talked nearly enough on this podcast about American-Israeli policy or the right’s relationship to it. But for the listeners, just to think about this: If you’re a Palestinian-American, you could be called an antisemite and punished by your school or not allowed to get a job for criticizing Israel. I mean, that is functionally the same thing as a Black person from South Africa not being allowed to criticize the apartheid regime during that time, or a Black American not being able to criticize America for American apartheid or just American racism. There’s really no way in which you can justify that position, especially when it comes to Palestinians with grievances against the State of Israel, if you are a progressive or even just a person who thinks it’s logical for people to criticize the states that are oppressing them. That’s all very obvious to our guests, but something I just wanted to underscore.

PB: At the heart of all this, something I’ve written about is that we have this discourse about antisemitism we talk a huge amount about, but there’s really no public discourse about anti-Palestinian bigotry, right? What you were describing is anti-Palestinian bigotry, right? It’s basically saying that any Palestinian who actually expresses a political view from their own experience, which would be challenging the idea of a Jewish state—given the Jewish State has had very bad repercussions for Palestinians—is therefore a bigot and therefore has to be silenced in the public square. And that is, in itself, an expression of anti-Palestinian bigotry. But it’s so pervasive, the ADL isn’t called out on it very much because it’s the water within which we swim in the American political discourse.

SAB: Yeah. Just to close out, I think we’ve gotten to a lot of the essential tensions and contradictions I wanted to point to here. But what I want to do is bring it back to this present moment. So, we’ve got this ADL, which has a tortured history—it’s responses to different moments in liberalism and to institutional Jewish politics, and the tensions between its obligations to defending Israel and its civil rights mandate. I think we’ve made them really manifest. But I’d like to talk about what all this means for this moment right now, where the ADL is being attacked by Musk but really by an empowered far right—at least on the internet, which Musk has sort of given license to on his platform, but also by supporting their grievances against this organization, which, as we’ve pointed out, the grievances play into a sort of antisemitic trope about this organization nefariously working behind the scenes to undermine his wealth and control politics. I want to make sure that we close the loop on how we should be thinking about the ADL in this moment. We didn’t get to talk so much about your good reporting on the ADL’s antisemitism statistics, and how difficult it is to track hate crimes, and how the ADL has an institutional investment in always saying, “Well, there’s more and more antisemitism every year.” But we all know that there’s been a sort of licensing of the far right that’s taken place over the past few years, and maybe even more so since Elon Musk took over Twitter. The ADL plays a certain kind of role, and maybe it’s an irreparably compromised role, in trying to push back against that kind of speech. What should people of good conscience, the listeners to this podcast and progressives and leftists, think about the organization and think about the attacks on it, given the long, complicated history we’ve sketched out here? Is the ADL salvageable? Could they reinvent themselves in a way that is more loyal to the Civil Rights mission? Or is their role as this guardian of the American Jewish perception of Israel really at the essence of what they do and so not really salvageable, as I think Noah Kulwin wrote for Jewish Currents: Is Jonathan Greenblatt’s ADL really “a pro-Israel lobby with a civil rights hobby?” You know, what do we make of it this moment?

PB: I think the ADL cannot escape this fundamental contradiction. And the reason the contradiction is becoming more glaring is because it’s more and more clear that there’s a global struggle about ethnonationalism. And the ADL is fundamentally divided in its view of ethnonationalism. It wants to oppose ethnonationalism in the United States. It wants to oppose the people who want America to be a white Christian state. But on the other hand, it wants to delegitimize and silence people who question ethnonationalism in Israel. But in fact, Israel is for many people, including many of the people on the right in the US, a model of the ethnonationalism that those people on the American right want. So, it’s a completely immorally and intellectually incoherent position for it to take. And I don’t think that can be solved unless the organization fundamentally answers that question: Does it believe in the idea of countries that provide equality under the law, irrespective of religion, race, gender, ethnicity, etc.? Or does it not? As long as it makes an exception for Israel, that’s going to be corrosive of its effort to fight for that principle in the United States.

