Pro-Israel racist group ADL moves to co-opt Black Lives Matter

Soldiers restrain a blindfolded youth

The Anti-Defamation League tries to portray itself as an ally of Black Lives Matter while shielding Israel from criticism for its abuses of Palestinian rights.

Wisam Hashlamoun ZUMA Press

For those who yearn for an end to systemic racism, these are exhilarating times as Black activists and organizations lead a global uprising against symbols and structures of white supremacy.

But if you are a racist group masquerading as a civil rights organization, these days are fraught with the danger that you’ll get found out.

It’s a balancing act that has for years bedeviled the Anti-Defamation League, a major Israel lobby group in the United States.

Its counterparts in the UK are facing the same challenge.

The crisis is particularly acute right now as the ADL tries to portray itself as an ally of Black Lives Matter while also shielding Israel from criticism over its plans to annex Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank, further entrenching the system of apartheid.

A leaked memo obtained last week by Jewish Currents writer Josh Leifer highlights the dilemma of ADL leaders.

The memo sets out how the lobby group can, in Leifer’s words: “find a way to defend Israel from criticism without alienating other civil rights organizations, elected officials of color and Black Lives Matter activists and supporters.”

The gist of the strategy is to allow some soft criticism of Israel while fending off more precise and accurate descriptions of Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights as “apartheid” and “separate but equal” – the latter a term long used to whitewash violently enforced, legalized racial segregation and subjugation in the United States.

The authors of the memo fear that a clash with progressive forces over annexation could put ADL on the “wrong side” of the Black Lives Matter movement and “challenge relationships between ADL and many civil rights organizations and coalitions.”

It is ironic that the ADL fears Israel being associated with apartheid.

While the Israeli-armed South African apartheid regime was still destroying Black lives in that country in the 1980s and 1990s, the ADL ran a massive spy ring in the United States.

As well as infiltrating Palestine solidarity groups, the ADL spy passed on confidential files about anti-apartheid activists to South Africa’s brutal intelligence agency.

The latest ADL leak confirms concerns that were revealed in a private report obtained by The Electronic Intifada in 2017.

That report – jointly written by the ADL and the Reut Institute, an Israeli think tank – lamented that Palestinian rights campaigners have been “able to frame the Palestinian struggle against Israel as part of the struggle of other disempowered minorities, such as African Americans, Latinos and the LGBTQ community.”

The report recommended that Zionist groups try to disrupt this dynamic by “Partnering with other minority communities based on shared values and common interests such as on criminal justice reform, immigration rights or in fighting against racism and hate crimes.”

Today the ADL sees Black Lives Matter as a chance to burnish its “civil rights” street cred while advancing its anti-Palestinian agenda.

Call for tighter censorship

The ADL is one of several lobby groups – which like the the Israeli government – have long seen Black Lives Matter as a major strategic threat.

Its effort to co-opt the Black Lives Matter movement – in order to manage and diffuse criticisms of Israel’s harsh racist regime against Palestinians – is currently on full display.

The group is a partner in the Stop Hate for Profit campaign which is pressuring major corporations to pull advertising from Facebook during the month of July to protest the social media giant’s supposed failure to crack down on hate speech.

Already, major names such as Unilever and Starbucks have agreed to comply.

There are real reasons for concern about this campaign: In effect it demands that Facebook act as a censor and arbiter of truth, a role no one should want an unaccountable private company to play.

It’s especially concerning given that Facebook has already appointed a former Israeli government official with responsibility for censorship to its new oversight board.

While few may have qualms about seeing white supremacists and Nazis having their public platforms taken away, the reality is that Palestinians have been among the main targets of online censorship, particularly by Facebook.

Israel lobby groups, including the ADL, have been promoting a misleading and politically motivated definition of anti-Semitism which conflates criticism of Israel’s policies and its racist state ideology Zionism, on the one hand, with anti-Jewish bigotry, on the other.

They have pushed governments, institutions and social media companies to adopt this bogus definition in order to muzzle advocates for Palestinian human rights.

The Stop Hate for Profit campaign explicitly demands that Facebook “find and remove public and private groups focused on white supremacy, militia, anti-Semitism, violent conspiracies, Holocaust denialism, vaccine misinformation and climate denialism.”

However much one may loath such viewpoints, that is a fairly sweeping demand for censorship and regulation of opinion that is unlikely to stop there.

Yet, notably, there is no demand that anti-Muslim groups be removed, despite rampant Islamophobia on the platform. That kind of hate is apparently just fine!

The Stop Hate for Profit campaign also provides an opportunity for big corporations to gain positive publicity while doing very little to address structural racism. No doubt such corporations will be happy to start advertising again on a Facebook sanitized of any dissenting views.

Boycott for me, but not for thee

There is also the rank hypocrisy of the ADL, which is calling for a boycott of Facebook, while attacking and smearing BDS – the peaceful campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions to end Israel’s racist abuses and crimes against Palestinians.

