Progressive Jewish Leaders Decry ADL Chief Comparing 'Radical Left' With Far-right Extremists

The signatories – including Judith Butler, Naomi Klein and Peter Beinart – warn that the watchdog head's characterization of anti-Zionist Jewish groups 'put us all at risk'

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Washington
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A Jewish protester holds a sign at a demonstration in support of Palestinians in front of the Israeli consulate in New York City, last month.
A Jewish protester holds a sign at a demonstration in support of Palestinians in front of the Israeli consulate in New York City, last month.Credit: TAYFUN COSKUN / Anadolu Agency via AFP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Washington

WASHINGTON—Several hundred progressive Jewish leaders on Friday sharply decried Anti-Defamation League Director Jonathan Greenblatt's criticism of far-left critics of Israel, which drew comparisons to the right-wing extremists his organization has spent decades monitoring.

The open letter comes in response to Greenblatt's remarks delivered at the ADL Virtual National Leadership Summit on Sunday, in which he said “radical left” groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace and the Council on American-Islamic Relations are the “photo inverse” of the extreme right.

Among the signatories are leaders from a wide range of Jewish social justice organizations across the country, more than a dozen rabbis, journalists, lawyers and academics – including philosopher Judith Butler, Peter Beinart, author Naomi Klein and Rabbi Brant Rosen of the Tzedek Chicago synagogue that declared itself "anti-Zionist" earlier this year. Other names include founders and representatives of organizations such as IfNotNow, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and Jewish Voice for Peace.

“Unlike their right-wing analogs, these organizations might not have armed themselves or engaged in an insurrection designed to topple our government, but these radical actors indisputably and unapologetically regularly denigrate and dehumanize Jews,” Greenblatt said. He also characterized anti-Zionism as an ideology "rooted in rage. It is predicated on one concept: the negation of another people, a concept as alien to the modern discourse as white supremacy.”

The Jewish critics said these remarks "defame grassroots and civil rights organizations committed to Palestinian justice and falsely conflates anti-Zionism with far-right and violent extremism," warning that his statements "put us all at risk."

"While we may have a range of perspectives on Palestine and Israel, we are all clear that equating anti-Zionist groups to white nationalists is beyond the pale and cannot be tolerated," they wrote. "We are also clear that all people deserve justice, freedom, and safety."

The authors added that "the struggle against antisemitism must be in partnership with all others targeted by white supremacy. We are committed to working collectively to combat antisemitism the same way we work against racism, Islamophobia, transphobia, and ableism."

The letter continued, "The Anti-Defamation League does not speak for us, and we will not allow them to divide and defame our communities and movements, including the movement for Palestinian human rights. Jewish communities must embrace anti-Zionist and non-Zionist voices, along with all other voices for justice."

This rejection comes shortly after prominent progressive Jewish leaders separately called on Greenblatt to apologize to Justice Democrats spokesperson Waleed Shahid over what they described as "false smears." The ADL chief had tweeted that Shahid's joke about a publication called "Goy Outsider" while criticizing the "Jewish Insider" newspaper was a “daily reminder that the extreme right & radical left overlap like a Venn diagram around antisemitism."

It also comes weeks after two of the groups Greenblatt highlighted in his remarks – Jewish Voice for Peace and the Council on American-Islamic Relations – were among the dozens of American Muslim and allied organizations to issue their own statement rejecting attempts to "smear and slander" their efforts at advocating for Palestinian rights.

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