Anti-Defamation League

From Academic Kids

The Anti-Defamation League (or ADL) is an American organization set up by B'nai B'rith whose aim is to fight anti-Semitism, racism, bigotry and various forms of political extremism through an array of programs and services.

With an annual budget of over $40 million, the ADL has 29 offices in the USA and 3 offices in other countries, with its national headquarters located in New York City. Since 1987, Abraham Foxman has been national director. The national chair is Howard Berkowitz.



Founded in October, 1913 by Sigmund Livingston, the ADL's charter stated "The immediate object of the League is to stop, by appeals to reason and conscience and, if necessary, by appeals to law, the defamation of the Jewish people. Its ultimate purpose is to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens."

Livingston established the ADL in direct response to the case of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager living in the state of Georgia who had been arrested on murder charges (subsequent investigations proved that he was innocent of the crime) and then lynched by a mob earlier that year while awaiting trial.

Fighting anti-Semitism, bigotry, and racism

The stated purpose of the ADL is to fight "Anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry [in the United States] and abroad, combat international terrorism, probe the roots of hatred, advocate before Congress, come to the aid of victims of bigotry, develop educational programs, and serve as a public resource for government, media, law enforcement, and the public, all towards the goal of countering and reducing hatred."

Historically, the ADL has opposed groups and individuals it considered to be anti-Semitic and/or racist, including the Nazis, Ku Klux Klan, Henry Ford, Father Charles Coughlin (leader of the Christian Front), the Christian Identity movement, and the German-American Bund.

The ADL publishes reports on a variety of countries regarding incidents of anti-Jewish attacks and propaganda. The neutrality of these reports is disputed by some groups, who deny that these incidents indicate anti-Semitism. (Who denies anti-Semitism exists?) Some scholars, such as Norman Finkelstein, allege that the ADL willfully exaggerates the prevalence of anti-Semitism.

The ADL's stated purposes of fighting "Anti-Semitism" has not been without controversy. According to an April 13, 2001 article in The Forward, in 2001, a federal judge "lambasted the organization for labeling a nasty neighborhood feud as an anti-Semitic event" and upheld much of William and Dorothy Quigley's $10 million defamation suit. In 1994, Candace and Mitchell Aronson, Jewish next door neighbors of the Quigleys, contacted the ADL, after secretly taping cordless phone conversations of the Quigleys, who talked about putting fake oven doors on the Aronsons' home, a reference to the Holocaust; dousing the Aronson children with gasoline; and burning crosses on the Aronsons' lawn.

Fighting anti-Zionism

The ADL holds that a modern and common form of anti-Semitism is the statement that Jews claim that all criticism of the State of Israel is anti-Semitism. This claim is then used to criticise Jewish groups as unreasonable.

However, no Jewish groups officially hold such a position. This position has never been held, in any form, by any of the modern Jewish denominations. The Anti-Defamation League states:

"Criticism of particular Israeli actions or policies in and of itself does not constitute anti-Semitism. Certainly the sovereign State of Israel can be legitimately criticized just like any other country in the world. However, it is undeniable that there are those whose criticism of Israel or of "Zionism" is used to mask anti-Semitism." (Anti-Defamation League website.)

In his speech ( given at Berkeley University on April 29, 2004, Law Professor at Harvard University Law School Alan Dershowitz said, in particular: "Show me a single instance where a major Jewish leader or Israeli leader has ever said that criticizing a particular policy of Israeli government is anti-Semitic. That's just something made up by Israel's enemies."

In contrast, echoing those who make such charges against the Jewish community in general and the ADL in specific, Noam Chomsky wrote:

The ADL has virtually abandoned its earlier role as a civil rights organization, becoming 'one of the main pillars' of Israeli propaganda in the U.S.… These efforts, buttressed by insinuations of anti-Semitism or direct accusations, are intended to deflect or undermine opposition to Israeli policies, including Israel's refusal, with U.S. support, to move towards a general political settlement.
Chomsky, Necessary Illusions

The ADL repudiates all of Chomsky's claims.


On September 23, 2003 the ADL awarded Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi the ADL's distinguished statesman award [1] ( This in spite of Berlusconi's downplaying of the atrocities committed by the Italian Fascists. ("Mussolini never killed anyone. Mussolini used to send people on vacation in internal exile.") Berlusconi is also known for his staunch pro-Israel stance. The decision to honor Berlusconi has been widely criticised by liberal members of the American Jewish community. Similar concerns have been voiced about the ADL's increasingly friendly tone towards pro-Israel evangelical Christians like Pat Robertson.

The ADL has spoken out against red-baiting and McCarthyism however the organization has been accused of "anti-Muslim McCarthyism" by American Muslims groups such as the America Muslim Alliance.

The ADL took a role in opposing United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379 that Zionism was racist, which was later overturned.

