Is anti-Zionism anti-Semitism? | the new yorker
Since 2015, Jonathan Greenblatt has served as director of the Anti-Defamation League, an organization dedicated to chronicling and combating anti-Semitism in American society. Amid an increase in anti-Semitic incidents documented by his group, and with hate crimes in general on the rise, Greenblatt, a former special aide to Barack Obama, spoke harshly about trends he says are exacerbating anti-Semitism . One such trend is anti-Zionism, which he called in a recent speech an “ideology rooted in rage”, comparing it to white supremacy and adding: “Anti-Zionism is ‘anti-Semitism’. It comes at a time when a vocal minority of young American Jews have called for a secular, democratic state across Israel and the Palestinian territories.
I recently spoke by phone with Greenblatt. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed why hate crimes are on the rise, the historical roots of anti-Zionism, and whether it is bigoted. to oppose a Jewish state.
What is the ADL’s mission and how do you see it concretely since taking office?
The ADL is interesting. It is one of the oldest civil rights organizations in the country. Its mission has not changed since our original charter was written in 1913: “to end the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment for all.” It has always had this mission, both particular and universal. The Founders believed in this idea, which could be called intersectional, that the Jewish people could only be safe when everyone was safe, and that when all minorities were free, the Jewish people would be truly free. The organization has therefore had this integrated approach, particularist and universalist at the same time, for more than a century.
What is the challenge for an organization whose mission is both particularist and universalist? Are there any tensions?
I think it’s a creative tension or a healthy tension, but there’s definitely a need to figure out how these things interact. So, for example, in 1952 the ADL wrote an amicus brief in Brown v. Board of Education and did so because our leadership in the 1950s, long before it was fashionable to fight for civil rights issues, had come out strongly in favor of them, in favor of integration , in favor of desegregation. There were some among our volunteer base who said: Why does the ADL get involved? This is not a Jewish question. But our leadership in the 1950s said, Actually, that’s our problem. It is essential to who we are. Then, later in the same decade, the ADL spoke out in favor of immigration reform and did much work in civil society in support of what became the Immigration Act of 1965. Some of the ADL said: why is this our problem? The ADL leadership said: No, that’s actually our problem.
When I stood up against the Muslim registration project, in 2016, or when I went to the border and was a very strong opponent of the way they detained undocumented children and separated them from their parents , some people have said: These things aren’t ‘t Jewish matters. Again, I think the way we treat people of different faiths, the way we treat people who immigrate to this country or who come as refugees, says a lot about who we are. So I think that’s exactly what the ADL is and has always been.
Your group has published statistics indicating that anti-Semitism is on the rise in America. Why do you think that is?
The FBI tracks hate crimes, that is, crimes and misdemeanors, reported by local law enforcement, which are crimes against an individual or institution due to an unchanging characteristic such as faith, gender, sexual orientation or national origin. The ADL also tracks anti-Semitic incidents. So let’s say acts of harassment or intimidation, which might not rise to the level of a hate crime. Law enforcement doesn’t care if a child is bullied at school, but we do. We collect this information through our twenty-five offices across the country, as well as through numerous individuals and organizations. FBI 2020 statistics – we don’t have 2021 yet – suggest hate crimes are up 6% overall. We calculated in our most recent audit a 34% increase in anti-Semitic incidents. This matches an unfortunate trend that has emerged since 2016, where cases have been rising pretty much every year.
So what is the cause? Political polarization and the magnification of public conversation have put an end to politeness and people are now saying things in public spaces that they never did before. People are more abusive to each other and chase each other. So I think that’s number 1. I think number 2 is penetration of conspiracy theories: making outlandish claims about people like George Soros or Sheldon Adelson or the Zionists or whatever. other. Now, conspiracy theories are everywhere, and Jews are often at the center of them. #3, I think extremists are emboldened in this environment and you literally see them running for school boards, running for Congress. The last thing is that nearly seventy-five years after the Holocaust, the collective shame that was there fifteen, twenty, thirty years ago has receded somewhat.
Recently, you gave a speech in which you said, “Amid growing anti-Semitic incidents, we will thank GOP leaders for their statements of support and demand that they expose the bizarre anti-Semitic conspiracies of their candidates and elected officials. . In this same context, we will applaud Democratic leaders for their statements of support and demand that they call out the statements of those in their party who knowingly traffic in anti-Zionist tropes and make malicious statements against the Jewish state. You marked this rise all the way back to 2016, and most of the examples you listed were things I would associate with Republicans and especially Donald Trump. Is the major problem here Donald Trump and the course of the GOP? And isn’t this course generally conducive to the development of Jews?
America has not only been the most vibrant democracy in memory, but the open and liberal society we have here has been the best for Jews. And historically, you can see that Jews tend to thrive in these open, democratic environments, where people are judged on the content of their character. We tend not to do very well in authoritarian societies. We tend not to do very well in places where civil rights are diminished or suppressed. All of these freedoms have a lot to do with Jewish prosperity.
I am very concerned about the diminishing of civil rights and the diminishing of those values and privileges that we truly cherish. We have politicians or public figures who equate covid precautions to the Nuremberg Laws. I think it’s scary. Holocaust distortion, what I would call it, is a slippery slope that tends not to end very well for Jewish people. So to answer your question, that worries me a lot because I think it’s a slippery slope to more illiberal policies.
I was asking if partisanship and extremism more broadly was the problem, or if it was the GOP becoming a party that struggled with many of these things.
I think when either side starts to embrace conspiracies as fact, it worries me. You have people like Marjorie Taylor Greene in the Republican Party saying things you can’t believe.