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Examining the ADL’s Antisemitism Audit
Examining the ADL’s Antisemitism Audit
A line-by-line reassessment of the organization’s data illuminates the flaws in its methodology.
Shane Burley and Jonah ben Avraham

In mid-April, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released a report tallying the total number of antisemitic incidents in the United States in 2023. The annual audit highlights 8,873 instances of antisemitic “harassment, vandalism and assault”—a 140% increase from the organization’s 2022 numbers, and the highest since the organization began tracking such incidents in 1979. The report was quickly picked up by Axios, The Seattle Times, and various local TV stations, among other outlets, and often uncritically cited as evidence that the movement for a ceasefire in Gaza is a wellspring of rising antisemitism. “The ADL . . . tracked 1,352 anti-Israel rallies where antisemitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric was observed after October 7,” wrote Nicole Chavez in CNN’s summary of the report, which also focused on the ADL’s count of 922 allegedly antisemitic incidents on college campuses.

The ADL has not been shy about pushing this narrative: Just after it released the audit, the organization joined calls by congressional Republicans for law enforcement to shut down campus Gaza solidarity encampments. “President Shafik must invite NYPD back on campus or Governor Kathy Hochul should direct the National Guard to protect our kids,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt posted on X in late April in response to Columbia’s ongoing encampment. Greenblatt and the ADL have insisted that the encampments are hotbeds of antisemitic vitriol, undermining Jewish safety and building on an unprecedented spike in antisemitism since October 7th—a spike they say is substantiated in statistical reports like the audit.

But considering that the ADL has recently attracted scrutiny over its ongoing effort to categorize anti-Zionism as antisemitism—and has historically faced broader questions over its statistical methods—it is unclear whether the organization’s audit provides an accurate portrait of American antisemitism. So we reanalyzed the ADL’s data line-by-line, drawing on our expertise as researchers and writers on contemporary antisemitism. In the audit, the ADL claims that it is “careful not to conflate general criticism of Israel or anti-Israel activism with antisemitism” but specifies that its “approach to Israel-related expressions comports with the IHRA [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] definition of antisemitism.” But it is precisely this definition that critics argue conflates legitimate criticisms of Israel or Zionism with antisemitism. To assess each entry and determine whether to classify it as an antisemitic incident, we instead used the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA) definition, a tool developed by scholars to identify antisemitism while avoiding erroneous conflations of anti-Zionism with antisemitism.

While we expected that this difference in methodology would create a disparity between our findings and the ADL’s, our reappraisal also highlighted more basic problems with the ADL’s tracking system. In addition to identifying more than a thousand items we believe were misclassified as antisemitic—all cases of speech critical of Israel or Zionism—we found that the data included misapplications of the organization’s own standards and often did not provide enough information for us to assess the group’s judgment. Our analysis clarifies what the ADL’s prominent report captures and excludes, and shows how the conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism skews the data—ultimately serving as a reminder of the need for serious statistical analysis done by an organization not beholden to Israel advocacy.