'Doing everything we can': Anti-Defamation League working to prevent resurgence of antisemitism

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt will visit Temple Emanu-El of Palm Beach on Thursday for a discussion on antisemitism and extremism.
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt will visit Temple Emanu-El of Palm Beach on Thursday for a discussion on antisemitism and extremism.
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Temple Emanu-El will welcome Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt on Thursday for a discussion on antisemitism and extremism.

A former corporate executive who previously served in the White House as director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, Greenblatt has worked to fight defamation of the Jewish people and advocate for just and fair treatment through his work with the ADL.

He recently published his first book, "It Could Happen Here: Why America is Tipping from Hate to the Unthinkable — And How We Can Stop It."

Greenblatt's appearance in Palm Beach comes amid rising concerns about the proliferation of antisemitism and political extremism in the United States.

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He said that during his presentation Thursday, he plans to give an overview of some of the disturbing trends he is seeing in America with respect to antisemitism, extremism and hate in politics.

In an interview with the Daily News, Greenblatt referenced the dangers posed by white supremacist extremism espoused by podcaster and political commentator Nick Fuentes and others.

He also discussed the rise of political antisemitism on the left and right, and the spread of hateful conspiracy theories shared by individual and groups, including the far-right anti-government group Oath Keepers and the rapper Ye, who joined former President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago for a heavily scrutinized dinner Nov. 22. Fuentes also attended the dinner.

Q. What concerns you the most about the state of American politics?

A. As I write in my book, I’m very much concerned about the further wearing down of our traditional institutional protections as has happened in other countries around the world. This could lead to a shrewder demagogue rising to power in the highest office of the land, or, alternatively, a series of opportunistic mini-demagogues on either the right or left attaining power and further eroding our norms.

And there’s good reasons to be concerned. For example, ADL estimates that more than 19 million people voted for extremist candidates in the most recent midterm elections, which is a frightening statistic. And out of the 49 major extremist candidates tracked by ADL’s Center on Extremism in the general elections, 17 ultimately won their race. These candidates alone collected more than 6.7 million votes.

Overall, there were hundreds of election deniers, conspiracy theorists and outright extremists on the ballot. Some were competing for statewide positions that would have given them the opportunity to manipulate pivotal swing state votes in 2024.

While far too many problematic candidates won their races, the American people largely repudiated extremism and hate. That’s the good news. But the stakes for this recent election cannot be overstated — a different result could have accelerated the United States down a path for a constitutional crisis and increased threats to marginalized communities and other Americans.

Q. What do you think is causing the rise in antisemitism in this country?

A. This is a complicated question, and there’s no clear or easy answer. There are many different strains we are tracking, from anti-Zionism on the far left, as manifested recently by the antisemitic “Mapping Project” in Boston, to virulent white supremacist extremism on the far right, as epitomized by Nick Fuentes and his ilk and the spread of hateful conspiracy theories.

There’s also political antisemitism, which has mutations both on the political left, where Jews are ostracized for supporting Israel, and the extreme right, where Jews are part of conspiracy theories about control. And then there’s social media, which provides a safe haven and a megaphone for haters of all stripes to spread antisemitism and to harass Jewish users, and where conspiracy theories about Jews are finding new life.

Q. What can be done about it?

A. At ADL, we advocate for a whole of government and whole of society approach to tackle the problem of rising antisemitism and bigotry. This starts with an awareness of the problem, which is why ADL tracks antisemitic incidents and the spread of hate online. And it continues with stronger government interventions, which is why ADL supports government grants to increase security at Jewish institutions and advocates for stronger hate crime laws and stronger government oversight of social media companies.

And it’s why we recently unveiled the COMBAT Plan, a comprehensive six-part advocacy framework to fight antisemitism by empowering leaders at the federal, state and local levels to take action.

Finally, it takes allies, which is why ADL works daily with many other organizations, including groups representing African Americans and other people of color, LGBTQ+ groups, Muslim groups, Hispanic organizations, and Asian American and Pacific Islanders to fight hate more broadly in society. There’s strength in numbers, and when we work together with other marginalized groups, our work can have a much greater impact.

We know that antisemitic crimes and hate crimes go hand-in-hand. Which is why I have hammered home this point repeatedly: We need a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach to push back on antisemitism, because it is not just a threat to Jewish Americans. It is a threat to all marginalized communities in this country.

What are your hopes and fears going forward?

I hope that we can overcome some of the disturbing trends I’ve mentioned in this conversation and that we can continue to build strong alliances against hate. The recent White House “United We Stand” summit to address violent extremism was an incredibly encouraging step forward, and I hope that the momentum we built at that summit will continue to fuel new efforts to combat extremism and hate.

My fear is that if America is indeed moving into an economic recession, with rising inflation and potentially greater unemployment or political instability, that we could be on a path to seeing an even greater resurgence of antisemitism. At ADL, we are going to be doing everything we can to prevent that from happening.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., in May 2017.
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., in May 2017.

If you go 

Greenberg's discussion will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday at Temple Emanu-El, 190 N. County Road.

Registration is required for admission. To register, call 561-832-0804 or email Amy at amy@tepb.org.

Jodie Wagner is a journalist at the Palm Beach Daily News, part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach her at jwagner@pbdailynews.comHelp support our journalism. Subscribe today.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Daily News: 'Whole of society' approach needed to tackle antisemitism, ADL head says