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June 10, 2016 11:41 am

An Open Letter to the Anti-Defamation League to Question Its Dubious Stance on BDS

avatar by Morton A. Klein

Jonathan Greenblatt, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, speaking at the ADL Annual Meeting in Los Angeles on November 6, 2014. Photo: ADL.

Jonathan Greenblatt, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, speaking at the ADL Annual Meeting in Los Angeles on November 6, 2014. Photo: ADL.

We, at the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), would like to ask the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) a few questions about its worrisome stance on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement:

1. What is ADL’s position regarding so-called “targeted” BDS against Jews, Jewish businesses, universities and cultural institutions in eastern Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria? Was The Forward wrong when it quoted an ADL spokesman stating that ADL is still “studying” this issue? Will ADL make a statement publicly opposing BDS against Jews, Jewish businesses, universities and cultural institutions in Judea and Samaria and eastern Jerusalem now? If it does so, ZOA will happily publicize it.

2. On May 29, 2015, then-ADL Nation Director Abe Foxman published an article criticizing anti-BDS laws, stating:

Legislation that bars BDS activity by private groups, whether corporations or universities, strikes at the heart of First Amendment-protected free speech, will be challenged in the courts and is likely to be struck down. A decision by a private body to boycott Israel, as despicable as it may be, is protected by our Constitution. Perhaps in Europe, where hate speech laws exist and are acceptable within their own legal frameworks, such bills could be sustained. But not here in America.

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Has ADL modified the above written policy on anti-BDS laws? Has ADL ever acknowledged that anti-BDS laws can be constitutional and not impair free speech? Will ADL make a public statement acknowledging that anti-BDS contracting and pension laws, such as that in Illinois, are constitutional, and explaining why they are? Will it do the same for other types of anti-BDS laws? Again, if ADL issues such a statement, ZOA will happily publicize it.

3. According to its website, ADL lobbied against a Maryland anti-BDS law, stating:

ADL previously submitted testimony to the Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee opposing legislation that suppresses academic freedom and chills speech.

On its site, the ADL also reprinted a letter it wrote on July 29, 2015 to Chairman Ron DeSantis and Ranking Member Stephen F. Lynch of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Subcommittee on National Security of the US House of Representatives, opposing federal anti-BDS legislation, which states:

Legislation that bars BDS activity by private groups, whether corporations or universities, raises some concerns about regulating First Amendment-protected free speech, and could be challenged in the courts and struck down. A decision by a private body to boycott Israel, as despicable as it may be, is protected by our Constitution. We also have some concern that efforts to legislate against BDS may divert effort away from waging the battle for hearts and minds that is necessary to marginalize the odious ideas inherent in the BDS campaign.

In addition, a Forward article published on February 29, 2016 states:  “Asked whether he was suggesting that BDS was a law enforcement matter, [ADL head Jonathan] Greenblatt said no.”

Again, has ADL modified its stated public policy or views on anti-BDS laws?

Has ADL ever acknowledged that anti-BDS laws can be constitutional and not impair free speech?

Will ADL make a public statement acknowledging that there are anti-BDS laws that are constitutional?

Again, if ADL issues a public statement revising its constitutionality views on anti-BDS legislation, ZOA will not only publicize it, but would be happy to be signatory to it and even work to formulate it jointly.

4. In Rust v. Sullivan, 500 U.S. 173, 1991, (reprinted here), the Supreme Court held that the US government may prohibit recipients of federal funds from using those funds to express speech with which the government disagrees, stating: “[A] legislature’s decision not to subsidize the exercise of a fundamental right does not infringe the right.”

Does the ADL disagree with this holding? Is the ADL willing to publicly state that this holding supports anti-BDS laws that prohibit recipients of state and federal funds from using those funds to promote BDS?

5. In his speech to J Street, ADL National Director Jonathan Greenblatt accused fellow Jews of “Islamophobia” and “marginalizing Palestinians,” and claimed that the “Palestinian narrative” is “legitimate.” Greenblatt said:

We should not stand idly by when those in our community exhibit Islamophobia or deny the rights of the marginalized, Palestinian or otherwise. So, when it comes to striving for a two state solution, it’s critical for two parties to meet halfway.  Both sides need to acknowledge the legitimacy of the other’s narrative.  We need equal pressure for equality.

What “Palestinian narrative” does ADL believe is “legitimate”?  The false Palestinian-Arab narrative that Jews living on Jewish land are “occupiers” who “stole” their own land from “Palestinian” Arabs? The false “Palestinian-Arab narratives” that Jerusalem and the Temple Mount are Islamic holy places that Jews are “defiling,” and to which they have no connection? What does Greenblatt mean by his accusation that fellow Jews are “marginalizing Palestinians?” Does refusing to accept false Palestinian-Arab “narratives” constitute “marginalizing” them? Is Greenblatt/ADL willing to publicly retract his statement accusing Jews of “Islamophobia”?

