Media touts ADL report that equates anti-Zionism with antisemitism

Michael Arria

Mondoweiss  /  March 24, 2023

The ADL’s annual audit on antisemitism in the U.S. offers a distorted view of the issue because the group counts anti-Zionist protests against Israel as antisemitic acts.

This week the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released its annual audit on antisemitic incidents in the United States. According to the data antisemitic incidents rose by 36% in 2022, resulting in 3,697 such occurrences. That’s the highest tally since the ADL began tracking this information back in 1979 and a nearly 500% increase over the past decade.

However, a cursory look at the group’s methodology immediately reveals its conclusions to be dubious. The ADL openly chalks up anti-Zionist actions and protests against Israel as examples of antisemitism because they can make Jewish students uncomfortable.

“Public statements of opposition to Zionism, which are often antisemitic, are included in the Audit when it can be determined that they had a negative impact on one or more Jewish individuals or identifiable, localized groups of Jews,” explain the report’s authors. “This is most commonly the case on college campuses, where studies have shown that vociferous opposition to Israel and Zionism can have a chilling effect on Jewish student life and compound on pressures felt by Jewish students added to the incidents accounted for in this Audit.”

Unsurprisingly the audit’s “recommendations” include adopting the controversial IHRA definition of antisemitism, furthering the Abraham Accords, and mobilizing against the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

On Twitter, Foundation for Middle East Peace president Lara Friedman has an instructive thread breaking down the inflated numbers. 241 of the documented incidents are related to criticisms of Israel or Zionism. Out of those 241 incidents, the ADL attributes 70 to individuals connected to anti-Zionist activist groups.

Friedman points out that, even if you accept the ADL’s distorted view of antisemitism, those incidents do not constitute a sizable portion of the documented incidents. Nonetheless, the ADL devotes more words to Israel than any other subject in its report and gives it more than twice the space it allots for white supremacism or antisemitic assaults.

“So in a nutshell, the ADL continues to use a politicized definition of antisemitism that demonizes free speech critical of Israel/Zionism, AND the ADL inflates these highly questionable numbers, devoting disproportionate space to hyping the ‘threat; posed by criticism of Israel/Zionism,” concludes Friedman.

The content of the report is not exactly surprising. ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt has repeatedly declared that he considers anti-Zionism to be antisemitic. “Anti-Zionism as an ideology is rooted in rage,” he told the audience at the ADL’s National Leadership Summit in 2022. “It is predicated on one concept: the negation of another people, a concept as alien to the modern discourse as white supremacy. It requires a willful denial of even a superficial history of Judaism and the vast history of the Jewish people. And, when an idea is born out of such shocking intolerance, it leads to, well, shocking acts.”

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: anti-Zionism is antisemitism,” he said in November 2021. “Denying the right of Jews — alone among all peoples of the world — to have a homeland is antisemitism. Singling out just the Jewish state for condemnation while ignoring others, is prejudice.”

The mainstream media has covered the report but largely failed to push back on its assertions or provide context on the group’s political ideology. An NPR story on the group’s findings does not mention Israel, Palestine, or Zionism at all. Neither does CNN’s coverage. The New York Times story on the report merely mentions that it “includes some incidents characterized as anti-Zionist or anti-Israel” but accepts the ADL’s (false) assertion that it “does not conflate general criticism of Israel or anti-Israel activism with antisemitism.”

Greenblatt was invited on PBS Newshour to talk about the report and openly smear anti-Zionists without pushback. “When we see hardened anti-Zionists activists on college campuses openly, aggressively, and almost gleefully intimidating Jewish students, something is fundamentally broken in our society,” he told host Geoff Bennett.

Bennett then openly repeated the ADL’s talking points while asking Greenblatt to expound on the phony campus numbers. “I too was struck by reading this report about the 41% increase of antisemitic activity reported on college and university campuses,” said Bennett. “And doing more reading about it what I learned is that Jewish students often say that harassment is often compounded when criticism of Israel arises. Tell me more about that.”

In his response, Greenblatt goes so far as to suggest that anti-Zionists are indirectly responsible for Nazi graffiti.

“Well, look, there’s certainly nothing wrong with criticizing policies of the state of Israel,” said Greenblatt. “That’s common course. That’s what it means to live in a democracy. The ADL does that too. But the relentless obsession with the Jewish state, the claims that it’s somehow committing genocide against Palestinians or responsible for white supremacy, if you think that a country, the only Jewish state in the world, is somehow white supremacist or somehow committing genocide, of course, you — we shouldn’t be surprised then when swastikas show up on the Jewish fraternity, or when people feel it’s OK to target and victimize openly Jewish students.”

Activists have consistently pushed for human rights groups to stop working with the ADL over the organization’s long history of opposing Palestinian rights and collaborating with law enforcement. In 2020 a coalition of groups (including American Muslims for Palestine, Palestinian Youth Movement, Adalah Justice Project, and IfNotNow) published an open letter calling for action.

“Even though the ADL is integrated into community work on a range of issues, it has a history and ongoing pattern of attacking social justice movements led by communities of color, queer people, immigrants, Muslims, Arabs, and other marginalized groups, while aligning itself with police, right-wing leaders, and perpetrators of state violence,” it reads. “More disturbing, it has often conducted those attacks under the banner of ‘civil rights’.”

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweis