When Whoopi Goldberg said that the Holocaust was “not about race” but rather “two white groups of people” fighting, the actress and chat-show maven was shocked by criticism she received. Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, reprimanded Goldberg the following day on her morning program, The View. One thing Greenblatt did not do was ask Goldberg where on earth she could have gotten such a preposterous and offensive idea. That’s too bad, because if he had, Goldberg could have responded like the teenager in the classic anti-drug ad from the ’80s when confronted by his father: “You! All right? I got it from you!”
For on the very day that Goldberg made her comments about the impossibility of a conflict being racial in nature if the perpetrators and victims had similar complexions, the definition of the word “racism” on the ADL’s website read as follows:
“The marginalization and/or oppression of people of color based on a socially constructed racial hierarchy that privileges white people.”
Follow the logic: According to the Anti-Defamation League itself—the Jewish organization set up in 1915 specifically to combat anti-Semitism—Whoopi Goldberg’s remarks were accurate. The Holocaust couldn’t have been about race, under the ADL’s definition of the word “racism,” because American Jews cannot be victims of racism.
In the wake of the controversy, the ADL hastily revised its wording and offered a more benign “interim definition.” The organization’s understanding of racism, we are made to understand, is evolving.
The hypocrisy and shamelessness on display here are not the most important aspects of this debacle. It’s the fact that the definition of “racism” that the ADL decided it would be prudent to revise was itself a revision. Greenblatt himself admitted in a blog post that during his tenure, the ADL had changed its “racism” entry “a few years ago.” The ADL’s pre-Greenblatt definition of “racism,” according to the Jerusalem Post, reads as follows: It is “the belief that a particular race is superior or inferior to another, [and] that a person’s social and moral traits are predetermined by his or her inborn biological characteristics.”
Why did the ADL abandon that perfectly reasonable and clear definition? It did so, he wrote in a blog post, to “reflect that racism in the United States manifests in broader and systemic ways and to explicitly acknowledge the targeting of people of color.”
This admission was a rare acknowledgment from Greenblatt of the seismic nature of the changes taking place within the ADL under his stewardship. Almost from the moment he took over in 2014, the ADL has been mired in accusations of political bias, of providing cover for anti-Semites on the left from the kind of accountability the organization doggedly pursues for anyone on the right. Those accusations are true. But the organization is in the middle of a more consequential turn. To gain admission to the new progressive pantheon, the ADL has found itself compelled to jettison its century-old mission and become a different kind of organization entirely.
In the wake of l’Affaire Whoopi, an impression took hold that until the controversy, the ADL’s redefinition of “racism” had gone mostly unnoticed—and that the organization was caught off-guard by the attention it attracted once people started pointing it out on social media. That’s not the case.
In May 2020, a video surfaced showing teenagers drawing a swastika on the back of a teen in or near Mountain Brook, Alabama, home to a slight majority of the Birmingham area’s 5,000 Jewish residents. That same month, a police officer in Minneapolis killed George Floyd, a black man in custody. According to the Atlanta Jewish Times, the combination of both these events led the Mountain Brook school district to convene a “diversity committee.” That committee recommended the involvement of the ADL.
Into this tension-filled atmosphere, the ADL brought every divisive tool in its box. The district had been resisting the introduction into its curricula of ideas inspired by critical race theory, which reduce people to immutable characteristics, with a special focus on skin color. By the end of the ensuing school year, parents were fed up, writing up a 12-page complaint alleging that the ADL was “a highly partisan group that promotes views like Critical Race Theory” as well as late-term abortion and such culture-war fire starters as transgender accommodations for minors.
In response, Allison Padilla-Goodman, vice president of the ADL’s Southern Division—which includes the organization’s offices in Atlanta, Florida, New Orleans, and St. Louis—griped that “these parents are struggling to understand the future of the nation and their own futures and are taking it out on their own children and their future.” Thus, according to a senior ADL official, parents opposed to race essentialism and radical abortion politics are just on the wrong side of history. One particular point of contention raised by the parents: the ADL’s redefinition of racism that had portrayed only “white” people as capable of racism. Eventually the Mountain Brook school severed its connection to the ADL.
So no, the ADL’s leadership could not have been surprised to find itself mired in controversy relating to race politics, since it had just happened. Nor did it even attempt to hide its promulgation of critical race theory. “CRT helps us understand how and why racial injustice continues to persist in the U.S. despite the progress that has been made towards racial equity,” according to an explainer on the ADL’s website. As for those concerned with the preachment of race essentialism in schools, the ADL has this to say: “The term ‘critical race theory’ is being used in the media and in political campaigns to incite fear and misinform parents and the public.” According to another page on its site, parents protesting CRT and Covid-19 restrictions at school board meetings should be treated as borderline terroristic, for “extremist entities have also seized on these heightened tensions around COVID-19 mandates and anti-CRT laws as fertile ground for recruitment efforts.”