The ADL has spoken out against People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. A recent press release from the ADL states that "PETA's effort to seek approval for their Holocaust on Your Plate campaign is outrageous, offensive and takes chutzpah to new heights. Rather than deepen our revulsion against what the Nazis did to the Jews, the project will undermine the struggle to understand the Holocaust and to find ways to make sure such catastrophes never happen again."

Relations with Arabs and Muslims

The ADL has not often worked together with Arab-American and American Muslim civil rights groups, owing to disagreement concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, the ADL has on numerous occasions reached out to elements within the Islamic community and works to improve interfaith dialogue. The ADL has publicly condemned slurs and attacks against Islam. ADL publications on condemning bigotry towards Arabs, Muslims, blacks and members of other minorities have often been used in synagogue adult education programs, and as part of Jewish-Christian and Jewish-Muslim inter-faith dialogue.

Tensions flared between American Muslims and the Jewish organization after the ADL issued a June 18, 2004 news release [2] ( about University of California, Ivine (UCI) students' decision to wear green stoles bearing the Shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith, because suicide bombers connected to the Palestinian group Hamas wear green armbands and headbands inscribed with the Shahada as a symbol of their movement. The news release stated: "The Shahada has come to represent, in radical Muslim circles, support for martyrdom and terrorist groups."

In response to the ADL's comments, Sabiha Khan of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said:

The ADL's hate-filled Islamophobic rhetoric labels all Muslims as terrorists, because every Muslim believes in the declaration of faith as the essence of Islam. It is truly sad that an organization that once fought for religious tolerance has sunk to exploiting anti-Muslim ignorance and prejudice to advance the brutal agenda of a foreign nation. [3] (

The ADL released a statement of clarity and offered an apology "to those who took offense." [4] ( CAIR acknowledged ADL's apology with a statement expressing hope that the "apology represents a change of heart on the part of the ADL." [5] (

There is a separate article on Projects working for peace among Israelis and Arabs.

Relations with Blacks

Historically, some black organizations in America and the ADL have worked closely together in the civil rights struggle. However, since the 1970s relations have been less smooth, owing to diverging opinions on a range of issues (including affirmative action, welfare, Israel and a range of other topics).

The ADL has publicly criticized certain political, business, entertainment, activist and religious leaders and organizations in the black community:

  • The ADL has engaged the Nation of Islam which it considers anti-Semitic, in public discord since the 1984 U.S. Presidential campaign.
  • During the 1990s ADL files scandal, it was revealed that the NAACP was among the hundreds of groups the organization kept information files on. In 1994, the ADL stated that they may ask corporations to stop funding the NAACP, when their leader at the time, Benjamin Chavis, developed a working relationship with Louis Farrakhan, who the ADL considers to be anti-Semitic.
  • During the 2002 election cycle, the ADL, in a letter to The New York Times, harshly criticized long standing Congressional Black Caucus member Cynthia McKinney of Georgia. According to an August 19, 2002 article in The New York Times ADL Director Abraham Foxman said, "it made sense that Jewish Americans would want to contribute to efforts to replace Ms. McKinney and [Black former Alabama Congressman] Mr. Hilliard because of the lawmakers' records on matters of interest to the Jewish community." McKinney was subsequently defeated in the Democratic primary by black state judge Denise Majette. In an August 25 letter to The New York Times Foxman pointed out that "support [from outside the African-American community] was vital in furthering the civil rights movements, and Jews played an important role" and added "McKinney went out of her way to attack Israel, causing much pain to supporters of a beleaguered democracy. It is also clear that her constituents turned her out of office for many reasons, including her extreme comments about Sept. 11."
    • Rep. McKinney who regained her Congressional seat in 2004 wrote in an Washington Post Op-Ed, "..I have been condemned by the Anti-Defamation League. I have been attacked as an anti-Semite. ..Two Jewish organizations that support my right to speak are Not in My Name and Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel. Not in My Name expressed its disappointment at "the harsh rebuke by the Anti- Defamation League. We support Rep. McKinney and hope she continues to show courage in bringing such topics before the American people." Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel wrote, "The time has arrived to examine seriously the United States' role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." "[6] ('s_Wrong_to_Deny_the_Needy_-_Cynthia_McKinney)
  • In March of 2005, ADL National Director, Abraham Foxman called Hip hop mogul Russell Simmons's public campaign against anti-Semitism hypocritical, due to Simmons's long history of working with Louis Farrakhan.

However, the ADL also works to combat racism against all racial groups, including racism against blacks. In 1997, the National Center for Black-Jewish Relations of Dillard University, a historically black university in New Orleans awarded the director of the ADL, Abraham H. Foxman, with the first Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. - Donald R. Mintz Freedom and Justice Award.

In 2004 the ADL became the lead partner in the Peace and Diversity Academy, a new New York City public high school with predominantly black and Hispanic students.

In celebration of Black History Month, the ADL created and distributed lesson plans to middle and high school teachers about Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the US Congress, and an important civil rights leader.

Covering the 4th Annual Black/Jewish Congressional Awards Ceremony, hosted by The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, black political pundit, Cedric Muhammad wrote:

Black-Jewish relations will improve significantly once Black organizations, elected officials and spiritual leaders arrive at a consensus that the Anti-Defamation league (ADL) and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) do not represent all Jewish people. At that point the probability of a frank dialogue, between the two communities in America, free of pre-conditions or litmus tests, becomes higher than ever before, (Toward Black-Jewish Relations Outside Of The AIPAC-ADL Construct,, June 19, 2002).

Collaboration with South Africa's Apartheid Regime

The ADL spied on the anti-apartheid African National Congress, before the ANC became the ruling party in South Africa. According to San Francisco court doucments, the ADL also spied on 28 other anti-apartheid organizations.

According to a report released by San Francisco's District Attorney, the ADL's fact finder Roy Bullock admitted that he was paid by a South African intelligence agent to spy on anti-apartheid activists.

In reference to Roy Bullocks's espionage activities on behalf of the ADL and apartheid South Africa's government, freelance journalist Paul N. McCloskey wrote:

He (Bullock) had reported on a visit to California by the ANC's Chris Hani, ten days before the man expected by many to succeed Nelson Mandela, returned home to be brutally murdered. ..After his exposure, Bullock was put directly on the ADL's payroll. ADL's position on the ANC was identical to that of the South African government - they considered it to be a "terrorist" "communist" organization. At the time, Israel was furnishing arms to maintain the apartheid regime in power.[7] (

The ADL's stated reason was that they disliked the ANC's public support of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Abe Foxman, ADL's national director, explained: "At the time we exposed the ANC, they were communist. They were violent, they were anti-Semitic, they were pro-PLO and they were anti-Israel." The ADL shared its findings with South African intelligence organisations which some say aided the apartheid regime's fight against South Africa's anti-apartheid struggle.

Criticism of reporting on pagan symbols

The ADL publishes lists of symbols used by anti-semitic groups. [8] ( Included in these publications are several pagan symbols that were used by the Nazis and neo-Nazi groups, but are also today used by non-racist pagan religions.

Members of the neopagan religion Ásatrú protested that these symbols were wrongly used by hate groups, and should not be described as symbols of racism. Following an organized e-mail protest by Ásatrúar, the ADL clarified that these symbols are not necessarily racist. It has since amended its publications to categorize these symbols as "pagan symbols co-opted by extremists." [9] (

The ADL files controversy

Since the 1930s, the ADL has worked to amass what it calls its "famous storehouse of accurate, detailed, unassailable information on extremist individuals and organizations". Over a period of decades they created thousands of files, mostly containing newspaper, magazine and journal clippings, as well as many books, on groups that the ADL considered anti-Semitic or potentially anti-Semitic. One of its researchers was Roy Bullock, who often wrote letters to various groups and forwarded copies of their replies to the ADL, and he also maintained his own personal files on his computer.

In the early 1990s U.S. Representative Pete McCloskey (Republican, Californian) filed a class-action lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court against the ADL. He claimed that information gathered about him, and others, was an invasion of privacy. The ADL countered that like any researcher or journalist, they are entitled to research organizations and individuals. The ADL gained some support from Richard Cohen, legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama. The ADL's mission to fight anti-Semitism and racism involves gathering information on such groups and publishing reports on these topics. Cohen states "They gather information however they can" and "they probably rely on their sources to draw the line" about what information legally can be given out. A problem for the ADL was that Bullock admitted that some of the information he obtained, and then passed on to the ADL, came from former San Francisco police officer Tom Gerard; Bullock admitted that he was over-zealous, and that the information gathered this way may have been illegal.

On April 8 1993 the ADL offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles were raided by police. It was discovered that the ADL had newspaper articles and files on 12,000 Americans and more than 950 groups, the vast majority being newspaper clippings. Among those groups that were being tracked by the ADL were: The NAACP, African National Congress (ANC), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), United Auto Workers, ACT-UP, Mother Jones magazine, Mills College, Greenpeace, the Nation of Islam and the National Lawyers Guild.

This led to a lawsuit, in which a number of Arab Muslim groups claimed that the ADL was spying on Americans. Hussein Ibish, director of communications for the ADC, claimed that the ADL was gathering data "systematically in a program whose clear intent was to undermine civil rights and Arab-American organizations."

The national director of the ADL, Abraham Foxman, responded to these charges. He noted that the no court ever found the ADL guilty of the charges that were made against it. Foxman said "If it were true, they would have won their case. Our judicial system is such that you can sue anyone and accuse them of God knows what and we have to defend it, but if you defend it, it's going to cost you a lot of money. In order to stop harassment and malicious prosecution, what you do is settle it. And in settling you say, 'I didn't do it and won't do it again' -- it's an absurdity."

The lawsuit was settled out of court in 1998. The ADL agreed to pay the court costs of the groups that sued them, and spent $25,000 to further Jewish-Muslim and Jewish-black relations.

See also

External links

ADL position statements

ADL Spy Scandal



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