WASHINGTON (JTA) — Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt urged the organization’s leading activists to counter what he said was an “organized, concerted effort” to delegitimize the group.
The 900-word email sent Wednesday was a bid to counter what has been at times a fierce assault on the venerable civil rights group for its criticism of President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign and his transition.
“Over the past year, certain columnists and elements of the U.S. Jewish community have engaged in a full-scale assault on ADL and its CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt,” said the email to the group’s lay leadership. “We came back from Thanksgiving to find that an organized, concerted effort to delegitimize ADL was underway. These charges against ADL are a significant and deliberate misrepresentation of our positions and our actions.”
Greenblatt goes on to refute several myths circulating in the right-wing Jewish blogosphere and on social media, among them, that the ADL does not support Israel; that it no longer combats anti-Semitism; that it supports the movement to boycott Israel; and that Greenblatt is a Democratic operative;
Greenblatt, an entrepreneur who was an Obama White House political appointee charged with social innovation, noted that the group recently hosted a major conference on anti-Semitism issue in New York and called it ADL’s “number one concern.” ADL also vigorously opposes the BDS movement.
In one instance, Greenblatt fudges the record slightly: He decries as a myth the claim that the group attacked Stephen Bannon, Trump’s top strategic adviser, but not Keith Ellison, the Minnesota congressman vying to lead the Democratic National Committee. Greenblatt said the group had expressed “concerns” about each man – Bannon for his associations with the “alt-right,” which includes within its ranks white supremacists and anti-Semites, and Ellison, for his strident criticism of Israel and his backing of the Iran nuclear deal. In fact, the ADL outright opposed Bannon’s appointment, while it raised questions about Ellison’s candidacy.
Greenblatt named only one of ADL’s critics, the Zionist Organization of America, which has been a strident critic of Greenblatt since his appointment over a year ago and has more recently accused him of “character assassination” of Bannon.
In a statement to JTA, ZOA President Morton Klein said Greenbatt’s complaints were “nonsense.”
“Painfully, ADL’s positions have endangered and harmed Israel and Jews,” he said, saying the ADL and Greenblatt “need to protect and defend our people – not shoot the messenger.”
Also criticizing Greenblatt have been Breitbart, the news website Bannon led before he joined the Trump campaign, and the Republican Jewish Coalition.
“Much of this campaign reflects wider trends of our time,” said Greenblatt’s email, one of whose recipients posted the contents on Facebook. “The dangerous polarization in the U.S., Israel and within our community fed by the dogma that if you are not 100 percent with me you are the enemy as well as the phenomenon of ‘fake news’ where agenda-driven half-truths are presented as fact, reinforcing these hardened positions.
“But it also reflects willingness by some to pass along lies because, frankly, there are few consequences for doing so,” the email said.
“We need you to stand firmly with us to counter these accusations,” Greenblatt told the recipients. “Those who seek to delegitimize ADL and other communal organizations do more than harm us – they make all of us less safe.”