MC: In terms of whether it’s salvageable as it is right now, I would say I lean towards: probably not. I was very impacted by reading Emmaia’s piece about the history of the organization and also thinking about these last 10 years in which the ADL has been fundamentally opposed to the left. And I’m just not convinced the organization has it in its DNA to become a very politically vibrant and just organization that could fight antisemitism, and fight for civil rights, and fight bigotry more broadly. What’s complicated, then, when we regard this Musk stuff, is that it’s just an exercise in holding tension for a lot of people, right? Like, if you’re a reporter and you’re writing something about this, it’s complicated, because what context can you give? Can we say, “Okay, yes, this right wing is insidious, and the way that they’re going after the ADL and that Musk is embedding it is actually bad and problematic and is relying on these antisemitic tropes?” But also, that doesn’t mean we’re going to suddenly pump up the ADL and support these other actions that they take, or go to them as an automatically unbiased leading voice on antisemitism in other situations. So, I think it’s really having to work with that nuance and understand that you can oppose what Musk is doing and you can also not have it mean that the ADL is going to be this automatic, credible voice in other situations.

AK: What better moment to change than now? Because the fundamental contradiction that the ADL has is about how they relate to Israel versus how they relate to the United States. And the government in Israel is a far-right extremist government bent on consolidating apartheid rule. They are not hiding it. Unlike some other past Israeli governments, they are saying the quiet part out loud, and literally, as we speak, abetting a settler movement that is wiping Palestinian villages off the map to an extent that we have not seen in decades. And the ADL is uncomfortable with this Israeli government. They do not want an Israel that is so illiberal and authoritarian that their most prominent ministers are people who openly want to ethnically-cleanse Palestinians.

SAB: I mean, even Abe Foxman said recently, “I’ve always said my support for Israel is not conditional. It is conditional now.”

AK: Right? So, I’m not even asking the ADL to become an anti-Zionist organization. But the moment to speak out and align your values is now and they’re not doing it. So I don’t think they can change.

MC: And in fact, they’re doubling down in the opposite direction and planning to expand the anti-anti-Zionism work.

SAB: Well, we all come down in support of Nick Fuentes’s campaign to ban the ADL,

MC: I mean, I’m sure they think that.

SAB: I think this has been extremely interesting. And I think a lot of it will be very surprising for our listeners. And I don’t think you can listen to a podcast anywhere else that would give you as complicated a view of this organization, which has a storied history, some of it good, much of it bad, and which is being treated as an uncomplicated totem of Jewish civil rights and civil rights in general, which really can’t fulfill that role. And I thank you for coming on.

MC: Yeah. Thank you.

PB: Thank you.

AK: Thanks for having us.

SAB: Bye bye.

