ADL chief defends criticism of Trump, sees ‘organized’ campaign to discredit group

Ron Kampeas

Never is Now conference

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt speaking at the organization’s Never is Now conference in New York City, Nov. 17, 2016. (Courtesy of the ADL)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt urged the organization’s leading activists to counter what he said was an “organized, concerted effort” to delegitimize the group.

The 900-word email sent Wednesday was a bid to counter what has been at times a fierce assault on the venerable civil rights group for its lead role in the Jewish community criticizing President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign and his transition.

“Over the past year, certain columnists and elements of the U.S. Jewish community have engaged in a full-scale assault on ADL and its CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt,” Greenblatt wrote in an email to the group’s lay leadership. “We came back from Thanksgiving to find that an organized, concerted effort to delegitimize ADL was underway. These charges against ADL are a significant and deliberate misrepresentation of our positions and our actions.”

Greenblatt goes on to refute five myths circulating on the right wing Jewish blogosphere and on social media: That it does not support Israel, although ADL remains a robust, centrist pro-Israel posture; that it no longer combats anti-Semitism, while Greenblatt notes that the group recently hosted a major conference on the issue in New York and called it the group’s “number one concern”; that the group supports the boycott Israel movement, though it vigorously opposes it; that Greenblatt is a Democratic operative, although Greenblatt — an entrepreneur with ties to Silicon Valley — was a non-political Obama White House appointee charged with social innovation.

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In one instance, Greenblatt fudges the record slightly: He decries as a myth the claim that the group attacked Stephen Bannon, Trump’s top strategic adviser, but not Keith Ellison, the Minnesota congressman vying to lead the Democratic National Committee. Greenblatt said the group had expressed “concerns” about each man – Bannon for his associations with the alt-right, which includes within its ranks white supremacists and anti-Semites, and Ellison, for his strident criticism of Israel and his backing for the Iran nuclear deal. In fact, the ADL outright opposed Bannon’s appointment, while it raised questions about Ellison’s candidacy.

Greenblatt named only one of his critics, the Zionist Organization of America, which has been a strident critic of Greenblatt since his appointment over a year ago, and has more recently accused him of “character assassination” of Bannon

. Also criticizing Greenblatt have been Breitbart, the news website Bannon led before he joined the Trump campaign, and the Republican Jewish Coalition.

“Much of this campaign reflects wider trends of our time: the dangerous polarization in the U.S., Israel and within our community fed by the dogma that if you are not 100 percent with me you are the enemy as well as the phenomenon of ‘fake news’ where agenda-driven half-truths are presented as fact, reinforcing these hardened positions,” said the email, sent to ADL’s National Commission and National Executive Committee and regional board members across the country, and seen by JTA when a recipient posted its contents on Facebook. “But it also reflects willingness by some to pass along lies because, frankly, there are few consequences for doing so,” the email said.

“We need you to stand firmly with us to counter these accusations,” Greenblatt told the recipients. “Those who seek to delegitimize ADL and other communal organizations do more than harm us – they make all of us less safe.”

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