May 01, 2022
Thank you for that kind introduction. I am so glad to welcome you – leaders from coast to coast committed to the fight against antisemitism and hate.
I don’t need to tell you how important and pressing this work is. All of you know this from the work you do in your communities. You know when a synagogue or cemetery is desecrated. You know the families who have to comfort their children after a slur is hurled their way – online or in real life. You all know college kids who are bewildered by the hostility they feel on campus.
On their own, these experiences are incredibly unsettling. Take them together and put them into the big picture of our entire country – as we did in our annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents that we released last week – and it is absolutely terrifying.
Antisemitic incidents in 2021 soared to 2,717 incidents, a whopping 34 percent over the year before. This was the highest number we’ve ever recorded in the more than four decades we’ve been tracking these trends. Let me put this in context: After recording the largest total ever in 2019 and then the third-highest total in 2020, 2021 now represents the high-water mark for antisemitism in America arguably since the 1930s.
Among these incidents, antisemitic assaults were up 167 percent from 2020 – 88 violent acts that impacted 131 victims.
The incidents recorded in 2021 included 1,776 cases of harassment and 853 incidents of vandalism. Nearly one-in-five antisemitic incidents were connected to known extremist groups, which means 80 percent were committed by otherwise ordinary people.
These statistics include the unprecedented surge in antisemitic violence that exploded across America during the conflict between Israel and the terror group Hamas in the spring. In fact, during the month of May, ADL logged 387 incidents, an increase of almost 150 percent over the same period in 2020. This includes 15 brazen assaults.
I’m not sure if you heard that. I said almost 150%.
Some might dismiss this number – well, it was all political, they might say.
But here, I am talking about, not just grotesque displays of anti-Israel hate, but a greatest hits of antisemitic rhetoric — everything from signs claiming that Jews are responsible for killing Jesus, to hideous Holocaust analogies, to bizarre conspiracies straight out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
And this is the point.
To those who still cling to the idea that antizionism is not antisemitism – let me clarify this for you as clearly as I can – antizionism is antisemitism.
I will repeat: antizionism is antisemitism.
Antizionism as an ideology is rooted in rage. It is predicated on one concept: the negation of another people, a concept as alien to the modern discourse as white supremacy. It requires a willful denial of even a superficial history of Judaism and the vast history of the Jewish people. And, when an idea is born out of such shocking intolerance, it leads to, well, shocking acts.
I’m sorry, but why would this surprise anyone?
Let me give you a recent example.
All of us held our breath in recent weeks as yet another wave of terror attacks rolled over Israel. Murderous terrorists in cities across the country targeted anyone within arm’s reach – police officers, children, teachers, etc.
And how did organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine (also known as SJP) or the Jewish Voice for Peace – this name is not intended be ironic – respond? With increasingly dangerous language.
Just this month, Georgetown SJP invited Mohammed El-Kurd to its campus, a man who alleged that Jewish Israelis and Zionists eat the organs of Palestinians and claimed that Zionism is inherently linked to “blood thirsty[sic] and violent” actions.
And in the face of recent violence against Israeli civilians, an SJP spinout, Within Our Lifetime, marched through Manhattan a few weeks ago. They carried signs and chanted slogans.
And what did they say?
Did they call to “stop the violence?”
Did they call to “give peace a chance?”
They called to “globalize the intifada.”
Let me say that one more time – their response to a surge in homicidal violence against civilians was literally a call for more homicidal violence against civilians. And this isn’t the first time SJP and students have called for this.
And this isn’t just SJP. Recently, JVP in NY promoted another rally using the hashtag #globalizetheintifada.
Now you might hear from some voices on the fringe that the word “intifada” is not about a call to violence, that it is about liberation.
That is a complete fiction. It is an utter lie.
An even cursory examination of history reveals that the Intifada was far from a Ghandian campaign of civil disobedience. It was an armed conflict that ranged from rocks being thrown at soldiers to suicide bombers detonating themselves inside crowded restaurants full of women and children in Jerusalem.
And when activists insist that they don’t hate Jews, just “Zionists” and “Zionism,” here’s a quick history lesson—the sleight of hand, replacing the word “Jews” with “Zionists” to claim some type of perceived moral high ground, wasn’t invented in Berkeley or Brooklyn but rather in Moscow. It was a rhetorical technique pioneered in the 1950s by Soviet disinformation specialists. You see, Stalinists wanted to claim that their Communism inoculated them from antisemitism, that their seething hatred of the Jewish people and the systemic antisemitism so rampant in the Soviet Union was about opposition to imagined Western Imperialism, that it was rooted in politics not prejudice.