May 16 2024
On Zionism and Anti-Zionism (50:58)
As protest encampments have forced a reckoning with the meaning of Zionism, Jewish Currents staffers discuss the different ways they describe their opposition to Jewish statehood and supremacy.
May 2 2024
Controversy at the Contemporary Jewish Museum (33:40)
Two anti-Zionist artists discuss their divergent decisions to stay or pull out of a group show at San Francisco’s Jewish art museum.
Apr 26 2024
Chevruta: Understanding Aaron Bushnell’s Sacrifice (38:51)
Rabbi Lexie Botzum leads Jewish Currents editor-in-chief Arielle Angel in a chevruta exploring how much we must sacrifice for justice.
Apr 25 2024
Jewish Organizing at Columbia’s Encampment (41:58)
Jewish Currents speaks with three student organizers at Columbia about their experience at the Gaza Solidarity Encampment.
Apr 11 2024
Unpacking the Campus Antisemitism Narrative (42:55)
Jewish Currents staff discuss recent campus antisemitism reporting and consider its consequences.
Mar 28 2024
Campus Politics Takes the Stage in "The Ally" (38:06)
Arielle Angel, Alisa Solomon, and Fargo Nissim Tbakhi discuss The Ally, a new play about campus politics and liberal Jewish discomfort with the left.
Mar 14 2024
Language, the Media, and Palestine (34:46)
Arielle Angel talks to Ali Gharib, Dalia Hatuqa, and Jazmine Hughes about the language the media uses to discuss Israel/Palestine, and what it says about the state of journalism today.
Feb 22 2024
Hindu Nationalism’s New Temple (33:03)
Aparna Gopalan talks to Siddhartha Deb, Angana Chatterji, and Safa Ahmed about what India’s Ram Mandir means for the country’s minorities.
Feb 8 2024
Israel’s Emerging Religious Left (30:58)
Maya Rosen speaks with Mikhael Manekin, Nechumi Yaffe, and Dvir Warshavsky about the movement of observant Jews offering a left-wing alternative to Religious Zionism.
Feb 1 2024
Charging Israel with Genocide (38:59)
Mari Cohen speaks with Noura Erakat, Darryl Li, and Tony Karon about the International Court of Justice’s order that Israel must prevent genocidal acts.
Jan 3 2024
Labor’s Palestine Paradox (39:44)
Jeff Schuhrke, Zaina Alsous, and Alex Press in conversation with Aparna Gopalan about US unions’ response to the war on Gaza.
Dec 28 2023
Bonus Episode: Mailbag (42:35)
Arielle Angel, Nora Caplan-Bricker, Nathan Goldman, and Mari Cohen answer reader questions.
Dec 21 2023
Hamas: Past, Present, and Future (33:50)
Peter Beinart speaks to two political analysts from Gaza, Khalil Sayegh and Muhammad Shehada, about Hamas’s reign.
Dec 8 2023
Talking to Our Families (50:05)
Jewish Currents and Unsettled discuss callers' messages about how they are talking to loved ones who are supportive of Israel’s war on Gaza.
Nov 16 2023
Naomi Klein on Israel’s “Doppelganger Politics” (52:09)
Arielle Angel talks to Klein about her new book, Doppelganger, and how the concept of “doubling” can elucidate the present violence in Israel/Palestine.
Nov 9 2023
Cori Bush’s Ceasefire Plea (25:46)
Senior reporter Alex Kane interviews Rep. Bush about her call for an end to Israel’s bombing campaign and the political consequences of anti-war dissent.
Oct 31 2023
A Surge in American Jewish Left Organizing (41:34)
Mari Cohen speaks with Elena Stein, Eva Borgwardt, and Emmaia Gelman about how Jewish left groups are bringing thousands of protestors into the streets.
Oct 26 2023
The Loneliness of the Israeli Left (37:16)
Arielle Angel speaks with Michael Sfard, Sally Abed, and Yair Wallach about the Israeli left’s experience of October 7th and its aftermath.
Oct 19 2023
Unsettled After October 7th (51:52)
The Unsettled podcast speaks with scholar Tareq Baconi and Gazan activist Isam Hamad.
Sep 28 2023
Elon Musk, the Jews, and the ADL, with Know Your Enemy (this page)
Alex Kane, Mari Cohen, and Peter Beinart discuss the contradictions of the Anti-Defamation League with Know Your Enemy’s Sam Adler Bell.
Sep 14 2023
Trans Halakha (44:24)
Nathan Goldman talks to three members of SVARA’s Teshuva-Writing Collective—Laynie Soloman, Alyx Bernstein, and Rabbi Xava de Cordova—about reimagining halakha for trans life.
Aug 31 2023
Nosegate (28:36)
Arielle Angel talks to Rebecca Pierce, Jody Rosen, and Alisa Solomon about Bradley Cooper’s turn as Leonard Bernstein—wearing a prosthetic nose.
Aug 17 2023
The Jewishness of Oppenheimer (47:05)
In an episode presented in partnership with The Nation’s podcast The Time of Monsters, Mari Cohen, Jeet Heer, David Klion, and Raphael Magarik discuss Christopher Nolan’s new biopic about the infamous physicist.
Aug 3 2023
Camp Kinderland at 100 (57:18)
Judee Rosenbaum and Mitchell Silver talk to Arielle Angel about the storied summer camp, founded by Jewish unionists in 1923.