Who Broke the ADL?

In light of Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt’s decision to equate a harmless joke about a Jewish newspaper to “extreme right” antisemitism, I thought it might be useful to share a story. I think it will shed some light into just how dependent the once great ADL has become on its relationships with right-wing defenders of Israel. So dependent, in fact, that it undermines its ability to be an honest broker when it comes to combatting antisemitism.

Back in late 2009, the ADL published a report called Rage Grows in America, about the rise of anti-government hate in the first year of the Obama presidency. In its section on media, it singled out Fox News host Glenn Beck as the “most important mainstream media figure who has repeatedly helped to stoke the fires of anti-government anger.”

The release of the report sparked a backlash from conservative groups, claiming the ADL was carrying water for the Democrats. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency article about it was titled “conservatives rap ADL report on anti-government anger.” The ADL didn’t take the report down, but its enthusiasm waned for taking on a right-wing movement and the media enablers it had characterized as dangerous.

At around the same time I was working for a Jewish organization that was increasingly concerned about the impact Glenn Beck was having from his perch at Fox News. He was, after Oprah Winfrey, the most popular talk show host on TV. As the ADL report had outlined, Beck was spreading conspiracy theories, calling progressives “Nazis” and stirring up anger a “global elites.” This, on top of all his usual racist, xenophobic, and sexist BS.

So we decided to do something about it. Without getting into all the details, we confronted Beck publicly about his hate speech, he doubled down, and then a long list of Jewish leaders (but not Foxman) spoke out publicly against him and his use of antisemitic and Holocaust rhetoric. Eventually… we got a meeting with Roger Ailes at Fox News HQ in NYC.

In the meantime, the ADL had gone largely silent about Beck. Instead, it decided to use its annual gala to honor (and raise money from) Rupert Murdoch, who owned Fox News. The ADL announced it would give Murdoch its international leadership award “for his stalwart support of Israel and his commitment to promoting respect and speaking out against anti-Semitism.” Among the folks who showed up to praise Murdoch were Ailes, Harvey Weinstein, and ADL CEO Abe Foxman.

But before the gala, our CEO, along with two prominent rabbis, met with Ailes and the Fox News attorney. In the meeting, Ailes said he would rein in Beck; he promised Beck would stop comparing everyone to Nazis and cut out the antisemitic conspiracy theories. This actually seemed to help, until, about one month after the ADL gala… Beck dropped an antisemitic bomb.

Puppet Master was the name Beck gave to his series about George Soros. In case the name didn’t give it away, Michelle Goldberg accurately described it at the time as “a symphony of anti-Semitic dog-whistles. Nothing like it has ever been on American television before.” We connected with Foxman through a friendly intermediary and urged him to speak out. A day later he offered strong but limited words of condemnation, focused on Beck’s characterization of Soros’s experience hiding from Nazis during WWII. A few days after that, Ailes sent a letter to his friend Foxman, brushing off the widespread criticism of the Puppet Master series and apologizing for calling NPR executives “Nazis.”

Given the promise Ailes had made during his meeting with our CEO and the two rabbis, we felt like he was obligated to act against Beck. Ailes refused. We reached out to the Jewish community and 400 rabbis, including the heads of the major non-Orthodox movements, signed an open letter. We published the letter as a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal, calling out both Beck and Ailes. We were told Foxman, whose quote about Beck was part of the letter, was livid. He did not want his name used. We used it anyway.

To recap: The ADL publishes a report criticizing Glenn Beck as dangerous. Conservatives get mad. Ten months later, they honor the man responsible for platforming Beck, largely because of his support for right-wing Israeli policies. One month later, Beck unleashes an unprecedented antisemitic attack on a Holocaust survivor and the ADL does almost nothing in response. Oh, and you can still find Puppet Master on the Fox News website and on YouTube.

Fast Forward to today. The current ADL CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, worked in the Obama administration. Since taking over for Foxman, he has spoken out against the rise of white nationalism. He has spoken out against Trump. He has spoken out against the Muslim Ban and acts of anti-Muslim violence. And yet the ADL remains a fundamentally compromised organization that cannot or will not speak honestly about contemporary antisemitism.

To maintain support from the right, the ADL must lie. The main lie is that, as Greenblatt wrote in his tweet attacking Waleed Shahid, the way to understand antisemitism today is in its balance: “the extreme right and the radical left overlap like a Venn Diagram around antisemitism.” It is galling that he can make this claim just days after the mass murder of Black shoppers in Buffalo by a white nationalist… who was inspired by an antisemitic conspiracy theory… promoted by Beck’s spiritual successor at Fox, Tucker Carlson.

The ADL continues to publish reports and data that paint a more-or-less truthful picture of antisemitism in America. According to the ADL’s data it exists, in its most troubling forms, overwhelmingly on the right. Left-wing antisemitism is real, but relatively marginal, and rarely manifests as violence. Yet the public face of the ADL insists on manufacturing left-wing antisemitism to serve its own “both sides” narrative. Going after a progressive, Muslim critic of the Democratic Party establishment like Shahid is too good to pass up.

So, whatever happened to the antisemitic trope that George Soros is a “Puppet Master?” When a white nationalist murdered eleven Jews in the Tree of Life synagogue in 2018, he believed Soros was paying a caravan of Latin American immigrants to invade the United States… to replace white Americans. An idea promoted by… Fox News. In late 2021, the ADL reacted to a puppet master cartoon on Fox News’s Twitter, noting that they “have told Fox News numerous times…” it is antisemitic.

This week, the Republican Party of Minnesota was forced to apologize after screening a video that portrayed Soros as a puppet master. The Republican candidate the ad was supporting, Kim Crockett, declined to apologize. Instead, she sent out an email lambasting the media, along with, as JTA described it, a “photo of herself at a lake holding a book by Fox News host Tucker Carlson.” Message received, Kim.

The ADL’s 2009 report, Rage Grows In America, was prescient. It foresaw the rise of white nationalism that fed and fed off of Trump’s campaign and presidency. It understood the critical role of right-wing media, particularly Fox News, in stoking this rage and hate. But instead of making it the centerpiece of its work over the past thirteen years, the ADL buried it, to keep its right-wing defenders of Israel happy.

Jews, really all Americans, need a credible, smart, and effective watchdog group addressing antisemitism. We’ve needed one for almost 50 years. Instead, we have the ADL.

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Postscript: When a number of Jewish leaders called out Greenblatt for his smear of Shahid, the ADL responded:

And there you have it. If you are a critic of Israel, the ADL will assume you are an antisemite. If you insult a Jewish newspaper, the ADL will brand you an antisemite.

The truth is, the word “goy” has not been appropriated by antisemites as a slur against Jews; it has been adopted by antisemites as a way to identify themselves as white and NOT Jewish. In other words, Shahid used the word “goy” the way Jews use the word “goy,” as a generic term for non-Jews; not the way racist whites use the word “goy.” Which makes sense, since Shahid is a Muslim married to a Jew, who lives in a mixed community of many Jews and Muslims.

I assume the ADL knows all of this; that they understand the difference. They just don’t care. They’d rather score points with Shahid’s political opponents than do the right thing.



Creator of funny videos that matter. Principal at the creative agency Moore+Associates. Co-director Yes, And… Laughter Lab. New Yorker.

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Mik Moore

Creator of funny videos that matter. Principal at the creative agency Moore+Associates. Co-director Yes, And… Laughter Lab. New Yorker.