It wasn’t. It was propaganda and prejudice then, it is propaganda and prejudice now, even if the lies today are repeated by DSA boosters rather than 1950s Kremlin supporters.
Why do I feel the need to call out these words?
Because words have power.
Words have meaning.
And, as ADL fought back when candidate Trump leveled slanders against Mexicans and Muslims in 2015… or when President Trump made the preposterous claim that the 2020 election was rigged and that his supporters should “fight like hell…,” or when Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene makes horrendous comparisons between COVID-19 mitigation efforts and the Holocaust, as well as embracing antisemitic conspiracy theories like QAnon, we fought back against these statements because, well, it starts with words.
And so, when activists knowingly call for violence against another people – that is not normal discourse, that is not reasonable rhetoric – that is extremism.
When campus organizations like SJP interrupt speeches, disrupt events and call for an end to any action that normalizes any relationships, or programs associated, with Israel or Israelis – including participating with the local J Street chapter as happened at Tufts University, my own alma mater, last month, that is extremism.
When groups like Jewish Voice for Peace tweet out “Jews, hands off Al Aqsa,” when they absolutely know that such language is inflammatory, that the community literally is nowhere near the Al Aqsa Mosque, let alone even permitted to pray there, that is extremism.
When SJP in Chicago urges students not to take, and I am sorry for the language, “shitty Zionist classes” because it is taught by two Jewish people or when a law school student affiliated with SJP demands that Zionist professors not be welcomed on campus and further demand that Zionist students not be in spaces with Palestinian students because Zionism is a threat, that is extremism.
When the head of the San Francisco branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations, or CAIR, astonishingly claims that ADL, Jewish Federations, and Hillel chapters are the “enemies” of her community and when she concocts a wild conspiracy of interconnected Jewish organizations that supposedly are planning and plotting to harm Muslims, including the groundless accusation that the Israeli military secretly trains U.S. police to harm people of color, I’m sorry but that is extremism.
And when CAIR itself takes no action itself to correct the conspiracism, to acknowledge the hurt of such slander, and instead opts to blame the victim and defend the bigot, that is extremism.
So SJP, JVP and CAIR – these groups epitomize the Radical Left, the photo inverse of the Extreme Right that ADL long has tracked.
Unlike their right-wing analogs, these organizations might not have armed themselves or engaged in an insurrection designed to topple our government, but these radical actors indisputably and unapologetically regularly denigrate and dehumanize Jews. Again, I am not diminishing the singular threat of white nationalists; however, as we saw last May, vicious rhetoric is not just an abstract issue. No, it is dangerous and destabilizing because it can manifest in the real world and impel individuals to act violently.
You see, if you demonize another group enough, there are more than a few people out there who will act…who will think it’s OK to slur a classmate during a pick-up basketball game, or spray paint a synagogue, or jump the Haredi man walking down the street in Brooklyn, or – God forbid – do even worse.
That is why we are seeing this jump in antisemitic incidents – because groups from all sides of the ideological spectrum are using their words to make it OK to hate Jews.
As an organization dedicated to stopping the defamation of the Jewish people, it means we must act against the antizionist extremists just as we have against other extremists from the white supremacists and alt-right ilk who murder Jews in the places where we pray and continue to pose the greatest threat to the homeland in terms of violent domestic extremism, to religious zealots and Islamist fanatics who spread hate through their own channels and commit acts of violence, let alone inspire others like a deranged man from the U.K. who held four people hostage in a synagogue in Texas earlier this year. We will continue to combat these threats even as we apply more concentrated energy toward the threat of radical antizionism.
We will use our analytic capabilities to expose their ideas and ideology.
We will use our litigation skills to hold them accountable for their harm.
We will use our advocacy muscles to push policymakers to take action.
And we will use our communications know-how to share these stories with the world.
Now I can anticipate the reaction by these groups to these remarks.
Some will try to delegitimize ADL right out of the box – they will point to the slanderous campaign, Drop the ADL, that uses innuendo and untruths to libel our organization and assert that we somehow are not a civil rights organization. An obvious falsehood, one disproved by more than a century of activism.
Some will try to tell us – Jews – what is antisemitism and what isn’t antisemitism – and that we should not feel threatened. This is classic victim-blaming. It is not tolerated when it is done to African Americans, Latinos, or LGBTQ Americans – and it should not be tolerated when it is done to Jews either.
