ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt Addresses Knesset Caucus on Israel-US Relations

  • December 5, 2016

The following are remarks as delivered by ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt at the Knesset Caucus on Israel-US Relations on December 5, 2016 in Jerusalem.

As you all know, ADL was founded over one hundred years ago in the United States to fight anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry and prejudice. Our work is based on an enduring conviction that we can only root out the perennial scourge of anti-Semitism when we Jews are leaders in the fight against all forms of hatred. That mission today seems more urgent and relevant to our current challenges than any time in recent history.

I want to state up front that, since the foundation of the State of Israel up to the present, ADL has been among the strongest and most potent advocates for the Jewish state.  We deeply believe that in the pursuit of our core purpose of defending the Jewish people, we must stand strongly and unapologetically by Israel, a country whose flourishing continues to be a miracle and upon which the strength of the Jewish people rests.

In practice, this means standing up for Israel at home and abroad; defending Israel’s capacity and right to defend itself by itself against all enemies, whether they are employing law fare in international fora like the United Nations, or those using terror tactics  such as the Islamic Republic of Iran. It means supporting Israel in its pursuit of peace with its neighbors. And it means – standing up for Israel's robust democracy, and supporting and sometimes pushing for – Israel to exemplify the Biblical ideal embodied in Herzl’s vision to serve as a light unto the nations.

Under my direction, ADL has made it one of its chief aims to push back against the disturbing and deepening trend of delegitimization. I consider Israel’s delegitimization—that is, the singular denial of the right of the Jewish people to the universal right of self-determination—to amount to anti-Semitism.

This phenomenon is not easily rolled back. It is ingrained in the political culture of many international institutions and societies. It both requires renewed effort and deep reflection in order to understand its root causes.

Today I want to talk about the fate of the special relationship between the United States and Israel and what to expect given the recent election in the United States and some of the key questions that have come to the fore about the continuity of U.S. policy and commitments to its traditional allies.

Let me say up front that no one has the answers about what the future will entail.

Despite the fact that 70 percent of the American Jewish community voted for the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump walks into the Oval Office with unprecedented familial ties to the Jewish community. His daughter Ivanka is a Jew-by-choice. Her husband Jared considers himself Modern Orthodox and reportedly is one of the closest advisors to the President-Elect. This is a man who was educated at Jewish day school and is shomer shabbat. Some in Israel may indeed be welcoming the new Trump administration, noting that the President Elect has telegraphed support for Israel’s policies in the West Bank, and he has signaled that there will be less overt confrontation between the future Trump administration and a Likud-led government. Still, Israel would be well served by considering steps that preserve its options in the future and demonstrate its commitment to peace.

The truth is, the new Administration has not yet articulated a well-developed view of the conflict, let alone one contextualized within any overarching vision of the region—or a foreign policy that clearly explains America’s place in the broader world. Thus anyone who tells you that we know what the future will bring is incorrect.  The only thing that is certain today is the degree of uncertainty.

Simply put, perhaps more so than any moment in modern memory, we truly do not know what the president-elect will do when he becomes the 45th person to occupy the Oval Office.

I would be remiss if I did not share with you the very deep sense of concern shared by many in the American Jewish community in this moment of uncertainty. And there is legitimate cause for concern.  

Let’s talk about a few trends:

First we are witnessing a resurgence of Anti-Semitism across the U.S.  This kind of rhetoric has not been seen in the U.S. since 1930s. Anti-Semitism has wound its way into mainstream conversations in a manner that many Jews who lived through Nazi Germany find terrifying.  There have reportedly been hundreds of hate crimes, including against Jews, since the election. Those include vandalism targeting a Jewish storefront in Philadelphia, defacing it with swastikas, or swastikas or swastikas carved into schools in suburban Washington D.C. At the ADL, we also have dealt with reports of verbal harassment, vandalism and physical violence targeting Muslims, immigrants, members of the LGBT community and others. Black churches vandalized in Maryland, tagged with racist slogans. A Muslim woman in San Diego assaulted, her hijab pulled off her head.  High school students in Michigan yelling “build the wall” at Hispanic students, preventing them from entering a school bus. And yet, despite the fact that most of these incidents  were covered by the press or highlighted by ADL or other NGOs, we have not yet – and I emphasize yet – seen the new Administration reach out to minorities in a strategic manner or speak out in a clear, consistent manner against these incidents.  Again, there is no precedent.