It’s no wonder parents were put off by the ADL’s involvement in Alabama’s curriculum fight. The ADL portrays criticism as organized and dangerous. And that’s how we should understand the group’s reaction to the Whoopi controversy.
The faddish racial politics dominating progressive institutions has no room for Jews qua Jews. But it does have a use for Jews who can still fit into one of its favored racial categories. Enter “Jews of color.”
The tactic of dividing Jews by their skin color furthers the aims of leftist politics in two ways. The first is that it reinforces the ahistorical fabrication that “Jewishness” is “whiteness” from a racial and political perspective. People “who have become white should not be lecturing Black ppl about oppression,” tweeted the writer and professor Natalie Hopkinson in response to Jewish criticism of a positive New York Times essay she wrote on Louis Farrakhan. This is an old calumny. “Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They’re Anti-White,” declared a James Baldwin essay in 1967. “In the American context,” Baldwin explained, “the most ironical thing about Negro anti-Semitism is that the Negro is really condemning the Jew for having become an American white man—for having become, in effect, a Christian. The Jew profits from his status in America.”
The second way in which dividing Jews helps the left is that it sows suspicion and hatred within the Jewish community, which robs our historically persecuted people of their communal solidarity—an essential survival mechanism since the outset of the Diaspora. In late January, the ADL announced its new Collaborative for Change Fellowship program, to tell the stories of “Jews of color.” Buried in the announcement was the coup de main, surprising even those who have followed the ADL’s antics for years.
Running the program would be the ADL’s new director of Jewish outreach, Tema Smith. She is a Canadian, which means Greenblatt chose to reach outside the United States to engage someone whose purpose is Jewish outreach inside the United States. Clearly she must be something special, and she is.
Here is one example of Smith’s Jewish outreach, as seen on Twitter: “One of these days we need to talk about how the Jewish community’s reactions to anti-Semitism coming from Black people is inherently tied to (implicitly racist) fears of Black violence,” she wrote.
Here’s another: After the Biden administration hired someone who had, in the past, defended Palestinian terrorism, Smith tweeted that “Jews *have* to be ok with Palestinians *explaining* why some turn to terrorism.”
More than anything, Smith’s habit of gleefully trying to call down the Twitter mob on Israel’s defenders makes clear the purpose of her hire. If you spend enough time on social media calling out anti-Semitism, Smith will appear, as if summoned, to publicly brand you a racist and open the floodgates of Twitter liberals ready to follow her lead. Smith’s harassment of pro-Israel advocates is legendary. Those who point out the divisiveness of race essentialism are a popular target of hers.
By bringing in Tema Smith, Greenblatt’s ADL has not only embraced the racial paradigm holding that the Jew is now an all-powerful oppressor; it has hired a cyberbully to police dissent—as the director of Jewish outreach. Moreover, this was the organization’s response to the warnings it received and the lessons it didn’t learn in Alabama. And it did not go unnoticed.
Rabbi Adam Wright is the spiritual leader of Alabama’s largest synagogue, Temple Emanu-El of Birmingham, which dates back to 1882. In an extraordinary sermon on February 4, Wright recalled the era during which the ADL was led by Abraham Foxman. “For many of us, the ADL is the go-to for combating Jewish hate and all forms of bigotry,” he told his congregation. “For a 120-year organization, their efforts, a lot of them, should be celebrated.… But there’s a certain realization that we need to come to. That the post-Foxman tenure is different… and I am not the only one who shares this assessment.”
Indeed he is not. Wright singled out the ADL’s redefinition of “racism” as indicative of how far it has strayed from its mission. Under Greenblatt, he said, “the literature, some of the positions, are not in the core belief system of the Jewish people.” Instead, it is furthering an ideology “that is simply angering more Jews and not protecting us.” He noted the “deeply troubling” hiring of Tema Smith, recalled some of her greatest hits, and said overall that the new ADL is “siding with a certain political ideology, one which I believe and many Jews believe is harming their mission.”
Wright’s choice of words is important, because this is not about Greenblatt’s favoritism toward his fellow Democrats—though he certainly displays that bias as well—but rather adherence to an ideology, a new way of thinking. It is a worldview. As the linguist John McWhorter has written, in its dogmatic and ritualized praxis, anti-racism is a religion. Not like a religion: “I mean that it actually is a religion. An anthropologist would see no difference in type between Pentecostalism and this new form of antiracism.”