Some will claim that putting these groups in the same category as right-wing extremists somehow makes ADL anti-Muslim or anti-Palestinian. This is also a lie, one as toxic and false as the claims by alt-right bigots that calling out their extremism makes ADL anti-Christian or anti-white.
Some —such as JVP – will attempt to use their Judaism as a shield. And undoubtedly there are many among their ranks who genuinely do not intend to be antisemitic, who think their activism is rooted in their Jewish values. But neither their identity nor their intent relieves them of responsibility for their actions.
Whatever excuse they give or label they use, we at ADL simply will judge them by their record and their actions. And if they spout extremism, we will expose that hate without hesitation.
But even as we remain vigilant to expose our enemies and those who promote hate, that is not enough. We also need to push for hope. We need to foster communities that are caring and create a country that is welcoming to all.
That’s why we will not stop advocating for laws and norms that honor and protect all individuals regardless of gender, race, faith, or any other immutable trait.
We will not stop speaking out against injustice whether against Orthodox Jews or the unaffiliated; Ashkenazi or Sephardi or Mizrahi; but also will not stop speaking out on behalf of all minorities, Mormons and Muslims, Bahai and Buddhists, AAPI and LGBTQ, and anyone who is targeted and victimized because of their identity.
And, as I reflect on the state of security for the Jewish community and other marginalized groups, I want to underscore our support for federal, state, and local law enforcement professionals who work each day to protect all who are targeted because of their race, religion, nationality, or sexual orientation. For decades, ADL has been a leading provider non-governmental data, education, and professional development across all branches of law enforcement. Our investment in this work has helped save lives, and we need to look no further than the horrific hostage events in Colleyville as evidence that our track record of investment in this work has made an impact.
Looking forward, I want to underscore that while ADL may have some differences with law enforcement agencies, we are committed to acting as a constructive partner and sitting at the table with public safety officials so we can collaborate on solutions to complex problems and support all endangered communities.
We will do so because, for ADL, this work is not some in vogue pursuit. We do not need to change our mission to meet the moment.
No, our commitment to solidarity was encoded in the double helix of our DNA when ADL was founded way back in 1913. Our timeless charter calls on us to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people… and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.” In more than 100 years, those words have never changed.
Our founders saw these two aims as two sides of the same coin: Jews could not be accepted in American life if everyone wasn’t accepted. It is all “our fight.”
I still believe in this mission – and we must remind our friends and neighbors that, yes, we are all in this together – black and white, straight and gay, Jew and Muslim, and on and on and on.
We will not be silent.
We will not be deterred.
We will not be passive in the face of prejudice.
We will thank the Administration for allocating funds to secure our synagogues even as we demand that they also stand up and speak out against all expressions of antisemitism, whether it is coming from QAnon or SJP or from the Islamic Republic of Iran, far and away the largest state sponsor of antisemitism and terror in the world.
Against the backdrop of rising antisemitic incidents, we will thank the GOP leadership for their statements of support – and demand that they call out the bizarre antisemitic conspiracies of their candidates and elected officials.
Against this same backdrop, we will applaud Democratic leadership for their statements of support – and demand that they call out the statements of those in their party who knowingly traffic in antizionist tropes and make malicious claims against the Jewish state.
And we will ask Fortune 500 employers that are so admirably dedicated to training their employees on DEI: where’s the training on antisemitism?
We will ask leading universities that are so commendably focused on protecting BIPOC communities: when will you ensure that your Jewish students have equal protection and when will you discipline those who harass and intimidate them with impunity?
We will demand that tech companies that are investing so heavily to fight copyright violations on their platforms commit the same level of innovation to reducing the reach of hate speech on their services. That isn’t a call for censorship; it’s an appeal for decency.
Now, this will take a lot of work. It may fray old friendships. It may cost us some donations. We might not get invited to some fancy events.
But it does not matter because this is about principles first and foremost.
It is the mission we are on.
It is the mountain we must climb.
It is the quest that we have no choice but to complete.
And we can do so. ADL for decades has been about fighting hate but also about claiming hope…
… about convening people of all persuasions to explore our shared humanity.
… about helping the African American community fight systemic racism.
… about celebrating the interreligious mix of our country that makes us stronger.
… about working for immigrant rights because our diversity is our greatest advantage.
… about bringing anti-bias and anti-bullying content to classrooms to educate and empower the next generation.
… about ensuring that our country continues to live up to its record as the most exceptional, open and vibrant democracy in the world
So, thank you for your dedication to ADL and to this cause. I know that with your help…with your support…your hard work…we can change minds, change hearts, and change our country.