This might sound like hyperbole, but there are unique developments that raise real concerns:

One singular aspect of this trend is the rise of anti-Semitism from both ends of the ideological spectrum, both from the extreme Right and the radical Left.  

On the left, we see anti-Israel sentiment in many places, including on our campuses where activist professors and radical students collaborate to marginalize pro-Israel voices. And we see it moving into new areas including the public square where some Anti-Israel elements of protest movements like Black Lives Matter have hijacked the agenda and trafficked in blatant bigotry, including the blood libel.

Then, we have the situation on the Extreme Right wherein once marginal movements have moved into the mainstream.  During this political season, the so-called Alt-Right took center stage.  This is a new name for an old idea – white supremacy.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Alt-Right, at its core, it’s a neo-Fascist ideology predicated on the kind of rabid anti-Semitism, hateful racism, and extreme xenophobia that has been used to justify unholy violence against Jews and other minorities many times in the past century.  

Yet remarkably, Alt-Right media was credentialed at Trump campaign events.  The candidate and his surrogates used their media platforms for their messages.  And a known white supremacist originally was named though later replaced, as a delegate at the 2016 GOP convention.

I am not making any of this up.

Indeed, a group of Alt-Right activists organized a conference just two weeks ago in Washington. It was held in a building right around the corner from the White House--the Ronald Reagan Building.  Emboldened by the election where they felt their candidate not only won but borrowed ideas from their playbook, these bigots closed their event with Heil Hitler salutes and a keynote speaker who liberally quoted Third Reich propaganda in the original German.

During the campaign and since, social media platforms like Twitter have become a hotbed of anti-Semitic harassment of Jewish journalists-- and Jane [Eisner] knows well about this situation  because she and her writers have been targeted -- in the most hideous ways, sending them images of ovens, lampshades, bars of soap, hateful cartoons and photoshopped images. Sometimes these tweets exposed personal information like home addresses, cellphone numbers or names of their children.  Often we at ADL and official law enforcement were contacted because of the level of threat was so serious and severe.

Even more bizarrely, the Trump campaign not only sourced images and language from this movement, horrifying content that found its way into the commercials and speeches and tweets of the candidate.  And now one of the main cheerleaders of this movement will be sitting in the West Wing, literally down the hall from the Oval Office, in just a few weeks, perhaps steps away from the president’s son-in-law who I mentioned a few minutes ago. It’s hard to make sense of this obvious contradiction.

Despite all of this, I believe the U.S. political system will endure. The incrementalism of our bureaucracy and the resilience of our institutions will ensure we weather this moment. Our democracy has weathered civil war, social unrest, economic upheaval, global conflict, natural disasters, political scandal.  We always have emerged from these trials even stronger and more determined.

However the challenge on our shared values is real.  It will be not be OK for the Jewish community and Jewish communities around the world if white supremacy firms up its place in the American public conversation as a legitimate political perspective.  It will not be OK for the Jewish community and communities around the world if hostility to Israel is legitimized on the agenda of a major U.S. political party. It will not be OK for the Jewish community if anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry are normalized online by tech giants who discount their potency.  And it will not be OK for the Jewish community if other minorities find themselves denied fair treatment, denigrated as enemies of the state, or devalued as members of society because, as the Jewish people know better than anyone, when it happen to one group, the Jews are not far behind.

And yet, just as these are difficult times for millions of Americans who are trying to understand their place is in American society, we know that many of our friends around the world including here in Israel also are asking “What does America stand for in the world?”

However, I can tell you here this morning that the surest way to prepare for the future and weather any potential storm is to invest in the fundamentals of the relationship. The ties that binds Israel and America are like a thick rope tightly woven with the fibers of common values — values of democracy -- including the rule of law, freedom of religion, an open press, freedom of expression and the dignity of every member of our societies, regardless of their faith, race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, level of ability or political affiliation.

These shared values are the basis of our bipartisan bilateral relationship. They have guided the US-Israel partnership through 11 presidencies to date and helped us to navigate many trying times. These values should continue to serve as the basis that Israel uses to deepen and strengthen the alliance with the United States, the ties between the Israeli and the American population and the unbreakable bonds that forever united the Jewish people whether in Diaspora or here in medinat yisrael. These are eternal.

I would close by reinforcing the notion that any steps which serve to strengthen these ties should be deemed to guide decisions in the years ahead—and those which might undermine them should be taken with great caution.

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