6. Greenblatt also blamed “both sides” for acts that are the sole responsibility of Palestinian Arabs during his J Street speech, and encouraged criticism of Israel for the lack of a solution. He stated:

We must be on guard for those . . . who place blame on one side instead of putting forward solutions that acknowledge the role and responsibility of both sides… Both sides need more investment and less intifada, more business and less boycott, more help and less hate…Looking back [after the hopes of Oslo], some disagree about what happened or how we get to that two-state solution. We can – and should – have a robust debate. We can criticize and argue with our brothers and sisters in Israel, and with their government. I know I do. I know ADL does…We can seek to support Palestinian self-determination.

Why is ADL criticizing Israel for the lack of a Palestinian state? Is this an appropriate role for the ADL? Isn’t it supposed to be combating antisemitism?nWhy is the ADL criticizing Israel, when the Arabs rejected repeated offers of statehood alongside a Jewish state?

Why is the ADL criticizing Israel, when it is the PLO/PA (Palestinian Authority) and Hamas that call for intifadas (the murder of innocent Jews), and teach hatred of Jews in Palestinian-Arab schools, newspapers, television and government-controlled mosques?

Does the ADL blame “both sides” in any other context when one side teaches hatred and violence? For instance, when the Ku Klux Klan teaches hatred of blacks, does the ADL blame “both sides”? Certainly not. Then why is the ADL blaming “both sides” when Palestinian Arabs teach hatred of Jews? Isn’t this the exact opposite of what the ADL is supposed to be doing?

7. Why did Greenblatt, in his J Street speech, falsely imply that Israel does not protect Arab citizens’ rights today, and portray protecting Arab citizen’s rights as a future aspiration for which activists must fight?

Greenblatt stated:

We want to see Israel as a democratic country that acknowledges [sic] and protects [sic] the rights of all its citizens, Ashkenazi and Sephardic, Sabra and immigrant, Jew and Arab.

If the above was not what hemeant, he could simply have stated: “Israel protects the rights of all its citizens, including its Arab citizens.”

8. Greenblatt also told J Street: “Often I know you are the front line of defense against BDS and delegitimization.”

Isn’t the ADL aware that J Street honors leaders of the BDS movement, and brings BDS leaders to its conferences and to college campuses? Why did the ADL not criticize J Street for such actions? Does it agree with J Street’s “BDS principles,” which state that J Street does not oppose boycotting Jewish businesses and Jews living on what J Street calls “occupied territory beyond the Green Line” (a euphemism for the historic Jewish areas that Israel recaptured in a defensive war, of eastern Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights)?

Does the ADL agree with J Street’s “BDS principle,” according to which it “is opposed to rhetoric that refers to the global BDS Movement as a form of terrorism or violence”? Particularly when global BDS actions are at times accompanied by violence, such as raiding European grocery stores to remove and destroy Israeli produce and other products? Does ADL believe that such principles place J Street at the front line of defense against BDS?

9. During that speech, Greenblatt also stated:

Perhaps in the past there has been a shortcoming of the Jewish establishment to allow for robust debate, to create a safe space for all of us to talk, a big tent that respects the views of all parties. I believe that healthy dialogue is a Jewish value and see you as part of that dialogue and, I am standing before you today, bearing witness to that value. But make no mistake, we should not – you should not – allow others to thrive by exploiting our commitment to debate and dissent to stoke division in our community.

What limits, if any, does ADL put on a “big tent”? Do groups that promote BDS, or malign the IDF with falsehoods, belong in the big tent?

10. During his speech to the student ambassadors at the UN on Tuesday, May 31, 2016, Greenblatt spoke of a Palestinian-Arab “right to self-determination” (a euphemism for a sovereign state) in the Jewish homeland that is “co-equal” to that of the Jewish people. He said:

Since the outset of the peace process in the early 90s under the auspices of Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, Israel has engaged in negotiations whose ultimate outcome would be the emergence of a Palestinian state which would be the embodiment of the Palestinians coequal right to self-determination.

In fact, Rabin specifically described the Oslo Accords and peace process as follows: “We view the permanent solution” as “a State of Israel which will include most of the land of Israel as it was under the British Mandate,” including “first and foremost, united Jerusalem, which will include both Ma’ale Adumim and Givat Ze’ev — as the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty” and “blocs of settlements in Judea and Samaria”; assurance of the settlements’ security; and no return to the (indefensible) pre-1967 Armistice lines; alongside an “entity which is less than a state, and which will independently run the lives of the Palestinians under its authority” (the Palestinian Authority, or PA), subject to Israeli security control.

Is it still ADL’s position that Palestinian Arabs have “co-equal rights” to a sovereign state in Israel? If not, is the ADL or Greenblatt himself willing to publicly revise his statement?

11. Why did ADL vote for the George Soros-funded extremist  J Street to become a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American-Jewish Organizations?

Please assure the ADL that the ZOA does not want to fight with it (and is not in financial straits). The ZOA wants to work together with the ADL on anti-BDS issues. We simply urge it to adopt positions that help – rather than harm — anti-BDS efforts.

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