Progressive Jews Urge ADL Chief to Apologize for Calling Out Democratic Activist

ADL head Jonathan Greenblatt deemed a joke by the activist, who had mocked a Jewish publication, antisemitic, drawing comparisons between him and 'the extreme right'

The Forward
Jacob Kornbluh
ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.
ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.Credit: Courtesy of ADL
The Forward
Jacob Kornbluh

A group of prominent progressive Jews is calling on Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, to apologize for what they describe as “false smears” of one of its leaders and for equating groups critical of Israel with white supremacists.

Last week, Greenblatt called a tweet by Waleed Shahid, the communications director for the Justice Democrats, antisemitic. Shahid himself had tweeted about another tweet, from the publication Jewish Insider, about how donations from a pro-Israel PAC had boosted a candidate. Shahid, in his response, tweeted, “Wait until you hear what happened next in next week’s ‘Goy Outsider.’”

“Daily reminder that the extreme right & radical left overlap like a Venn diagram around antisemitism,” Greenblatt wrote on Twitter with an attached screenshot of the tweet that had been deleted.

The Forward obtained a letter sent to Greenblatt on Monday in which 47 progressive Jews write that the ADL chief “wrongfully equated the progressive movement with violent white supremacists and equated Waleed’s lighthearted joke with the actions of violent far-right extremists in Buffalo and Pittsburgh.” Signatories include New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, columnist Peter Beinart, as well as several former Bernie Sanders aides and activists affiliated with J Street and Jews For Racial & Economic Justice.

An ADL spokesperson defended Greenblatt’s criticism of Shahid, saying that “words have meanings — and consequences. Especially when coming from a professional spokesperson whose organization singles out Israel.” The spokesperson said the group is happy to engage with Shahid “to explain how the use of the Yiddish word for non-Jew has been appropriated by antisemites, and why his tweet was insulting.”

Joel Rubin, one of the signatories who served as director of Jewish outreach for Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign, said Greenblatt’s “false equivalencies” undermine the credibility of the ADL for people seeking their guidance about their actual data and analysis on antisemitism. “A stupid or a snarky joke because that is a bit off is not the same as white supremacists threatening the lives of people of color, Jews and Asian Americans at an increasingly rising rate,” he said.

In an interview, Shahid, who is Muslim, acknowledged that the language he used was insensitive but said he was “personally hurt” by the accusation of being antisemitic just days after marrying a Jewish woman. Shahid said he worked in the past at a Jewish summer camp and is deeply connected to the Jewish community. “I think it was a stupid joke,” he said. “But it’s disgraceful to compare me to that violence that happened in Buffalo.”

The wedding of Shahid with Emily Mayer, co-founder of IfNotNow, was officiated by Lander.

“The fact that Mr. Greenblatt’s offensive comments came just days after Waleed’s interfaith Jewish-Muslim wedding ceremony, and the reality that Waleed and his wife plan to raise their future children with both Jewish and Muslim values, speaks volumes as to how disconnected ADL’s CEO is from joining us in advancing the goal of an inclusive democracy,” the letter reads.

This article originally appeared in the Forward. To get the Forward’s free email newsletters delivered to your inbox, click here.

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