In the wake of the Virginia congressional baseball practice shooting by James T. Hodgkinson, a former Sanders volunteer who targeted Republican Congressman Steve Scalise in early June, trend piece-giddy journalists rushed to publish horseshoe theory takes on the rise of the “extreme left” and how it too poses a threat to the fabric of society. In many of these articles, civil rights organization Anti-Defamation League was there to reinforce this false balance and populate its articles with warnings of emerging left-wing violence.
Take, for starters, this recent scare piece in Vice:
I think we’re in a time when we can’t ignore the extremism from the Left,” said Oren Segal, the director of the Center on Extremism, an arm of the Anti-Defamation League. Over the past few months, the ADL, which hosts regular seminars on homegrown extremism for law enforcement officials, has begun warning of the rising threat posed by far-left groups, most recently at a seminar just this past Sunday. “When we have anti-fascist counterprotests — not that they are the same as white supremacists — that can ratchet up the violence at these events, and it means we can see people who are violent on their own be attracted to that,” Segal said. “I hate to say it, but it feels inevitable.”
This posturing was undermined by the followup sentence in the next paragraph: "The evidence is so far largely anecdotal."
Anecdotal, as in not proven to exist in any meaningful sense. The ADL, to maintain its “just calling balls and strikes” image must denounce extremism on "both sides" and though it sometimes notes right and left violence are not equal, it is happy to help frame the problem as such.
Warning of the potential for another Greensboro Massacre — a 1979 street battle in North Carolina between communists and the KKK that left five leftists dead — ADL’s Mark Pitcavage told Politico, “My big concern is sooner or later is that we’re going to have another Greensboro Massacre type of event.”
The Vice article went on to call the Black Panthers a “left-wing extremist” group. It’s unclear if the rampant institutional racism, police brutality, and the ongoing skilling of hundreds of thousands of Indochinese by the U.S. government the Black Panthers fought to undermine is also considered “extremist” in their calculation, but the parameters of acceptable violence have been laid out, no matter how arbitrary.
Nowhere in any of these reports, and nowhere in the ADL’s official statement, was Hodgkinson’s history of domestic violence noted, a trait that’s a far bigger predictor of mass shootings than liberal ideology. Also left unmentioned was that in addition to being a Sanders fan, Hodgkinson was obsessed with the Trump-Russia collusion theory, a narrative that spans the center-left to the neocon right. Hodgkinson had to be jammed into a vague “far left” label and any evidence that ran counter to this narrative was ignored by both the ADL and the reports its quotes help populate.
Smearing Black Lives Matter activists
Another tendency of the ADL is to smear Black Lives Matter activists who couple their struggle with those of the Palestinians.
In an op-ed last week in Time magazine titled “Anti-Semitism Is Creeping Into Progressivism,” ADL president Jonathan Greenblatt went out of his way to smear the Movement For Black Lives, a confederation of grassroots Black Lives Matter organizations, as anti-Semitic:
Last summer, a plank in the platform of the Movement for Black Lives bizarrely accused Israel of genocide . . . We were outraged by the baseless accusations made against Israel in the M4BL platform released last summer.
Nowhere in his drive-by potshot does Greenblatt specify what he found objectionable, other than vaguely alluding to the Movement for Black Lives' claim that Israel was committing “genocide” against the “Palestinian people.”
No rebuke is necessary, no understanding of the broader context of their grievance. M4BL had a 32,000-word manifesto and put Israel’s violence against the Palestinians in the broader context of U.S. military aggression against black and brown people throughout the globe, a common anti-imperialist critique leveled by everyone from Noam Chomsky to Malcolm X. Whether or not the charge of genocide is appropriate is debatable, but there’s no evidence it was coming from a place of hatred against Jews.
But so it goes with the ADL which, by its own admission, makes little distinction between criticizing Israel and libeling Jewish people. It allows for “legitimate criticism” of Israel around the margins, but never clearly defines what this is or how polite nudging among liberals will ever compel right-wing forces within Israel to cease settlement activity or recognize Palestinians' right to self-determination.
The ADL has a history of doubling as a pro-Israel public relations firm. Earlier this year, the ADL co-authored a report with “hard line” Israeli think tank Reut Institute highlighting how to combat the growing Palestinian solidarity movement and establish what they called a “pro-Israel network” to defend “the legitimacy” of Israel “as Jewish state.”
Does this sound like the activities of a civil rights organization or a lobby acting on behalf of a nation-state? To the ADL, it’s both — it makes little distinction between Zionism and Judaism and thus little distinction between meaningful criticism of Israel and irrational hatred of Jews. Nonetheless, its ideological aims are clear. While ADL does do important work highlighting and documenting right-wing extremism, its broader aim is running spin for Israel. A search of the ADL website makes this clear. “Israel” returns 29,300 results, whereas “white supremacist” returns 6,560, “KKK” 777, “African American” 2,490, and “islamophobia” a paltry 361.
ADL president Greenblatt spends a considerable amount of time attacking the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) movement designed to isolate Israel over its 50-year military occupation of the West Bank. “So let’s see BDS for what it is,” he wrote last year, ”a continuation, a modern version if you will, of an irrational hatred of the Jewish people."
Greenblatt's smear continues:
Linda Sarsour, a leader of the women’s rights movement, has lambasted Zionism as incompatible with feminism and advocates for the exclusion of pro-Israel Jews from activist groups. And some in the anti-Israel movement have accused Israel of “pink-washing,” claiming that Israel and its supporters celebrate freedoms enjoyed by the LGBTQ community in Israel to divert attention from Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
For an organization like the Anti-Defamation League, which was founded both to combat anti-Semitism and protect the Jewish people but also to secure justice and fair treatment to all Americans, these manifestations are upsetting.
Nowhere does not Greenblatt specify what Sarsour or critics of “pink washing” said that was anti-Semitic. He just asserts they are and and moves on. The reason he doesn’t, of course, is that to drill down on their arguments one would see Sarsour’s criticism of Zionism isn’t rooted in hate, but rather an objection to a specific ideology and the policies of a specific country. Instead Greenblatt is given free rein to pin on her and other activists the most vile of labels without consequence.
The BDS movement rose out of necessity. With an automatic U.S. veto at the U.N. on behalf of Israel, a corrupt Israeli-sanctioned Palestinian leadership with little legitimacy and 50 years of humiliating military occupation, Palestinians had no other recourse. Despite vague, decades-long appeals to a bilateral peace process — which the ADL always insists they try — Jewish settlements in Palestine grow geometrically, rendering a contiguous Palestinian state a physical impossibility. Greenblatt puts the bulk of the blame on Palestinians he says have practiced “rejectionism,” whatever that means. Meanwhile, the occupation goes on and the lack of progress is always blamed on some broad moral failing within Palestinian society manifested as mindless anti-Semitism.
“Denounce terrorism and practice nonviolence,” Palestinians are told. After doing just this via BDS they are then told that this, itseslf, is racist hate speech. Palestinians can’t win and the ADL is on the ideological vanguard setting out to make sure they never can. How, one is compelled to ask, does this serve the cause of civil rights?