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Anti-Defamation League

The Anti-Defamation League (or ADL) is an American organization set up by B'nai B'rith that fights anti-Semitism, racism, bigotry and various forms of political extremism as well as anti-Zionism through an array of programs and services. It also offers political support for the state of Israel. 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. The current director is Abraham Foxman. The national chair is Howard Berkowitz.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Fighting anti-Semitism, bigotry, and racism
3 Fighting anti-Zionism
4 Positions
5 Arab and Muslim relations
6 Black relations
7 The ADL files
8 External Links


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 anti-Semitism and racism from many groups and individuals, including the Ku Klux Klan, Henry Ford, Father Charles Coughlin, leader of the Christian Front, the Christian Identity movement, the Palestine Liberation Organization, the German-American Bund and the Nation of Islam.

Fighting anti-Zionism

By far the most controversial position that the ADL takes is in its opposition to anti-Zionism, which is frequently conflated with its opposition to anti-Semitism and its political lobbying efforts on behalf of the state of Israel. These three issues are of great interest to most Jews, and there is general agreement that these issues are closely related. However, these issues are not so similar as to be identical, and the positions taken by the ADL regarding anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, and the state of Israel have been criticized as being too presumptive and too generic, and of stifling discussion about Israeli policies.

The ADL made the following statement on the subject:

"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."

Noam Chomsky, a critic of Israel, wrote in his 1989 book Necessary Illusions:

"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., as the Israeli press casually describes it, engaged in surveillance, blacklisting, compilation of FBI-style files circulated to adherents for the purpose of defamation, angry public responses to criticism of Israeli actions, and so on....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 himself has been accused by many of anti-Semitism; a discussion of Chomsky's views may be found in the articles on anti-Semitism and Noam Chomsky.


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 attrocities commited by the Italian Fascistss. ("Mussolini never killed anyone. Mussolini used to send people on vacation in internal exile.") Berlusconi is also known for his staunch pro-Israel stand. The decision to honor Berlusconi has been widely critizised 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.

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."

Arab and Muslim relations

The ADL has not often worked together with Arab-American and Muslim-American 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.

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

Black relations

Historically, African-Americans and the ADL worked closely together in the civil rights struggle. 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).

ADL speaks out against some voices in the Black-community, especially the Nation of Islam, which the ADL consider to be black supremacist. 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.

The ADL investigated the anti-apartheid African National Congress closely, before the ANC became the ruling party in South Africa. The ADL 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 organzations. See the section on the ADL files, below.

The ADL files

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. He stated that 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 major problem for the ADL is 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 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 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: African National Congress (ANC), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), United Auto Workers, ACT-UP, Mother Jones magazine, Greenpeace, 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 ADL rebutted these charges, noting that no court had ever found the ADL guilty of the charges that were made against it.

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: AIPAC, JCPA, Presidents' Conference, anti-Semitism, racism

External Links

ADL position statements: News articles: