My Good Fight: Jonathan Greenblatt's Address to 2018 National Leadership Summit

  • May 6, 2018

Remarks by Jonathan Greenblatt

CEO and National Director, Anti-Defamation League

To the ADL National Leadership Summit

May 6, 2018, Washington, D.C.

(As prepared for delivery)

Thank you for that kind introduction – and allow me to welcome you to our 2018 National Leadership Summit. As I look out at this room and this incredible crowd, I am proud to share that this is the largest conference of this kind that we have ever had.

It is heartening to see so many of you here, and the next few days will be ones that should educate, inspire, provoke, and excite all of us for the “good fight” – the good fight that ADL has undertaken for well over a century now: to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.

A few weeks ago, I was speaking to a friend of mine – catching him up about all we were doing together, across our two dozen plus offices, telling him how busy we were, how much work there was to do and he joked: “So, Jonathan, it sounds like the anti-hate business is booming!”

I’d laugh if it weren’t so true.

These past few years have been both challenging and perplexing.

Not so long ago, it felt that maybe the “good fight” had been won.

Anti-Semitism had been rooted out of the institutions of American life, and our research showed that the sentiments powering it were on the wane.

We saw our brothers and sisters freed from Soviet tyranny.

African-Americans, Latinos, and other minorities also were seeing the fruits of our shared struggles for acceptance.

Within a decade, we not only had a vice presidential nominee who was shomer shabbos, but a President who was African-American.

Support for Israel, the Jewish state, the startup nation, sunk deep roots across many different communities.

Yet, recently, something has changed.

It is not just one election. Not at all.

There are larger developments – that if you look closely, are hard to see; but, if you pull back the lens, the trends become clear – and these have called into question all this progress.  

On one side, we have the rise of thinkers and leaders who reject the liberal democratic order that arose from the ashes of World War II with America as its champion around the world. Values like: freedom of the press, worship, and expression; democratic accountability and the rule of law; and the merits of diversity and inclusion.

Whether in Budapest, Warsaw, or Istanbul -- or in the alt-right online world, this new group believes that the bonds of common blood and ethnic ancestry are stronger and that is what makes any country a nation.

In this world, Jews are not welcome. In this world, Latinos are not welcome. In this world, those whose skin is darker or religion is not Christian are not welcome. In this world, refugees fleeing unimaginable violence are not welcome.

On the other side, we have the rise of thinkers and leaders who draw the lines differently, but they draw lines nonetheless.

To them, all of those who have struggled for acceptance, struggled for equality; all of those who ADL has fought for – and alongside – for decades share a common bond.

This is something that I believe. This is something that is core to who ADL is: we believe that fighting for equal justice for all is absolutely necessary to create an America where Jews can thrive; and that stopping the defamation of Jews is absolutely necessary to create a just nation.

Yet, if you talk to an increasing number of these activists and thinkers – on college campuses, in venerable social justice organizations, their solidarity – in their words, this “intersectionality” – has its own lines, its own boundaries and border wall.

To them, Jews are on the outside looking in. Israel is not the rightful homeland for our people, but rather an oppressive or, ridiculously, an “apartheid state” that should not exist.

Anti-Semitism doesn’t concern them. And to many, the oldest anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish power and perfidy resonate, or at the very least, do not merit condemnation.

Ironically, we find ourselves in a world where groups of thinkers, activists, and leaders who actually despise each other -- who wouldn’t lift a finger to help one another – actually have so much in common.

And compounding the situation is that changes in our media along with larger shifts in society have coarsened our discourse and weakened the appetite for reasoned debate – and compromise.

This is why the work we do – you do – in our communities and in our nation’s capital is so important.

Don’t get me wrong: it probably would be easier to retreat to one corner or another, to stick to standard issue talking points as issued by one side or the other, rather than to fight for a solid, sensible and strong center.

It would be easier to stand down, to lay low and not rock the boat, to shy away from taking a stand. Think about it – all of us know groups that fall into one of these buckets.

But I won’t do that. I know you won’t do that. ADL won’t do that.

Our fight is needed now more than ever – the good fight against anti-Semitism and for equal justice, equal treatment, and equal dignity for everyone no matter how you pray, who you love, or where your parents are from.  

So when there is a nominee for high office that has spouted anti-Muslim bigotry or homophobic beliefs, ADL will speak out even if it means we may not be invited to their holiday party.

When they try to put in place a Muslim ban, we will take a stand and fight them in court.

When those in power try to deny the centrality of Jews to the Holocaust, we will speak out for the six million.

When members of Congress align themselves with Holocaust deniers, ADL will ring the alarm.

When a city councilman here in our nation’s capital bizarrely claims that the Rothschilds control the weather and gives taxpayer dollars to the anti-Semitic, bigoted, and homophobic Louis Farrakhan -- or when other prominent leaders refuse to condemn Farrakhan – no matter what other good they may profess to do, ADL will speak out.

Now this kind of honesty may cost us friends or funders, perhaps even corporate partners. But we will not look the other way.

And these times will not only be challenging, they will be clarifying. We will learn who we can count on versus those we can just count. But we don’t do this work because we are seeking accolades or attention. We do it because we are accountable to our mission and committed to our moral compass.

Which means we will not shrink from a fight if need be.  For example, when colleges and universities give oxygen to BDS movements and allow Jewish students to be harassed and intimidated under the guise of political correctness, you better believe we are going to stand up for our kids -- even at my own alma mater.

But we need to steel ourselves.  As we have seen firsthand, these fights can be difficult. Some days we will be called heroes. Other days, we will be cast as suckers. And by the same people!

The right will tell us that we are caving to the left.  The left will tell us that we are caving to the right. And on the same day!

When that happens, it’s probably a sign we are doing something right.

See, that is what it means to be in the Good Fight. You know what you believe. You avoid politics but stick to your principles. And you work at it, you labor at it, every single day.

I am so proud that, over the next few days, we will be hearing from some extraordinary people who have, in their own ways fought a similar fight:

  • Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein;
  • NAACP CEO Derrick Johnson.
  • Congressman Joe Kennedy III;
  • Congresswomen Ileana Ros-Lehtinen;
  • NYT best-selling Author Henry Timms;
  • And you’ve already heard Aly’s incredible story about her good fight Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman.

I look forward to hearing from them -- to hearing from you -- and to waging, together, the good fight to end hate and to ensure justice and fair treatment to the Jewish people and to all people.

Thank you.