On Monday morning NPR’s Tom Gjelten reported
the Anti-Defamation League’s recent challenges interfacing with peace and justice
groups in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson and Black Lives
Matter movement. According to Gjelten, the Anti-Defamation League arose in 1913
to “put an end forever to unfair and unjust discrimination against…any
sect or body of citizens.” ADL stood alongside the NAACP to end discrimination
against African Americans in the South, which was the focus of NPR’s story.
The ADL’s new President, Jonathan Greenblatt, a former special assistant to
President Obama, wants to rekindle the spirit of solidarity encapsulated in
a photo he frequently shows of Dr. Martin Luther King, Robert F. Kennedy and
the heads of the ADL and NAACP in a Rose Garden snapshot with LBJ just before
the famous March on Washington.
The crux of the problem – according to Gjelten and the ADL – is that modern
day movements like Black Lives Matter are more partial to advice from Palestinians
living under perennial Israeli military occupation for tactics in dealing with
heavily militarized police. The solution is to make the ADL “a consistently
valued civil rights partner in a time of divided loyalties.” But how can
the ADL accomplish that? Has it gotten too comfortable in the “suites”
to ever march again in the “streets?” Does ADL have anything of value
to offer in exchange for the “loyalties” of grassroots movements?
Is that even the right question?
A review of the ADL’s unvarnished – yet little known – history may provide
answers for how the organization could – but likely will not – become more relevant:
Stop throwing disenfranchised groups under the bus – especially when
they inconvenience access to greater funding and power. The ADL’s moment
of truth did not occur in Alabama of the 1960s, but rather California of
the 1940s. The League had a genuine existential dilemma which resonates
today. The ADL could have followed its principles and opposed the mass internment
of West Coast Japanese-Americans during WWII. Or it could have supported
the single most extremist anti-Japanese voice in America – John R. Lechner
– and secretly prepared testimony to Congress about the threat still posed
by interred but loyal Japanese Americans even as they languished in camps.
Today the ADL likes to use Japanese American interment in its tolerance
case studies and teaching materials. In reality – according to former Warner
Brothers Studio Personnel Director Jack Holmes, the ADL secretly supported
Japanese interment in order to temporarily divert Congressional
investigations of alleged communist infiltration of Hollywood studios
(PDF, page 32). At that time, a majority of ADL’s funding came from…