The Anti-Defamation League has even supported anti-BDS legislation, knowing full well that such laws are unconstitutional because they violate free speech.

Undoubtedly, the ADL values its own constitutional right to call for a boycott of Facebook even as it seeks to trample the free speech rights of others, including whose who believe that Palestinians should not have their rights denied in their own homeland just because they are not Jewish.

But in backing the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, ADL is joining forces with Black mainstream liberal civil rights organizations such as Color of Change and the venerable NAACP – and thus using these relationships to gain entirely undeserved credibility as an anti-racist ally.

Black activists in UK call for Israel sanctions

The problem faced by the ADL and the Israel lobby more broadly was highlighted over the weekend when Black Lives Matter UK, an anti-racist coalition, tweeted its support for the Palestinian struggle:

“As Israel moves forward with the annexation of the West Bank, and mainstream British politics is gagged of the right to critique Zionism, and Israel’s settler-colonial pursuits, we loudly and clearly stand beside our Palestinian comrades,” the group tweeted.

The tweet got tens of thousands of likes and retweets.

Black Lives Matter UK followed that with a series of tweets debunking Israel lobby claims that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic.

One tweet declared that as annexation looms, “we stand with Palestinian civil society in calling for targeted sanctions in line with international law against Israel’s colonial, apartheid regime.”

The tweets were particularly significant as British politics remain in the grip of a witch hunt against critics of Israel, especially within the main opposition Labour Party.

Unsurprisingly, the tweets drew immediate hostility from the Jewish Labour Movement, a lobby group within the Labour Party that has acted as proxy for the Israeli embassy.

Mike Katz, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, said he was “sad” to see the tweets from Black Lives Matter UK.

He also claimed that members of his organization “reject annexation and settlements.”

That can be seen as another effort to steer criticism of Israel into an acceptable “soft” form focused only on a limited number of Israeli actions, while trying to put criticism of Zionism off limits.

The Board of Deputies, a British Jewish communal organization and leading pro-Israel group, predictably accused Black Lives Matter UK of engaging in an “anti-Semitic trope.”

But the Board insisted that this would “not stop us from standing alongside Black people in their quest for justice.”

But, in fact, supporting Israel and Zionism is totally incompatible with any quest for justice. All the slick spin and PR campaigns cannot hide this simple truth: You can’t be an anti-racist racist.




Add my "An Open Letter to the Mayor of Minneapolis" on stopping training of American Police by the Israelis. Israeli training uses their supression of the Palestinians as models of how to do it. The letter includes details of the training,its cost, the methods used with pictures of IDF knealing on Palestinians as they plead I'm choking while soldiers break fingers, hands and wrests. A call in the letter is to abandon this undemocratic and inhumane training and create programs that respond to American values and study programs that cover the history of America's founding and treatment of indigenous peoples. Hope you consider this letter. Peace, Bill


Forster and Epstein who published The New Anti-Semitism in 1974, the Perlmutters, who published The Real Anti-Semitism in 1982 and Abraham Foxman who published Never Again: The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism, are leading figures in the ADL. The first of these books was obviously, in part at least, as response to the 1973 war and the criticism levelled at Israel. The purpose of these "studies" (what is really astonishing that these miserable farragos of inaccuracy, wild claims and paranoia find a publisher) is to define Israel as "the Jew among nations". The very conflation of Israel and Jewry which the IHRA "definition" claims is anti-Semitic is proposed by the ideology of the New or Real anti-Semitism. According to the above authors, anyone further left than themselves (and they are very reactionary) is anti-Semitic: anti-racists, anti-colonialists, feminists, environmentalists, peace campaigners etc all conceal their anti-Semitism behind their apparent principle. Gabriel Schoenfeld, erstwhile editor of Commentary, claims "Jews in the United States are targeted for murder". In his view, left-wing or liberal Jews are significantly responsible. The Forster and Epstein and Perlmutter books focus on alleged anti-Semitism in the black community. According to the latter, Jews have been too generous to blacks because of "God's disproportionately generous gifting of Jews with brimming empathy" and their generosity has been abused. It should be noted that Simon Schama, often promoted as a fine intellectual, has praised ADL "scholarship", a foolishness as egregious as his glorifying the discredited Hitler's Willing Executioners. ADL's aim is to deflect all criticism of Israel. Only those who support Israel without reserve are not anti-Semites. What is truly distressing is that democrats fall into the trap of this absurdity. Jewry is not Israel. Israel is a racist State. Palestinians should have equal rights. That's rational, not anti-Semitic.


Thank you for this excellent article, Ali--and the VERY clear statement in your video! I'm going to forward this e-mail to everyone in We Refuse to Be Enemies, Connecticut, at least!


As a Jewish activist for Palestinian rights and against Zionism it is disturbing to see the illogical pretzels that zionists twist into to protect the murder and brutality of Israel against Palestinians. It is like the false narratives that officials and police use to justify murder and brutality against the Black community.

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Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.