ADL and Israel

January 01, 1970

ADL proudly supports the right of the Jewish people, like other peoples, to self-determination. In the case of the Jews, this translates to the right to live in a Jewish, democratic state in their ancient homeland, Israel. ADL believes that the existence of Israel provides Jews with a safe haven from the bigotry and endangerment they have suffered perennially as a minority culture among non-Jewish majority cultures — be it from Tsarist pogroms, Hitler’s Third Reich, the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands, anti-Jewish restrictions in the Soviet Union or the increase in antisemitic violence in contemporary Europe.

For two millennia the Jewish people were a vulnerable, stateless and often persecuted minority in the various countries to which they fled or emigrated during centuries of diaspora. The lulls in this long narrative of insecurity and oppression usually came at the whim of a monarch or other benevolent ruler or ruling class. The Holocaust in Europe, an intentional plan to exterminate the Jewish people – including those who had occupied positions of wealth, assimilation and influence – is but the worst chapter in 2000 years of marginalization. The founders of the state of Israel believed that the best, if not only, bulwark against persecution was to again establish a state in the land from which Jews were expelled but had maintained a small but constant presence over the centuries. This belief in the need for a state was shared by the vast majority of Jewish supporters of the existence of a Jewish state, and by Jews who have come to Israel from the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, Northern Africa, Europe and elsewhere. Currently the majority of Israeli Jews come from the Middle East and Northern Africa.

The fact that the Jewish people have a right to self-determination in no way negates the right of the Palestinians to a viable state in part of the same land. Without minimizing the complicated and often tragic conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and without avoiding accountability on both sides, ADL believes that those who have worked against a just resolution for both people on this small piece of land or for policies that if implemented would result in the end of the Jewish state of Israel are deeply problematic. There must be a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,  a mutually negotiated and sustainable peace agreement that can ensure security, self-determination and dignity for both Israelis and Palestinians. 

Both people’s narratives – of love for the land and historic claims, of oppression and extraordinary achievement – are to be valued and cherished.  We champion policies and initiatives that foster Israeli-Palestinian understanding and people-to-people engagement and call out those who would undermine such progress and ultimately peace.  ADL also celebrates wider Israeli-Arab normalization and peace efforts in the region as a critical driver for regional security, stability and people-to-people understanding.

At times, ADL speaks out in disagreement with Israeli government policies and actions. In recent years, for example, we spoke out  in opposition to proposed Israeli government action to annex territory in the West Bank,  expressed strong concern about the 2018 Nation-State Law, and called out discrimination and hate crimes against Arabs and other minority communities in Israel. 

ADL is also a strong voice for understanding, tolerance and respect in Israel. Our office in Jerusalem advocates and educates on issues of hate, discrimination and inequities within Israel, promotes Jewish religious pluralism and actively opposes initiatives that would serve to undermine Israel’s vibrant democratic institutions. ADL Israel is a leading proponent of social cohesion in Israel and works to support vulnerable and minority communities - Jewish, Muslim, and Christian - including Ethiopian, Haredi (ultra-Orthodox), Arab, Bedouin, Druze, LGBTQ+ and African asylum seekers. We work in partnership with civil society organizations and activists across Israel to strengthen our reach and bring diverse Israeli communities and coalitions together.

Importantly, it is an ADL priority to educate and engage on all facets of antisemitism, including how some expressions harshly critical of Israel or Zionism can sometimes cross the line into antisemitism.  We know this “oldest hatred” evolves and manifests itself in different contexts and times, across ideologies and political allegiances.  An example of this is when criticisms of Israel or Zionism use or play into age-old antisemitic stereotypes and tropes.  We also publicly speak out when those engaging in anti-Israel advocacy, campaigns or tactics invoke antisemitic expressions or actions - such as holding all Jews responsible for the policies of the government of Israel. Over the past several years, as antisemitism has surged across the political spectrum, we have seen an alarming uptick of antisemitic incidents, including violent assaults.  This has ranged from the most horrific white supremacist attacks on Jews, citing anti-Zionism and anti-Israel sentiment, to more recent attacks on Jews, again attributing Israeli actions to Jews generally, in the wake of the Gaza-Israel war.

It is necessary to note that in the United States, antisemitic speech, like other forms of hateful racism and bigotry, is abhorrent but protected against government action by the First Amendment, save in very few cases. When ADL calls out such speech, including when it involves anti-Zionism, this is not a call for government sanctions or a judgment that such speech should be declared unlawful, but rather our own exercise of counterspeech in vehement opposition on the merits, and in strong condemnation for the harm antisemitism, regardless of its source, causes to Jews and Jewish communities.

In an age where political discourse is all too often carried out within the limits of 280-character tweets and one in which nuance and deep engagement is sacrificed, it is as easy as it is false to claim that ADL tries to stifle criticism of Israel by mechanically labeling it as antisemitic. However, ADL recognizes that we must exercise care when faced with expressions that we believe to be antisemitic, refraining from issuing conclusory denunciations where explanation and engagement represent the better course.  We are also mindful of the need to be careful not to jump to label as antisemitic all who express such utterances while being clear why certain criticism has crossed a line into deeply problematic bigotry or incitement to bigotry, whether or not intended.

In addition, we work to educate on why one-sided and biased approaches to the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as campaigns aimed at delegitimizing the Jewish state – including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement - are unconstructive and even damaging to the hopes for ultimate peace. Such campaigns can also create an environment in which Jews who feel connected to Israel may feel isolated or beleaguered, and can also embolden those who seek to engage in antisemitic rhetoric or actions.