ADL's 2021 Year in Review

December 17, 2021

Dear ADL friends,

We’re coming to the end of 2021…

I’ve been thinking a lot about the work that I’ve done this year alongside the ADL team, and alongside you and the rest of the ADL community. I recently wrote my first book; it's called It Could Happen Here: Why America is Tipping from Hate to the Unthinkable—And How We Can Stop It. It looks at the rise of intensifying antisemitism and violent hatred in other countries, and why such turbulence could unfold here in America. Writing the book provided some insights on the past year, and on the vital work ADL has been doing, so I wanted to share a look back at 2021 with you.

Change has been everywhere, as both threats and opportunities.

But change is important. As JFK said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

So what changed this year that will continue to transform our world?

Some years seem to start slowly. This year? Not so much.

On January 6, we witnessed an insurrection the likes of which none of us has seen in the United States. Extremists driven by conspiracies and fear, bent on overturning the election of President Joe Biden, violently invaded the halls of our democracy. The echoes of this assault on the Capitol and the antisemitic images we saw that day are still seared in our memories, and as we started the year with this coordinated act of domestic terrorism that threatened a key component of our democracy, we bookend the year by now taking legal action as Co-Counsel in a D.C. lawsuit to hold the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and certain of their members and affiliates accountable for their role in planning and carrying out the January 6 attack and for the harm they caused, including to the brave law enforcement officers who were injured or killed as a result of that day.

The lawsuit, and the media attention it has sparked, sends a highly visible message of deterrence to any individual or group seeking to repeat the insurrection: hate and violence will not be tolerated in Washington or anywhere in the United States.

Later in January, our Center for Technology and Society issued report cards to 10 major social media platforms for their efforts to effectively address Holocaust denial on their platforms. Twitch fared well, but other platforms including Facebook and Twitter struggled. This was just the first of many aggressive efforts by ADL in 2021 to improve the online climate to reduce antisemitism and other forms of hate.

In February, our annual report on domestic extremist murders revealed that right wing extremists had been linked to at least 16 extremist-related murders in the United States in 2020 and have been responsible for 75 percent of such murders in the last ten years.

Another ADL report showed how Iranian textbooks are replete with hatred against Jews, Israel and Americans, with students taught to glorify terrorism. ADL’s International Affairs team has continued to analyze textbooks in the Middle East throughout the year as we work to reduce the spread of misinformation and hate in schools.

ADL’s Center on Extremism reviewed footage and other evidence from the Jan. 6 insurrection, highlighting connections between those who breached the Capitol and groups like the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, Groypers and other white supremacy groups, as well as QAnon conspiracy theorists. Our analysis showed that these extremists remain animated and are looking to the next fight.

Partnerships were a major objective this year, providing ways for ADL to share our expertise, broaden our reach and protect those in need. Those agreements included new or expanded relationships with the Union for Reform Judaism, Hillel International, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Secure Community Network, PayPal and the Community Security Service.

Rolling out our PROTECT Plan nationally, we addressed the need for effective policies to fight domestic terrorism while safeguarding civil rights and civil liberties. Domestic terrorism is a threat that impacts everyone. Our Government Affairs team has worked tirelessly this year, making significant inroads on these priorities. These were largely reflected in the Biden Administration’s first-ever comprehensive interagency strategy to counter domestic violent extremism, which was announced in June.

In Israel, our virtual Social Cohesion Summit brought together people from across Israeli society to hear from leaders in politics, the media and business to work to bridge divisions during a challenging year.

With the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community facing rising hate fueled in part by COVID misinformation, the ADL community stepped up in support, ensuring that AAPI community members felt supported and calling for congressional condemnation of this bias. In May, Congress passed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. ADL also helped support the launch of The Asian American Foundation, providing expertise as this important new agency got off the ground. I’m proud to represent ADL on the foundation’s board.

In April, we released our annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, an important resource for assessing levels of harassment, vandalism and assaults nationwide. This report documented the third-highest year on record, with over 2,000 incidents tracked, though fortunately no fatalities. These historically high levels of antisemitic incidents highlight the ongoing need for the work that our 25 regional offices across the country do through both our professional staff and through members of the ADL community like you to engage every community, to fight hate through education initiatives in schools, and to advocate in the halls of government.

Midyear, we reacted to the confrontation between Israel and Hamas. We expressed support for Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas rocket attacks, and mourned the innocent Israeli and Palestinian lives lost. We also condemned the violent episodes of attempted lynching, rioting and looting that took place within a number of “mixed” Israeli Arab and Israeli Jewish cities.