Which brings to mind one last comment by Wright, near the end of his sermon: “People were concerned that if I talked about these topics, that there could be some type of backlash. For those who know me, I’m not afraid.” That is, Wright correctly understood that the ADL, as part of the progressive woke world, seeks to enforce conformity not just within its ranks but without.
In July 2021, the ADL announced it had formed a partnership with PayPal, the massive online payment vendor that plays a key role in e-commerce worldwide. The organization is now helping PayPal identify what it considers “extremist” actors and groups, whom PayPal would then bar from its financial services. The point is to obliterate sources of revenue for whomever the ADL decides is a bad actor. And its long-standing relationships with law enforcement make this much more than a private concern. “My office stands ready to assist financial institutions and businesses of all kinds in this urgent fight to stop hate and protect members of historically marginalized communities,” pledged then–Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. in a statement that was part of the press release announcing the collaboration. Greenblatt has also been at the forefront of efforts to pressure Facebook and other social-media sites to censor political debate under the guise of “misinformation.”
For proof of this, look to the recent controversy over Joe Rogan. The popular podcaster, and the Spotify streaming service that pays Rogan a hefty sum for his show’s exclusivity, came under fire for hosting a couple of guests who cast doubt on the Covid-19 vaccines. Some musicians pulled their songs from Spotify in protest. The ADL swooped in and “analyzed” Spotify’s content rules. Its number-one complaint, leading off its findings, was this: “Spotify’s policies on deceptive election-related content don’t specify who they are intended for and whether they meaningfully combat ongoing election misinformation.” An organization whose ostensible purpose is the fight against anti-Semitism has now reoriented itself into becoming a watchdog determined to regulate and censor political speech.
It’s tempting (and accurate) to say that a curtailment of free-speech rights is bad for the Jews—as it would be for any minority group. But the ADL’s censorship campaign quite obviously harms Jews in another way: Israel and Zionism are becoming terms of hate on the left more broadly. Last year, YouTube removed a video of a George Mason law professor explaining the legality of Israeli air strikes; YouTube claimed it violated the site’s “violent criminal organizations” policy. As the Washington Free Beacon reported, the ruling effectively equated the Israeli state with terrorist groups.
Jewish and Israeli Instagram users were censored during the most recent conflict with Hamas, at a time when social-media incitement against Jews in America and around the world was rampant. Previously published Jewish authors are being crowded out of the U.S. publishing industry. “Just being Zionist is enough to get you stigmatized,” the American-Israeli writer Yossi Klein Halevi told the journalist Melissa Langsam Braunstein.
And it’s only going to get worse. Universities have seen an increase in diversity, equity, and inclusion officers, with dozens of powerful bureaucratic enforcers of the new orthodoxy added to the average institution. The Heritage Foundation analyzed the public feeds of over 700 such officers at 65 universities and found that their dedication to “inclusion” had one striking exception: “Those DEI staff tweeted, retweeted, or liked almost three times as many tweets about Israel as tweets about China. Of the tweets about Israel, 96 percent were critical of the Jewish state, while 62 percent of the tweets about China were favorable. There were more tweets narrowly referencing ‘apartheid’ in Israel than tweets indicating anything favorable about Israel whatsoever. The overwhelming pattern is that DEI staff at universities pay a disproportionately high amount of attention to Israel and nearly always attack Israel.”
Thus, it seems inevitable that the ADL’s commitment to this new progressive religion combined with its role as a leading censor of dissension is going to legitimize the targeting of Jews and Israel. And legitimization is precisely what Greenblatt offers them. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, last seen claiming at a rally that Israel keeps Palestinian children in cages in the West Bank, declared the Whoopi Goldberg matter closed because Greenblatt had spoken for all Jews.
“Whenever there’s a moment like this, or a learning moment like this, what’s super important is the relationship between that person and the community they’re making amends with,” she told TMZ. “So, the last I read, Jonathan Greenblatt, who is the head of the Anti-Defamation League, which is a champion in the fight against anti-Semitism across the country, he accepted her apology. And I think we really kind of take the Jewish community’s lead on this, and they seem to, you know, see that her apology was authentic and want to move on.”
Defending his decision to bring unrepentant Jew-hater Al Sharpton on his show to discuss anti-Semitism, NBC’s Joe Scarborough noted that Greenblatt joined Sharpton on the show and thus the ADL welcomed him: “Good enough for me.”
The American founding was a revolutionary political event because it was an attempt to create a modern republic around the ancient Greek and Roman idea of citizenship rather than tribe, family prestige, religious affiliation, and the like. The reason that America became a blessing for the Jews was that it erected barriers to the kind of racial and ethnic tribalism that always ends badly for us. Brick by brick, adherents of the new woke religion are dismantling those barriers, with the blessing and the active cooperation of the Anti-Defamation League.
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