A Project of the Council on American-Islamic Relations


Anti-Defamation League (ADL)

Anti-Muslim and Anti-Palestinian Activity

The ADL has a history of aggressively intimidating Arabs, Muslims, and others who speak out in favor of Palestinian human rights. In 1983, it released a handbook entitled Pro-Arab Propaganda in America: Vehicles and Voices. It lists notable scholars including Edward Said as “anti-Israeli propagandists” and humanitarian organizations dealing with the Middle East or Palestine.

The ADL also characterizes groups or individuals who criticize Israel or Zionism as “extremists” intent on eradicating Israel or inciting anti-Semitism in America. 

The ADL has also spied on Arabs and Muslim groups to intimidate voices it considers “anti-Semitic.” In 1993, the results of an FBI investigation of an ADL-paid undercover agent became public. Law enforcement authorities uncovered computerized files on thousands of Arab Americans and information on Arab organizations and other mainstream organizations. 

More specifically, there were files on over 10,000 individuals and 600 organizations – everyone from the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee and the ACLU to the African National Congress and the Centro Legal de La Raza, to the Earth Island Institute and Greenpeace, including twenty San Francisco area labor unions and a large number of Central America solidarity organizations. Information on anti-apartheid activists was passed on to South African intelligence agents.  

More can be read here: and here

This discovery contributed to a climate of fear for Arab and Muslim Americans that has lasting impacts until today and reinforced images of Arabs as terrorists and security threats. 

In April 2001, a federal judge in Denver upheld most of a year-old $10 million jury finding that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) libeled a couple by falsely portraying them as anti-Semites. District Judge Edward Nottingham lambasted the 87-year-old organization in a 46-page order and memorandum of decision, according to the Jewish weekly newspaper Forward in its April 13, 2001 edition, saying the organization had falsely endorsed and publicized accusations of bigotry in a nasty neighborhood dispute without either investigating the case or weighing the consequences.

In November 2001, the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) rejected a demand by that state’s chapter of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to exclude a Muslim representative from a panel discussion at an annual civil rights conference. 

The ADL, along with the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Palm Beach Jewish Federation, was in discussions with FCHR representatives seeking to bar Altaf Ali, Executive Director of the Florida office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-FL) from a panel discussion at the 11th Annual Florida Civil Rights Conference in West Palm Beach. That session, titled “Day of Dialogue, Communicating Across Ethnic, Cultural and Religious Lines,” included panelists from the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service and the National Conference for Community and Justice.

In August 2007, the ADL issued press releases that repeated its past defamatory assertions about the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). For example, their August 21, 2007, press release stated, “If CAIR truly repudiates acts of terror and murder, we would welcome a simple declaratory statement that no cause, no matter how just it may be, justifies the use of suicide killers, rockets or other means to target civilians.”

In response, CAIR provided its track record of condemning acts of terrorism. However, despite public evidence of CAIR’s multiple condemnations, the ADL chose to release such statements. 

In July 2010, the ADL opposed the construction of an Islamic community center (Park51) in New York City caving in to a vocal smear campaign waged against the center by anti-Muslim bigots.

In May 2018, CEO of the ADL Jonathan Greenblatt joined bigots like Benjamin Netanyahu, John Hagee, and Robert Jeffress at a ceremony celebrating President Trump’s illegal opening of a U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem and called for defeating “Islamism.”

In 2019, the ADL sponsored training in Israel of several local law enforcement officials. The United States has sent hundreds of law enforcement agents and government agents to meet with Israeli military and police forces, and thousands more have taken part in conferences, trainings, and workshops with Israeli officials in the United States. According to the San Diego Tribune, “Israel’s police work closely with its military occupation forces. Police use of tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition against the indigenous Palestinians in the occupied territories is an everyday occurrence. Knee-on-neck restraints like those that killed George Floyd are regularly applied to the Palestinian population.”

In April 2020, Starbucks excluded the ADL from helping develop the curriculum for its mandatory anti-bias training after Black Lives Matter activists cited the ADL’s support for the colonization of Palestine. 

In June 2020, a leaked ADL strategy memo obtained by Jewish Currents illustrated how the organization was preparing to address critics of the Israeli government’s annexation of the West Bank. The “stakeholders analysis memo,” published by the ADL’s Government Relations, Advocacy, and Community Engagement department, warns the ADL will need to find ways to defend Israel without alienating other civil rights organizations, elected officials of color, and Black Lives Matter activists, and supporters. 

This memo implies that the group hopes to avoid appearing openly hostile to public criticism of annexation while it works to block legislation that harshly censures Israel or has material consequences, such as constricting military assistance.

In July 2021, New Jersey civil rights groups condemned the ADL for falsely smearing CAIR-New Jersey’s Executive Director of “anti-semitism” for expressing Black-Palestinian solidarity against racist police brutality. 

In August 2020, CAIR joined a broad coalition of more than 100 civil rights and human rights advocacy organizations in denouncing the Anti-Defamation League’s “history and ongoing pattern of attacking social justice movements,” particularly those led by “immigrants, Muslims, Arabs, and other marginalized groups, while aligning itself with police, right-wing leaders, and perpetrators of state violence.” 

The coalition released an extensive report documenting the ADL’s troubling history of 1) surveillance of progressive organizations and movements, 2) support of militarized police training exchange programs, 3) suppression of human rights and Palestinian voices, 4) support of racist and white supremacist influencers, 5) promotion of Islamophobia, 6) suppression of campus activism, 7) trampling on progressive social justice movements. The report can be read here

The ADL has also supported unconstitutional laws punishing political boycotts of Israel, criticized an ice cream company for ending product sales in only the occupied West Bank, remained on the board of a coalition that includes a bigot who used the phrase “filthy Arab.”

Interviews with eight former ADL employees found that CEO Jonathan Greenblatt has repeatedly chosen to support crackdowns on criticism of Israel over protecting civil liberties, putting him in conflict with his own civil rights office. 

In an article titled How the ADL’s Israel Advocacy Undermines Its Civil Rights Work by Alex Kane and Jacob Hutt, they state:

“Foxman’s frequent targeting of Muslim and Arab figures has continued under Greenblatt. As under Foxman, some of this targeting occurs at the regional level. For example, between 2015 and 2018, the ADL’s Central Pacific regional office, along with the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), sought to bar the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), a Bay Area group focused on social justice organizing in the Arab community, from participating in the introduction of an Arabic-language curriculum into the San Francisco public school system. 

In the ADL’s view, this attack on the organization—which provides legal aid to hundreds of low-income immigrants a year, among other services—was justified by the anti-Zionist views of the organization and its Palestinian executive director, Lara Kiswani. Kiswani recognized that the campaign put AROC on a slippery slope toward complete delegitimization. “If they’re saying the city shouldn’t work with AROC on curriculum because we’re a hate group, then that means they can set a precedent,” Kiswani told Jacobin in 2015. “They could take it further and say the city shouldn’t be working with AROC at all.” In a recent interview with Jewish Currents, Kiswani noted that in response to the ADL/JCRC campaign, her organization received a sharp uptick in hate mail and hate calls, leading AROC to overhaul its security protocols and add increased security for Kiswani personally.”

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