The Mideast confrontation drove a sharp spike in antisemitic incidents in the United States and many other nations. Incidents in the U.S. more than doubled during the conflict and its immediate aftermath. There were an alarming 11 assaults, including brazen attacks on the streets that clearly targeted those who were visibly Jewish.  A number of anti-Israel protests included antisemitic elements, and online antisemitism boiled over, as evidenced by 17,000 tweets of “Hitler was right” in a short period. In an ADL survey at the time, 40% of American Jews reported increased concern about their personal safety; security measures at Jewish institutions across the country were heightened as a result of safety concerns.

To counter this threat, ADL helped lead a massive online ‘Day of Action’ alongside the major Jewish religious movements and other leading Jewish groups. The event attracted tens of thousands of viewers to hear from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell along with leaders from an array of faiths and civil society organizations to denounce antisemitism.

Our Board Chair Esta Gordon Epstein, SVP for International Affairs Sharon Nazarian and I led a delegation to Israel on the heels of the conflict with Hamas, violence between Israeli-Arabs and Jews in so-called “mixed cities” and the swearing in of a new Israeli government. We met with Israeli PM Naftali Bennett, FM Yair Lapid and other leaders to discuss the challenges confronting US Jews, particularly increased antisemitism and changing narratives related to Israel. The delegation also explored issues of social cohesion within Israeli society, specifically relations between Arabs and Jews. These discussions helped advise ADL work and strategies.

In another effort to fight antisemitism, the Biden Administration nominated Deborah Lipstadt as the next U.S. Antisemitism Envoy. ADL praised her as a strong advocate and watchdog for the Jewish people, and we continue to work in Washington to urge the Senate to vote on her nomination and to ensure that this vital position is filled as soon as possible. You can add your voice here.

In a changing of the guard at ADL, we were proud to name Ben Sax as our National Board Chair-elect; he will take over as Board Chair in January at the end of the term of the estimable Esta Epstein.

Maintaining ADL pressure on major online platforms, ADL released an Online Antisemitism Report Card for eight major online platforms, with Twitter receiving the highest grade, a B-. Our Center for Technology and Society (CTS), based in Silicon Valley, continues to work directly with these tech companies to improve their policies and actions, including recommendations that resulted in product changes at both Twitter and YouTube, resulting in reduced hate and harassment. CTS also found that sixty percent of children ages 13-17 have experienced harassment while playing games online, according to a first-of-its-kind survey of online gaming experiences released today by the ADL.

In September, ADL and L’Oréal USA jointly announced a new program to bring Holocaust Education to more than 100,000 middle and high school students across the U.S. via direct-to-student classroom activities.

In the final months of 2021, ADL convened three key national virtual events. ADL’s Walk Against Hate, which has raised millions of dollars and united supporters around ADL’s mission across the country for a decade. This was followed by Never Is Now, the largest annual summit on antisemitism and hate, which this year welcomed Vice President Kamala Harris and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. And earlier this month ADL in Concert Against Hate starred headliners Gloria Estefan and Josh Groban and host Karamo as we honored extraordinary heroes.

In another high-profile event, our Central Division hosted the amazing National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman to kick off ADL’s No Place for Hate school year. No Place for Hate teaches and inspires 1.3 million students each year to fight bias, bullying and bigotry in our schools.

Recognizing the challenges faced by Jewish students, ADL and partners Hillel International and the Secure Community Network launched a new online portal to enable college students to report and address antisemitism on campus.

In November, our Center for Technology and Society released an innovative new tool against online hate -- a Social Pattern Library. It builds on our work making a real impact in reducing hate through our product recommendations and shows developers and designers for social media platforms how to build features that can be used to prevent users from disseminating hate and harassment.

This Chanukah, ADL joined forces with Jewish organizations and civil society partners around the country to “Shine A Light” on antisemitism. ADL used our networks to fuel this push to speak out against antisemitism, inspiring allyship, education and policy action.

Last month, we celebrated the verdict in the landmark Sines v. Kessler case, where a jury found that an array of 2017 Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ rally organizers owe more than $25 million in punitive damages. ADL was a partner in supporting Integrity First for America, which led the legal effort by the plaintiffs; we provided vital support including security and evidence collection as well as expertise from our Center on Extremism.

During all of these unprecedented moments, the ADL community was there, vigilant in rejecting antisemitism and finding ways to Fight Hate for Good. We thank all of you for joining with us in 2021.

Your support for ADL’s mission, to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all has been vital this year and will be equally critical in 2022 and beyond.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and National Director of ADL